advice/perspective on jobs, work and management

I quiz my employees to keep them sharp

Hi! I’m an assistant store manager for a large clothing retailer. I’m new to managing, and pretty new to the working world (I’m in my early 20s). I’m ambitious too; I really hope to do well in my role – and maybe even be seen as a rising star in the company (fingers crossed)!

     Before we open our doors each day, the management team holds a meeting for the sales associates to prepare them for their shift. We let them know about any new items in stock, promotions we might be running, etc. – that sort of thing. As a manager, one of my responsibilities is to take my turn running these meetings, which, in all honesty, tend to be pretty sleepy affairs. Most people spend the time either glancing at their phones, or staring off into space. So to liven things up, I’ve started “quizzing” the associates. For instance, I might ask them something about basic product knowledge, or how they might handle a particular customer scenario. Participation is voluntary, of course (although sometimes I do call on people) – and there really are no right or wrong answers. I just want to engage people! I get the feeling that not everyone is excited about my idea as I am (although no one has actually complained yet). But I think it’s a fun way to keep people on their toes, and get them ready for the shift! Thoughts? – Name withheld

I’m sorry, but there really is no other way to say this:

Quizzing your employees in this way, just prior to a shift—especially considering they’re salespeople—is a terrible idea.

Mind you, I get what you’re trying to do. You understand that, as a manager, one of your primary responsibilities is to motivate those who work for you. In that you are correct. A motivated workforce is more productive, and a motivated salesforce is probably going to sell more, so motivation is key. As Peter Economy and Bob Nelson explain in Managing for Dummies (2003):

Most of management comes down to mastering skills and techniques for motivating people…[1]

It’s the way you’ve chosen to motivate them that’s the problem.

Having worked in retail myself, I can assure you that the best possible attitude to take onto the sales floor is that which is positive, upbeat, and confident. Tom Hopkins (author of Selling for Dummies), concurs:

Before you [the salesperson] enter into any new sales experience, make sure you bring with you an attitude of positive anticipation and enthusiasm.[2]

But ‘quizzing’ your salespeople in the way you describe won’t do anything to accomplish this.

In fact, it’s more likely to achieve just the opposite.

Think about it: When have you ever walked away from a test and felt good about yourself? Even if you absolutely aced the thing, the best you can hope to feel is a sense of relief. Far more likely for you to feel anxious or unnerved, obsessing over the few questions you may have gotten wrong, as opposed to all the ones you got right. (By the way, some answers are always more right than others, no matter what anyone says.)

Unfortunately, you compound your error by quizzing your salespeople just prior to their shift. Instead of confident and upbeat, you leave them feeling uncertain and unsure – and at precisely the moment when you want them feeling their best. You take the wind out of their sails (or sales) before they’ve even left the dock.

So please, stop testing your employees in this way. There are far better ways to motivate people.

As the authors of Managing for Dummies explain, amongst them is working hard to gain your employee’s trust. You can do this in any number of ways, they explain. By showing them respect, for instance – or opening the channels of communication, or making them feel safe.[3]

Your little quizzes don’t accomplish any of this either.

They suggest a fundamental lack of trust in your salespeople, their professionalism, and their capacity to do their jobs. This disrespects them, and all the hard work they undoubtedly do for you. They also do more to shut down the lines of communication, rather than open them up. If your employees can’t be sure whether you’re there to support them, or judge them, they’re not going to come to you for help unless the circumstances absolutely demand it. Nor is subjecting your employees to such tests likely to make them feel particularly safe. 

And they certainly aren’t any ‘fun’ either.

So seize the opportunity these meetings provide to (1) ask your salespeople if there’s anything they need for their shift, (2) genuinely listen to what they say, and, if at all possible, follow through on it, and then (3) tell them that you appreciate all that they do for your organization each and every day.

Do that, I guarantee you’ll have their attention…and this time it’ll be for all the right reasons.

 

NOTES

[1] Nelson, Bob and Peter Economy, Managing for Dummies (), 2003, p. 77.

[2] Hopkins, Tom, “11 Ways to Master the Art of Selling”, Dummies.com, 3/26/2016. https://www.dummies.com/article/business-careers-money/business/sales/11-ways-to-master-the-art-of-selling-144023/. Retrieved 9/1/22.

[3] Nelson, op cit, p. 83-84. (By the way, I didn’t chose books in the Dummies series for any particular reason here; they’re just the two I happened to pluck from my shelf. Most texts on these subjects offer similar insights.)

[ 3 Comments ]

  1. Lhpds444

    Whats the big deal about making sure people know there job?? Im always keeping on top of this with my workers

    Reply
  2. bossbanana

    Good advice, the final nugget is reminiscent of the Tom Hopkins quote: “Keep your eyes open and try to catch people in your company doing something right, then praise them for it.”

    Reply
  3. Jebediah D

    When it’s your turn to run the meeting, you should offer one-shift-only salespeople specials – extra commissions on particular categories or items. You can be creative with what the incentives are tied to. I guarantee that’ll get their attention.

    Reply

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