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How to Promote Healthy Competition and More Of Your Questions Answered

It all depends on how you present it.

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How can I promote competition among staff without it turning my store into the setting for Lord Of The Flies?

The key to fostering healthy competition, according to new research done by a team at Harvard Business School, lies in how you communicate the competition. When employees feel excited, they’re more likely to come up with creative solutions and new ways to better serve customers. When they feel anxious or worried they might lose their job or be publicly humiliated in some way, they’re more likely to cut corners or sabotage one another. Leaders can generate excitement by highlighting the potential positive consequences of competition (such as the recognition and rewards that await outstanding performers) rather than creating anxiety by singling out and highlighting low performers (think of the steak knives scene in Glengarry Glen Ross).

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We want to lay off a sales associate, but we’ve never done it before. If we are to give them “a month’s pay,” does that mean their base pay, or do we factor in their average commission earnings as well?”

Suzanne Devries, president of Diamond Staffing Solutions, says that legally, you’re required to give them only the vacation, sick and personal days they have accrued, although she recommends that you base your decision on how valuable an asset this person has been to your organization, and how long they have been with you. “If it’s a long time and they have been loyal, you should definitely consider a certain amount of days per year. Second, make sure you have documentation that states why you are having layoffs.” She also advises you do an exit interview and have the person sign documentation stating that they understand why “they are part of a force reduction.” An important thing to keep in mind is how other staff will view this. They will want to know that they will be treated fairly even when times are tough.

I keep hearing contradictory advice: Set goals or don’t set them. What’s your take?

There are three main arguments against setting goals: One, that they can lead people to focus on the wrong things (by, for example, becoming too aggressive in chasing sales targets) or cut ethical corners; two, that they become demotivating when it becomes clear they can’t be reached; and three, that it’s healthier to live your life focused on the present. The secret to smart goal setting, then, is to do it in a way that addresses these problem areas. That means:

1. Set challenging goals, but don’t make a big deal of it if someone falls short.
2. Structure goals that focus on behaviors, so your people are learning and improving, rather than wildly chasing a financial goal.
3. Be specific. Setting vague goals can produce higher rates of success with motivated staff, but if your employees are normal human beings, being specific will prevent procrastination.
4. Make the first couple of milestones easy so that people can build momentum toward the major goal. Progress is a huge motivator.
5. And finally, don’t make goals a death march; have fun trying to accomplish them.

I’d like to hire a trainer, but I’m worried about the return on investment. How can I be sure it will be worth it?

To really get your money’s worth, you need to focus on two things: 1.  Hard skills. Overinvest in training that helps to increase ability, rather than motivation. Focus on small but vital aspects of your staff’s sales skills. It could be when to pause in a presentation, how many features to stress, or phone manner tips. Break tasks into discreet actions, practice within a low-risk environment and build in recovery strategies. 2. And this is just as important: Follow up. Bring in a trainer, but only if you yourself are willing to buy into their lessons and do ongoing training and reviews.

Over the years, INSTORE has won 80 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INSTORE's editors at editor@instoremag.com.

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How to Be Safe at Company Parties, the Best Interview Question for a Prospective Hire, and More of Your Questions Answered

Plus how to avoid becoming a mediocre business.

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How do I lift my store out of the rut of mediocrity?

According to work by the Brigham Young business school on high-performing teams, peers manage the bulk of the heavy lifting when it comes to maintaining standards. But how to get to that almost mythical land of self-enforced high standards?

Joseph Grenny, a social scientist and author of Crucial Accountability, says there are four leadership practices that can help:

1. Start by showing the consequences of mediocrity to connect people with the experiences, feelings and impact of bad performance. Keep the issue alive by telling stories that illustrate work well done and the real human cost of shoddy work, such as lost diamonds, ruined weddings and upset customers.

2. Set clear goals and explain why they are important. “Use concrete measures to make poor performance painfully apparent,” says Grenny.

3. Establish peer accountability so that people feel comfortable challenging one another when they see mediocrity. Regular weekly reviews can provide opportunities for mutual feedback and establish peer-accountability as a norm, Grenny says. It’s key that your store becomes an environment where everyone feels entitled to challenge anyone if it is in the best interest of the business.

4. Be quick to defend the high standards. A chronic poor performer is a clear impediment to the goals you’ve set. How you handle this situation will let your team know whether your highest value is keeping the peace or pursuing performance.

“When you ask a group to step up to high performance, you are inviting them to a place of stress — one where they must stretch, where failure is possible, where interpersonal conflicts must be addressed,” says Grenny. “If you shrink from or delay in addressing this issue, you don’t just lose that person’s contribution — you send a message to everyone else about your values.”

