How to Talk to a Problem Retail Employee

Maybe he was a bad hire to begin with.  Maybe you saw a lot of potential, but now he is late, calling in ill, disengaged with you and with customers.  It is a tough conversation to have because he IS already trained and who knows if the next one will be worse?  And some days he is focused and you still have hope.  This is the internal dialog you may have with yourself for months before having the “turn around conversation.”

Tough conversations with employees come with the job.  If you are avoiding a difficult situation, the first place to start is with yourself.  What do you want?  Decide if you want to salvage this employee or separate from the employee?  Separation and the legal requirements leading to termination is a topic for another post.  But if you want to turn around your employee and get better performance, recognize that you will not get what you want as long as you keep accepting your employee’s current performance.  Silence is acceptance.  Which means you must have the tough conversation.

The goal of a turn around conversation is not to anger an employee, shake them up or fire them.  The goal is to have them go in a new direction.  A successful turnaround conversation will give an employee a new vantage point to see themselves not as victims of their boss or workplace, but as capable adults who can choose to be more successful by adopting new behaviors.  A great turnaround conversation is a truthful recalibration of the value the employee brings to the workplace and should be a liberating dialog that allows both the manager and the employee to reset the course for the future.  (Truthfully, there is always a risk that the employee may decide the request is too difficult and may choose to leave.  A move that is empowering for both parties in its own right.)

First, ask yourself if you have properly trained the employee and if they are clear about expectations.  Think of the Training Triangle which says that for adults to learn, they have to (1) see the new behavior demonstrated, (2) be trained in how and why the new behavior is done and (3) be held accountable to do it so they internalize the new behavior.  If you know you have done the first two steps well, it is time to move to the third step and hold your employee accountable.

  1. Prepare by writing down explicitly what you expect and the direct observations you have made about the employees behavior. Focus on behavior NOT intent.  There is a wide valley between, “I expect everyone to clean the store at the end of the night. You did not do that on Tuesday and we started Wednesday with dirty counters and floors” and “I know you think it is below you to clean the store.”  Anytime you assume you know intent, you are almost always wrong.  You can observe WHAT a person does.  You cannot observe WHY a person does it.
  2. Be clear about what you would have them do differently.  “In the future, I expect you to follow the entire closing process including cleaning the store.”
  3. Talk about accountability and consequences.  Be clear about the decision you will make if changes are not made.  “If you close the store without the appropriate steps taken to clean it, you will no longer be a closing manager which means you will be demoted and have a pay cut.”

While the conversation is one-sided, it also clearly sets the expectation, describes the expected behavior and outlines consequences for not adhering to the request.  As the manager/owner, it is your privilege to have one-way communication.  It is also your responsibility to be fair about extenuating circumstances and, importantly, recognize good behavior as much as bad.  Catch your employees doing the right things – and call out every example of it – to gain positive momentum.  As Eliza Doolittle would say: “The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated.”   Find a reason to treat to point out when your employees are working well – even the ones that need coaching – and you will master the art of turning around the people who work for you.

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