The Summertime Motivation Challenge: Ten Tips to Keep the Season’s Distractions from Lowering Your Employees’ Productivity
It’s a phenomenon that employers dread: As the temperature rises in the summer, employees’ motivation levels tend to drop. Chip Averwater provides real-world insight on how to keep enthusiasm and productivity high, not only throughout the summer but all year long.
Most of us love summer and the promise of fun in the sun that it brings with it. But any small business owner knows that summer also brings a season of distractions for employees. Between dreaming of their upcoming beach vacation, dealing with their out-of-school kids, and fighting off the jealousy that comes with serving tanned, relaxed, flip-flop-wearing customers, it can be difficult keeping your employees focused and motivated.
Chip Averwater certainly understands the temptation to slow down and enjoy the season, but as an experienced retailer, he also realizes that you shouldn’t allow higher temperatures to lower your employees’ productivity or the level of service they’re providing to customers.
“Even if your employees are (understandably!) daydreaming about vacations and longing for some fun in the sun, it’s important not to lose momentum,” confirms Averwater, author of the new book Retail Truths: The Unconventional Wisdom of Retailing. “The good news is with the right managerial skills, you’ll have just as much power to influence their attitudes as the weather does! Great leaders know when to give and take from their employees. And the summer happens to be a time when you’ll have to do a little more giving in order to keep them motivated and happy.”
A third generation retailer who has spent 38 years building his own stores and assisting others, Averwater knows what he’s talking about. In Retail Truths, he provides a compendium of over 400 lessons for retailers that often have to be learned in the school of hard knocks. The book covers everything from selling to pricing to employee management, and yes, even how to maintain motivation when the going gets tough.
“No matter what you’re selling, I promise you that if you have the right attitude as a leader, your employees will not only give their best efforts, but love their work-no matter what the weather forecast says!” promises Averwater. “Your employees want to be valued team members. When you provide them with necessary training and tools, provide ongoing infor-mation and feedback, and recognize and respect their efforts and contributions, this summer and every time of year, you’ll keep that spark alive.”
If you’re ready to help your employees’ motivation become as hot as the temperature outside, then read on for some of Averwater’s tried-and-true tips:
Make this the summer of R-E-S-P-E-C-T. In general, we like people who like us. When we’re treated with respect and our efforts are met with appreciation, we tend to do our best. But when we’re around people who don’t understand and appreciate our abilities, knowledge, interests, and accomplishments, we have no inclination to help. This summer, make an effort to regularly remind your employees how much you respect them and appreciate what they do for your business.
“Remember, showing respect is simple and inexpensive,” notes Averwater. “Phrasing communication politely, taking the time to listen and understand an employee’s viewpoint, recognizing his abilities and contributions, offering a word of appreciation, etc. are all great ways to show your respect. Another great way to show respect during the summer is to offer flexibility. When you show your employees you value their time with their families and their enjoyment of the season, they’ll feel you respect them as much as they respect you. Offer employees the option of a flexible summer schedule so that they can adjust their shifts to attend their kids’ sporting events or attend other fun in the sun activities like pool parties and summer concerts.”
Be sympathetic to the summertime blues. Maybe a certain employee has started coming in late for his shift since the days have grown warmer and longer. Or maybe you’ve noticed that another employee is less enthusiastic and constantly talking about how she hates being stuck inside or would rather be at the pool. Badgering and scolding these folks will likely result in worse attitudes, poor self-images, and rebellion. It’s much better to reinforce positive behaviors and think of less desirable behaviors as temporary and uncharacteristic.
“Our people like us when we have high opinions of them, and they’re proud when they live up to our expectations,” shares Averwater. “So don’t rant and nag if you think the summer blues are having a negative impact. A better opening strategy might be to say, ‘I know it’s tempting to slow down right now, so I want to thank you in advance for coming in every day and giving your all. I hope you have a great time during your vacation in a few weeks. You have certainly earned the chance to relax on the beach!’
“If someone needs to work harder, pay more attention, or rediscover his enthusiasm, try to convey the message in a non-confrontational way,” he adds. “Phrased positively, your message can let your employee know that you want to help. I’ve found that a good opening line is, ‘We’ve got a problem with… Let’s talk about how we can solve it.’ Above all, remember that impatience and disrespect are counterproductive and almost always irreparably damage the relationship.”
Strive to make the atmosphere in your organization as sunny as it is outside…starting with yourself. Your employees will treat customers as you treat them. Attitude and tone emanate from the top. If you grumble to them about how you’d rather be with your family at the lake or at home working in your garden, they’ll pass on an “I’d rather be somewhere else” attitude to your customers.
“Greet your employees each morning or as they show up for their shifts with a smile and some encouraging words,” suggests Averwater. “Acknowledge the challenge of being at work during such a nice time of the year. You might say, ‘I’m sure our customers will be out to have some fun on such a gorgeous day, so let’s have some fun in here too!’ Your positivity will be contagious, and your employees will pass it on to your customers.”
Fight warm weather lethargy with motivating requests. Think back to your summer breaks from school as a kid. Did your parents ever give you a list of chores they wanted you to complete before they returned home from work? Chances are that list may have come with an unwritten “or else you’ll be in big trouble” at the end. That probably wasn’t very motivating, and trying to drive your employees with similar commands won’t be effective either. Always keep in mind that the phrasing of a request determines in large part the enthusiasm with which it’s executed.
