Between writing business plans, keeping track of and stocking up on inventory, identifying the latest trends and getting ahead of them, budgeting, and creating/maintaining a business plan, pet store owners are lucky if they have a second to breathe throughout the day. Add in outside influences—such as illnesses, family problems, difficult customers or even traffic—and you might as well just save yourself the time and step into a pressure cooker.
With so many variables in life, sometimes maintaining a positive disposition in the retail setting at all times doesn’t seem possible. Unfortunately, as a manager, you don’t have the luxury of giving in to the negativity—you have to be "on" at all times. After all, creating a positive work environment is a top down effort. Realizing that your mood and temperament directly affects those of your staff is monumental when it comes to setting the tone of your store.
"In working with leaders, I sometimes give them the gift of a mirror," says Lorna Kibbey, MBA, CPM, and author of Becoming a Better Boss—Your Guidebook to 25 Fundamental Management Responsibilities. "If they want to know what’s going on with their staff, all they need to do is pull out the mirror and take a look—it’s true!"
Managers need to be aware of their emotions and control how they are projected. It’s one thing to have a bad day (everyone does), but it’s another to dump your negativity on others.
"A bad attitude is contagious and can profoundly impact the productivity and culture of a company," explains Kristin Morrison, founder of Six Figure Pet Business Academy in the San Francisco Bay Area. "Because of this ‘contagion,’ upper-level management attitudes have a profound trickle-down effect and can quickly affect all members of an organization or company. It’s crucial that managers are vigilant and keep close watch and monitor their attitude as they would the security of trade secrets."
It’s up to the managers to model the behavior they want their employees to embody, because, "if your staff sees you motivated and joining in on the practices and protocols of your store, this will keep them highly-motivated and having the drive to sell the merchandise," explains Barbara Ratner, founder and owner of Holistic Pet Cuisine, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based pet store.
Of course, identifying your behavior is one thing; addressing it is another. As critical as it is, switching your attitude is much easier said than done.
"Leaders are people too—[it] doesn’t make them immune from a bad day or a slump," says Kibbey. "The difference here is that a leader must be able to pull out of it rather quickly and self-motivate. When a leader cannot pull out on their own, they must seek help or step away."
Laurie Wilson, owner of Teca Tu—a pet store in Santa Fe, N.M.—explains that when she feels herself getting down or losing motivation, she engages in other tasks to distract herself or even hits the gym.
For her part, Ratner focuses on the positive impact her work has on animals every day—how can anyone be angry or sad when they know they’re improving the lives of cats and dogs on daily basis?
No matter how much optimism you bring to the sales floor, the bottom line is that you’re working with a team of people who often are in various stages of their lives—everyone’s not always on the same page. The best way to ensure all team members know what’s expected of them is by outlining, establishing and enforcing distinct behavior guidelines and protocols.
"Having a clear, progressive discipline policy in an employee handbook is the best way to manage behavioral issues," says Corinne Jones, president of New York-based CJC Human Resource Services. "The policy sets forth up front how the company will approach these issues and prepares the employee for what to expect when their performance or behavior is lacking."
Retailers have to be able to identify when a bad day’s crossed into the territory of a recurring issue—it’s an important distinction.
"Multiple instances of the exact same behaviors generally should not be ‘tolerated’ by any manager, or are demonstrative of poor management skills (lack of training, avoiding conflict, etc.)," continues Jones. "After the issue is addressed constructively, and training is provided, the employee should show significant improvement. If not, enter progressive discipline."
The root of a problem may not be as obvious as an unpleasant interaction or an outside annoyance. It could be an employee’s feeling that they’re growing stagnant in their current duties or line of work.
"Most employees want to grow professionally, and outlining their opportunities for improvement—constructively—will (in most cases) address the issue," says Jones. "Offering to train the employee goes a step further and offers insurance against future instances."
Sometimes rules are just that—rules. They can be easily overpowered by emotions, which can influence our sense of what’s right. An employee’s mood can turn on a dime, and if it’s not from something they’re bringing in with them, it may be from an interaction they had with another employee or customer.
"I would advise managers to engage in one-on-one conversations with each team member on a regular basis," says Kibbey. "And if things change—someone is losing steam, suddenly has an attitude problem or begins to slip in performance—it is time to have a heart-to-heart to find out what need is not being met at that point in time. After all, how can you possibly address these types of issues if you don’t ask people what’s going on?"
