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The Hardest Job in Retailing

The multi-unit supervisor is the conduit for most of the information (or lack thereof) and almost all of the motivation (or lack thereof) to the field.

Whether when representing the field’s point of view to senior execs, or when expressing HQ’s directives when back in the field, all bucks seem to stop (and responsibility lay) with her/him.  And this employee’s ability to manage can have a huge financial effect—positive and negative–on unit and corporate success. Maybe it’s by focusing a field staff on key metrics. Or by driving a new program launch. Or by managing payroll and turnover. In all these cases and more, this employee’s performance can have multi-million dollar consequences.

The skill set critical to succeed as a multi-unit supervisor is very different from running a single unit; in fact, the qualities most resemble those of a senior executive. The necessary skills and behaviors, which can be learned, include:

  • Managing and motivating employees without seeing them daily. A manager’s performance is influenced most by the relationship with his immediate supervisor. Has that person learned empathy, delegation, follow-up and trust-building?
  • Understanding, analyzing and communicating corporate goals and directives. In other words, s/he needs the skill to interpret and communicate up the organization as well as down. Most, if not all, communication to the field comes from this single point.
  • A head for stats. A successful multi-unit supervisor needs a “ranking and metrics” mindset—one that looks at the field in a way that makes it easy to score performance and to prioritize needs…without “playing favorites.”
  • Self-motivating and self-starting. Is he/she confident, and equipped with organization and prioritization skills? The multi-unit supervisor needs to be able to decide where best to spend his/her time to give his company the highest ROI on that time. Can s/he differentiate urgent from important?

To help ensure success, we are teaching them the “arts” of coaching and motivation, and helping them develop checklists, establish weekly schedules and goals, and to plan regularly-scheduled “accountability” meetings with unit managers. By learning these and other skills, and by honing the ones they already have, the multi-unit managers who succeed will become future leaders at this organization.