I started as a retail manager absolutely clueless. I understood the company overall, having worked in HR for the same company for 7 years. However, once on the floor, in a new store, with the team, customers, planograms, product, mess, revenue (or lack thereof), calls, reviews, expectations, delegation…I was struggling! I didn’t think it was going to be easy by any means BUT I didn’t think it was going be that hard. I was especially surprised by the people management challenges. I didn’t realize how much is required to lead a team!
Eventually, most of the team and I found our groove and found effective ways to work together. We were trying new things and seeing great results across the board. There was one hold out: Emery. Emery was a hardworking and opinionated go-getter. I could ask her to do almost anything knowing she would be successful. She also pushed back on almost every request I made.
It often felt like I couldn’t make Emery happy:
When I scheduled her for AM shifts in the fitting room, I was sacrificing the success of the departments.
When I scheduled her for AM shifts in a specific department, I was limiting her impact.
When I scheduled her to close, I was trying to force her to quit.
When I promoted her to Specialist of 3 departments, I was pushing my work on her.
When I would ask her to help put away returns, I was preventing her department work from being completed.
To be clear, if Emery had only ever been defiant and combative, she would not have made it on my team. She had a passion for the details and provided great service. She volunteered for shifts no one else wanted – like overnight or 5am on a Sunday. She was constantly training new and current employees, often without being asked. She could run circles around everyone else on my team and was a huge contributor to the success and changes we had during my tenure.
Despite my best efforts, though, Emery never completely warmed to me. And yet, being her manager and addressing her concerns made me into the leader I am today. In the moment, Emery’s responses felt aggressive and harmful to the process. After plenty of missteps on my part along the way, she helped me learn valuable lessons about what it means to lead a team and ultimately lead to my success.
Organize your plan: When making decisions about these departments in the beginning, I made them moments before going to the floor to execute them. This meant we would miss opportunities, get tied up in day to day operations and I would enlist the employees expected to execute very late in the game. When making decisions that impact the team, plan your workload, consider their other responsibilities and bring them up to speed as soon as possible to help identify opportunities.
Learn to coach: Providing coaching to employees is key to their success and some employees need different attention than others. When coaching difficult employees, choose a private place away from others and share with them how their behavior has impacted the practice. Give specific examples of the actions that you are referring to and offer solutions to help them or ask for their solutions.
Understand what pushback means: Hearing pushback when giving direction can be shocking. Pushback could be defiance. It could also be a misplaced cry for help. Get curious – ask for clarity and feedback on why the employee does not want to do what you have asked. They may surprise you and help adjust your expectations.
Acting on feedback: Feedback about my performance or the performance of others was always readily available. Understanding what was just venting and what needed attention was sometimes unclear. There is not a formula to follow to know. Thank the employee for their feedback – for yourself or their peer. Although every issue does not require an action plan, peer feedback should be shared and addressed, and personal feedback should be noted. Employees can provide the most essential information about day to day operations or about your leadership skills – be willing to hear it.
I went into this leadership role without an understanding of all the challenges coming my way and without these situations, I may not have grown as I have. With all the heartaches, Emery helped me understand how the use of planning, language and time spent together can help even the most challenging employee relationship.
For your optometry practice, it can feel like difficult employee relationships are not worth the hassle. However, there is much more to gain, if you are willing to try. As you celebrate the beginning of 2020 and all this new year has to offer, I wish you an Emery!
Amy Alvarez is a Certified Professional of the Society of Human Resource Management and has a Master’s in Human Resource Management. Amy has experience in Human Resources in healthcare and retail, Management in big box and specialty retail stores and Physician Recruitment. Through these roles and training, Amy is well-versed in recruitment and hiring strategies for “hard to fill” roles, dealing with low productivity, helping encourage employee engagement, on-boarding, training, day-to-day management in a retail setting, employee relations, and so much more. For questions or concerns about this article, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.