If an issue stems from an experience with another employee, Kibbey advises that the problem needs to be addressed on two levels—team and individual. She adds that sometimes managers make the mistake of addressing an issue on too high of a level and miss what’s going on with the individual.
To try and minimize negative interactions between your employees, managers should do their best to unite their workers and create an atmosphere of understanding and acceptance—the idea that everyone’s in this together.
"When people feel connected to each other, a team environment can naturally get created," explains Morrison. "Hosting fun events and activities that have nothing to do with work can begin to bridge the gap from colleagues to friends, which will begin to create a natural caring for each other and that caring will affect the company in positive ways, too."
Kibbey says that, "creating a team environment is an art—and, interestingly, not so difficult if the leader truly believes in the team."
She explains that the three "must-dos" of building a team are:
• Defining the purpose and making sure everyone understands their main function—why does the team exist? What defines success?
• Attacking trust on all fronts—the leader must trust the team and the team process to the point where they are willing to share in decision making and execute only after buy-in from all members is achieved. The team members must trust one another so they can be accountable to one another.
• Sharing the power of leadership and giving it away.
The other aspect of cultivating that team environment is making sure to check in frequently with your staff to ensure that everyone remains in the same page.
"Things change so quickly; we keep a daily log of everything we have received, ordered, new product info, etc.," continues Wilson. "We have regular meetings to keep in touch."
Part of creating a team environment is letting your employees know that their hard work isn’t going unnoticed—achievements should be acknowledged and honored.
"It is very important to celebrate our successes, so we go out to team dinners every month or so," says Wilson. "I try to surprise the staff with a gift every so often—for example, an iPad. If we beat our monthly gross from the year before, they receive a bonus based on the amount we made."
In order to keep morale high, Morrison compares being a good leader to being a good dog trainer—giving treats and praise influences behaviors and attitudes in a positive way.
"When upper management is generous with appreciation, gratitude and they praise associates for good behavior, that will reinforce that behavior and can often cause associates and staff to get reenergized for the company," adds Morrison.
Acknowledging a staff’s strong suits and addressing their shortcomings needs to be handled delicately. While everyone wants their peers to be around when they’re being recognized for success, no one wants their faults to be outlined in front of an audience.
When the inevitable occasion that negative feedback has to be given occurs, Morrison emphasizes the importance of not calling a staff member out in front of the team or, even worse, in front of a customer. She advises to, "praise in public, criticize in private."
When it comes to handling a situation that involves a sales associate who’s dealing with a difficult or unruly customer, managers need to find the balance between saving the sale and standing by their employees.
"It is so important to not undermine a sales associate," says Ratner. "The customer is always right and that has to be instilled to the entire staff, [but] no one should stand by a rude customer, especially if they are insulting any of our sales staff."
Still, these tips aren’t fool proof. No matter how much positivity you distribute, rules you implement and loving atmospheres you build, there’s still a chance people will have a mood shift while on the job, explains Wilson. Stripping away titles to understand—and address—certain issues on a human level is, at times, necessary.
"Like it or not, we all bring our personal lives into our work and sometimes just knowing someone at work cares how we are doing can make a world of difference," says Morrison. "Name what you see and ask if there’s something you can do to help—‘It looks like you’re having a hard day today. Am I right about that? Is there something I can do to help you?’"
Managers should make sure they’re not completely writing an employee off for having one bad day—after all, it happens to the best of us.
"Many times an employee will have an off day, but we must continue to support them in all areas," says Ratner. "That support will help them get through whatever is troubling them and then they will be good as new the next time they come in."
Ratner continues that she makes sure she gives her employees a hug every now and then or a comment of support on how they’re doing. She explains that something as simple as asking how they are or thanking them for a job well done will help keep morale up—a little goes a long way.
Ultimately, it all comes full circle. The tone of almost all employee interactions that happen in the store are set by you.
"Leaders of all levels hold a critical role in the organization and usually do not understand how deeply they impact the success of the team," says Kibbey. "When a team leader is genuinely excited, optimistic and energized, they give their staff permission to be the same. When the leader is satisfied with status quo, so is everyone who works for them." PB