I’m planning my company party, but one concern is that somebody might get drunk and have a car accident. Got any advice on protecting myself?

Concerns about liability for alcohol-related incidents, sexual harassment, and workers’ compensation claims have led many companies to forgo holiday galas entirely. You don’t have to. But if you’re really afraid, lawyer Anil Khosla, writing in Inc. Magazine, suggests the following steps to reduce your liability: “1. To distance the business from the party, make it an entirely social event, don’t invite clients or vendors, and make sure employees know that attendance is voluntary. 2. Plan accordingly. Hold your gathering off-site, if possible. That may shift some of the potential liability to the hotel, restaurant, or caterer. If you must have an on-site party, hire an independent caterer. Don’t permit anyone from the company to serve alcohol, and instruct bartenders to stop serving anyone who seems inebriated. Lawyers advise avoiding an open bar— or, at the very least, limiting it to the first hour. Also, close the bar at least one hour before the party ends. 3. Consider providing transportation to and from the event. Make sure that cabs will be available, and appoint someone to suggest cab rides home for people who have had a few too many.”

How do I tease out a prospective hire’s innate strengths during the interview process?

The indirect method is often best when it comes to getting at a prospect’s true strengths. Marcus Buckingham, a leader of the strengths-based school of business management, suggests asking this question: What was the best day at work you’ve had in the past three months? “Find out what the person was doing and why he or she enjoyed it so much,” he says, adding it’s key to keep in mind that a strength is not merely something someone is good at. “It might be something they aren’t good at yet. It might be just a predilection, something they find so intrinsically satisfying that they look forward to doing it again and again and getting better at it over time.” The theory is that the best businesses are those that fully leverage the strengths of their employees as opposed to trying to fix up their weaknesses.

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How to Tell When that Struggling New Hire Can’t be Saved, and More of Your Questions Answered

Also, the Golden Rule of Triggers and a better way to set goals.

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I got really angry at a customer the other day and left a pretty rude message on their voicemail. So, OK, I’ve lost that client. But how can I keep this from happening again?

If you feel that anger management is an issue that’s affecting many parts of your life, go see a mental health professional. However, if you’re like the rest of us, and anger is more a cause for periodic embarrassment or regret, we fully recommend business author Tony Schwartz’s Golden Rule of Triggers, which is “Whatever you feel compelled to do, don’t.” Instead, he says, take a deep breath, and “feel your feet” — a distraction tactic that allows you to pull your head out of the red mist. You can no doubt remember occasions when you’ve told yourself (or others) to “take a deep breath” or to “count to 10” before exploding in rage. What Schwartz’s rule removes, though, is the need to reflect on whether we’re in such a situation. Instead, it recommends interpreting any sign of compulsive behavior as an indication that the action is probably imprudent. Rather than battling compulsion, his rule co-opts it as a warning system. The Golden Rule of Triggers may seem ridiculously simple, but in that tiny gap between the total grip of “flight or fight” survival mode and doing something you’ll regret, more likely to be an ill-considered email or text message these days, simple rules are all you’ll be capable of following.

How do you know when a new employee can’t be saved? How much time should you give someone?

When you have coached someone carefully and repeatedly, invested large amounts of energy and they show no signs of improvement, that’s a solid signal you probably need to act. The clincher comes when their co-workers start showing their frustration and stop trying to help the person. This is often at about the three or four month mark. A lot of bosses will let it drag on past that, but it’s really in everyone’s interest for both parties to pursue new opportunities.

What should I do if I think my store is being “cased”?

There are several immediate steps that can reduce the likelihood of a robbery or burglary. Jewelers Mutual offers the following advice. First, alert your employees by using a pre-established code word or phrase. When that happens, your employees should take the following steps:

1. Have an employee with a cellphone leave the store to observe from a safe distance.
2. Make more employees visible on the sales floor.
3. Write down the description of any suspicious people and, if possible, their license plate number.
4. Make sure cabinets, showcases and safes are locked.
5. Greet the individuals and attempt to engage them in conversation. If they are robbers, your attention will be unwanted and they will leave.
6. Call the police and ask them to visit your store as soon as possible. Explain that you think your store is being cased for a potential robbery or burglary.
7. Store customers’ merchandise in a safe place out of sight.
8. Review procedures to follow should a robbery occur — stay calm, do not resist, obey the robber’s orders, do not say or do anything unless you are told to do so.

Morale is bad and moaning seems to be part of our culture. Any ideas on how to turn it around?

