Changing Store Culture
In the past year, the “Me Too” discussion has made all of us aware of the importance of creating a workplace culture where people feel valued and safe, but there are many other ways that workplace culture can go sideways – gossiping among staff, kidding around that can lead to workplace injuries, failure to reinforce best practices – and it takes sensitive leadership to change the culture and improve working conditions.
Here’s how we describe a positive work-place culture, both for employees and for customers, and examples of the ways we work to make changes when we see that they are needed.
What is the ideal store culture?
- Positive, encouraging environment for everyone
- Helpful friendly staff
- Customers are welcomed when they enter
- Staff are available to answer questions
- Management and line staff work equally, with managers doing tasks that line staff do and everybody contributing to a store’s success.
Our ideal store is one where policies are understood and followed, employees and customers feel safe, respected and valued, and production doesn’t miss a beat. Cultivating a positive culture in each store is so vital, because even when it isn’t verbalized customers can feel a toxic culture or atmosphere and it has a direct impact on revenue.
We have found that staff in stores with a positive culture are happier and more productive, and that contributes to their general well-being as well as the bottom line.
It’s surprising how little things can sometimes get in the way of those positive attributes.
Exhibit A: Several years ago at our largest store, our longtime manager allowed a culture of complaining and gossip, which had been initiated by the assistant manager. Our employee handbook is clear that complaints should go to management, but the manager didn’t hold the staff accountable.
It didn’t take long for employees to dread going to work, for customers to pick up on the underlying tension and for production to be negatively affected. Leisha Wallace, in upper management, became aware of what was happening, and quickly held a mandatory all-staff meeting.
Here’s what followed:
- The store manager was reminded that her job required her to uphold the agency’s non-gossip and formal complaint policies.
- Proper procedures and policies were reviewed and staff heard directly from Leisha that there would be zero tolerance for gossip, and that complaints should only be expressed directly to the store manager. People not following this policy would receive a written warning.
- Even with the firm warning, change was not immediate
- The manager had to be vigilant on notifying Leisha when this policy was violated
- After several people received a written warning, the complaining and gossip ended.
- Timeline: three weeks
Exhibit B: At our smallest store we had a similar occurrence. In this instance, the manager wasn’t simply turning a blind eye to it, but was actively engaging in complaining and gossip. Customers had stopped shopping at this store because of the negative atmosphere and had called Leisha Wallace to express their concerns.
Here’s what followed:
- At this location we had to demote the manager and bring in new leadership.
- Even with the new leadership, the negative culture had been in place for so long it required additional efforts.
- The new manager was able to identify the key instigator who was given a chance to correct her behavior but was eventually fired.
- With renewed structure and stability, the store regained a positive atmosphere and customers began to return.
- Timeline: Six weeks.
The manager sets the tone for the store. Store managers who spin change positively will help smooth over staff anxiety. If a manager is engaging in the grumbling, it prolongs the difficulty in adjusting to change. If that manager ends up being removed from the store, it requires consistent and timely follow-through with the existing staff to eliminate the remnants of the previously allowed culture. One of the ways we build a safe atmosphere for employees is with our policy that states that employees can bring issues to either their manager and/or upper management without fear of retaliation. If employees feel like they can’t bring issues up confidentially, they are more likely to quit than proactively assist in eliminating problems. Changing work-place culture isn’t always easy. For more, review these recommendations from the Wall Street Journal.