“You can snap your employees out of warm weather lethargy when you acknowledge their special abilities or compliment them on past achievements,” says Averwater. “Here’s an example of what I mean: ‘Sally, it was so nice of you to help Mr. Braxton with his bags last week when it was so hot out. Would you please keep an eye out for our elderly customers and do the same for them today?’ is much more likely to have positive results than, ‘Sally, go help these customers.’”
Make responsibility a summer reward. Understand that responsibility is an honor and a reward. Just as every ballplayer wants to be in the game, every employee wants to be in charge of something, to prove what he can do, and to be recognized and respected for his contributions and successes. The summer is actually a great time of year to use added responsibility to inspire and motivate your employees.
“Don’t automatically assume that your people will view responsibility as a burden or chore,” advises Averwater. “They’ll probably welcome it. Involve all of your employees in setting end-of-summer goals for your store and ask how they can each ensure you reach those goals. Give individuals specific responsibilities as well. For example, if you’ve noticed an employee is especially creative, put her in charge of designing the store’s summer displays. Responsibility makes work challenging, interesting, fun, and fulfilling. Giving responsibility is recognition, endorsement of abilities, and an expression of trust.”
Make this the Summer of Why? Occasionally (or maybe frequently), you’ll get an employee who has her own method for completing a task. It can be nearly irresistible to point out what she’s doing wrong and then explain to her the “correct” way of getting things done. But instead of trying to force her into doing things your way, ask her why she does things her way.
“When an employee makes her own decisions and improvements, she’ll work with more pride and dedication,” he explains. “You’ll often get the best results when you give your people a little latitude rather than precise instructions. Even if they don’t come up with the most efficient method, their commitment usually makes up for the inefficiencies. And who’s to say that someone won’t come up with a better way, especially after getting a little experience? When they do, be sure to recognize their achievements. If you find that someone’s method is likely to create expensive problems, then you can step in with some suggestions.”
Highlight your Summer Superstars. It costs nothing but a little time to tell an employee he’s done a good job. Yet it can improve his attitude and enthusiasm for a day or a week-sometimes even a lifetime. So if you see enthusiasm wilting this summer, recognize deserving employees for special achievements, unusual abilities, or important roles. You’ll boost their pride and inspire them to contribute more.
“Highlight a weekly ‘Summer Superstar’ by posting an employee’s photo and a big achievement from the week before at the front of your store,” says Averwater. “Or recognize your entire staff with a special treat in the break room each week. For example, you have might have an ice cream party one week and thank all your employees for providing great service to your customers. Or if they have to work long hours during a July 4th or other summertime sales event, provide them with a gift card to a local farmer’s market or host a cookout. When you find ways to make your employees feel like superstars, they’ll find ways to repeat those behaviors.”
Don’t let yourself fall into a summer slump. Since when has “Do as I say, not as I do” ever been an effective strategy? The fact is, your actions will be presumed to represent your real values, and your words (past, present, and future) will lose their credibility if they conflict with your behavior.
“So this summer, you can’t come in late, take longer lunches, and slip out early on Fridays, while you’re telling your employees they need to be more dedicated,” says Averwater. “If anything, rededicate yourself to your work so that your people will have a good example to follow. When your words and actions match, the combination is a powerful illustration and endorsement of your processes and your credibility.”
Keep communication lines open, even when you’re away. Even if you manage to avoid a summer slump, chances are at some point you’ll go on vacation this summer. And while you’re gone, rumors and other pieces of misinformation may pop up since you aren’t there to deny them or clarify them. Be sure to stay in touch with your employees and make sure they know it’s okay to bring their questions to you even when you’re away.
“When you don’t answer your employees’ questions, they’ll find answers elsewhere or come up with their own,” notes Averwater. “In most cases, these answers aren’t the ones you would prefer, and they’re often much worse than the truth. Unlikely possibilities grow into perceived realities, creating negative feelings and distrust of the company. So even if you think your people won’t like it, sharing the truth is almost always better than risking the stories that will inevitably spread.”
Don’t give your employees a reason to make a post-summer exodus. Understand that employees don’t quit their jobs; they quit their managers. A poor relationship with the manager is the impetus for leaving a job more often than working conditions, pay, better opportunity, or any other oft-cited reason — regardless of what the employee says. In most cases, the cause for quitting is a confrontation that indicates a lack of respect for the employee, his work, or his motives.
“If you spend the summer complaining about this or that small mistake that an employee or employees have made or never give your employees any breathing room to make their own decisions and actually enjoy their work, they won’t have much reason to stick with you,” points out Averwater. “A manager’s bursts of anger or frustration can leave lasting scars. And most employees would rather find other work than risk continuing conflict-even when they otherwise enjoy the job! Let this piece of truth motivate you to always stay positive and constructive as you do your summer motivating.”
“If you let these truths influence your management style, you’ll be on the right track to keeping your employees motivated, not just through the dog days of summer but all year long,” concludes Averwater. “Remember, when the manager has the right attitude, employees not only give their best efforts-they love their work, too!”
About the Author:
Chip Averwater is a third generation retailer and chairman of Amro Music Stores in Memphis, TN. He has been a featured speaker on retailing in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Australia.