Bring an upbeat attitude to the store every morning and make it clear you expect the same positivity from your charges. In this new era, it’s expected your employees will take responsibility for their own happiness and effectiveness. For truly disgruntled staff, there’s not much a manager can do except to make it known they are on the wrong bus. (And it’s often a couple of bad seeds that will set the toxic tone for a store.) A jewelry store is no place for people who throw their hands up in the air and declare, “This place sucks!” at every setback.

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What To Look For In a Mentor, How to Deal With Negative Employees, and More of Your Questions Answered

Ask your resident “Negative Nelly” these questions to get them thinking positively.

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What should you look for in a mentor?

The most important thing is that you and your mentor click on a personal level. Such a relationship should be undertaken with a long-term view, and you need to want to spend time together. As for more specific things to look for, Daniel Coyle’s excellent book, The Little Book Of Talent: 52 Tips For Improving Your Skills, suggests the following:

1. Avoid someone who reminds you of a courteous waiter.
2. Seek someone who scares you a little.
3. Seek someone who gives short, clear directions.
4. Seek someone who loves teaching fundamentals.
5. All things being equal, pick the older person.

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And when it comes to asking for help, don’t be too backward. Advice-seeking is a powerful way to make a connection with someone. Most people love to help and to know they’ve made a difference in someone else’s life.
Are we liable if we’re storing a salesperson’s line and it gets robbed?

“Laws vary from state to state, but a jeweler may be liable in many cases,” warns Elie Ribacoff of the Worldwide Security Network, a firm offering assistance to jewelers on insurance and security matters. “A salesman’s line may be considered under the custody, care and control of the jeweler who accepts it for storage, making the jeweler responsible. If a salesman ‘consigns’ or has the jeweler sign a memorandum for the line, the line may be covered by the salesman’s insurance policy. If there is no documentation generated by either party, the jeweler may claim he was assuming no liability, and the salesman may claim the jeweler was showing the line to a potential client.” To avoid a legal battle, Ribacoff suggests jewelers sign a memorandum, “clearly stating that he accepts the line for storage only, and that it is the salesman’s responsibility to provide insurance coverage for his line at all times.”

It seems every time we try to introduce a new project or way of doing things, there are certain staff members who will find a reason to reject it. How do I deal with such people?

There’s typically some underlying reason for the pessimism, such as insecurity, a need for attention, or resistance to change. Regardless, your strategy should be much the same: appear to turn the problem over to staff. Agree with their position and objections and ask: “Now, what do you plan to do about it?”, although perhaps in not such a direct way.

Be positive rather than confrontational, let them know how much you appreciate their opinion, but always end with a pivot to how the problem will be addressed.

Amy Gallo, author of The Hbr Guide To Dealing With Conflict, suggests these phrases to help you deal with such situations:

  • “You’ve made a good point, but if we x, then y.”
  • “When you keep pointing out the negative, we lose the enthusiasm we need to be really creative and productive. But you’ve shown me x, and I believe that you can y.”
  • ”May I explain why I disagree with you?”
  • ”Can you rephrase that in a positive way?”
  • ”Perhaps so, but here’s the good/alternative I see.”
  • ”You’ve identified a valid problem. Let’s brainstorm on how to fix it.”
  • ”I’d appreciate it if you could give me some alternatives.”
  • ”Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Now let’s … ”
  • “Can we get a second opinion on that from … ?”
  • “What would you do instead?”
  • “What do you need to fix it/move forward?”
  • “I can see why you’d think/feel that way. What’s your next step?”
  • “You sound upset/pessimistic. Is that what you were trying to convey?”
  • “Can we approach this from a different angle?”

Gallo says it’s important to remember that a pessimist usually isn’t out to hurt you on purpose. “They might not even realize how much they come across as a downer,” she says. “Aim to truly listen and empathize rather than passing judgment, and over time, they’ll trust you and learn not to stay in the pits.”

I’m closed on Sundays and Mondays. Am I leaving sales on the table by not being open seven days a week?

Not necessarily. In fact, you may actually be improving business by giving your team some regular time off. Roger Beahm, professor of marketing at Wake Forest University School of Business, told radio station WFDD that you should first consider the “personal values” of your business. “We know that there are a lot of businesses, for personal reasons, that like to keep their doors closed on Sunday, give their employees a day off for family, to go to church, and those kinds of things.”

Beahm also points out that while national businesses may be accountable to stockholders, independent retailers are usually accountable to a few owners at most. Thus, the pressure to generate massive amounts of revenue usually isn’t there, and the focus can move to employee happiness, which can translate into “efficiency, a high-quality product, and a loyal customer who keeps coming back.”

Beahm says that work/life balance should lead to profit. “While they may be leaving money on the table in the short run, it’s probably assured that in the long run, they’re continuing to generate revenue because of the satisfaction level of both their employees and their customers.”

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