Coaching for Flexibility

The pet industry is ever changing. Preparing your employees to be flexible can make these changes more seamless.



As an owner or a member of your store’s management team, identifying and leveraging new opportunities to improve your market position is a critical part of your job. For independent pet stores, that may include adding new brands or product lines to take advantage of consumer trends, expanding your online and social media presence, or implementing new technology to run your store more efficiently.


Any of these or many other strategic moves to help your store compete more effectively and grow sales can force your team members out of their comfort zones, causing stress. Helping associates broaden their comfort zones is critical to employee buy-in and successful implementation of new initiatives. Learning to recognize common reactions to change will help you coach employees to be more flexible. Carefully preparing for and implementing changes makes it much more likely these initiatives will succeed.


Understanding Reactions to Change

You know that to remain competitive, you and your store must embrace a continuous commitment to improvement. But change is never easy, even in a pet retail environment where change is frequent.


Common reactions to change include:

•Uncertainty—Wondering what will happen as a result of the change can create a great deal of stress for employees. Simply reassuring associates that things will work out fine or telling them that they need to adapt is unlikely to help them overcome their concerns.


Since the most effective way to address uncertainty is to provide information, sharing details about what will happen in the future and how it will affect your team will help set these employees’ minds at ease. Providing these details can also help get associates excited about how they and the store will benefit from the proposed change.


•Fear—Associates may worry that they won’t be able to keep up with the changes the store is undergoing—or even that they may lose their jobs.


The most effective way to help associates overcome their fear is to offer reassurance, support and encouragement. You can do this explicitly or indirectly, by letting them know you continue to value their contributions.


•Anger—When people feel they have no control over what is happening to them, they often get angry. In addition to affecting their ability to cope with change, anger can impact employees’ productivity and motivation, affecting your entire team’s morale. Angry associates may even try to sabotage new initiatives.


The most effective way to respond to people who are angry about change is to involve them in the planning and implementation process. Giving angry associates a role in the process lets them have a say about how the change will affect them personally. As a result, they are more likely to feel ownership of the change and work to make it a success.


Encouraging Flexibility

Coaching associates to be more flexible helps your team adapt to change more easily and perform better in new work situations. You can help employees become more flexible by exploring their concerns, reframing the situation and modeling flexibility.


Exploring Employees’ Concerns

Sometimes people are reluctant to admit the real reason that they are reacting negatively to a specific change. They may be embarrassed by their feelings or worry that their concerns will be perceived as selfish or small-minded.


Before you can help employees be more receptive to change, you must first discover these underlying issues. Asking questions and exploring associates’ concerns can help you reveal the hidden factors causing their reactions to a change. Be sensitive to what they say verbally and non-verbally, then restate what you see as the issue to make sure you have it right.


Reframing the Situation

When employees are resistant to or rigid about change, it is usually because they are focusing on the disadvantages of changing and the advantages of not changing


Another way to encourage flexibility is to help employees “reframe,” or see the situation in a different way. You can reframe the issue by asking associates to think about the advantages of changing and the disadvantages of not changing.


Your team understands that your store is competing with other independents and big-box stores. Helping them understand the dangers of not changing can help reframe the situation so they focus more on the benefits for the store than on their personal fears. This is also a good opportunity to explain what steps you plan to take to prepare associates for the change, such as planned training or incentive programs.


Modeling Flexibility

As an owner or manager, you play an important role in determining your team’s attitude toward change. Research indicates that an employee’s direct supervisor is the single most critical factor affecting attitude and performance.


When you provide a good example by being flexible and enthusiastic about change, you encourage your team to be more flexible. If you give associates the impression that you are resistant to change, they will do what you do, not what you say. One way to model flexibility is to give associates a role in the process and incorporate their suggestions into your plan, showing that you are open to new ideas and value their opinions


Change is never easy. People often resist, even in a retail environment where change is frequent. More flexible associates adapt to change more easily to changes at your store and perform better in new work situations. You can coach employees to be more flexible by exploring their concerns, “reframing” the situation to see its advantages and modeling flexibility. PB


Stephanie A. Kaplan is the director of online education for the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA). She manages PIDA’s free online training program, Pet Store Pro. Since it was first launched in 2008, almost 6,500 retailers have turned to Pet Store Pro for brand-neutral training on critical skills for associates, managers and owners. Pet Store Pro is free to qualified retailers; visit to register and begin using the program.


This article was adapted from “Coaching & Motivating Employees,” one of 29 chapters available as part of Pet Store Pro’s online training. Lessons cover coaching techniques to build skills, clarify expectations, boost confidence, increase motivation, encourage flexibility and resolve conflict, as well as identifying employees’ coaching needs.


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