Leadership and Trust

I’ve been a retail manager for the majority of my adult life; thirteen of twenty-three years to be exact. Over that time I’ve had the pleasure of working with some stellar managers, Mike from Borders and William from my current employer to name two real stand outs. I’ve also had the displeasure of working for some ineffective managers. I know what a poor manager looks like, I’m not a particularly good manager myself. So, when our current store/district manager played the Geico commercial over the intercom prior to opening on New Year’s Eve, the one with the camel celebrating “Hump Day,” I couldn’t help but joke that it’s appropriate we were ending 2014 on a hump day because we’d been getting screwed all year, with more of the same on the way.

I understand that we are a publicly-traded company and therefore are dictated by bottom-line profits and dividend payouts to our investors. This is the nature of the beast. It was, in many ways, with Borders the same. And the first response of corporate to increase profits is to cut controllable expenses such as payroll. This happened at Borders and it is happening once again at my current employer. Once again, I understand this cycle and have come to accept it. But at Borders it was handled much more professionally by my store manager Cadence than has been here. Let me start with the good leadership example.

When we were faced with payroll cuts, Cadence set aside small group meetings with the hourly staff to go over exactly what was going on. She concisely described the basic financial responsibility we had as managers to bring down payroll to combat rising expenses and overall shrinking profits. During these small meetings some part-time employees offered to have their hours cut so others could keep their hours; they just didn’t really need or want as many hours as they had been working. This made the transition much smoother and it showed our employees the concern Cadence, as store manager, had for all of the employees. It truly fostered a sense of trust in management; when faced with difficult decisions the staff was confident in her ability to make the right one.

Fast forward to my current employer. We are also faced with hours cuts. My department specifically finished a little weak and dropped one percent in sales. Across the company stores spent too much on labor, and in the final quarter we have to cut hours to make forecast profits for our investors. Such is the cycle. But our store/district manager held no such meeting with staff, did not post anything explaining it to the staff, nor asked the assistant managers to do any of the same. Instead the edict was issued to all department managers with the expectation that we pull the trigger and do the explaining. I have no problem with having to do this, I feel I have a fairly good relationship with my team. But it does not present an approachable, concerned-about-the-employees atmosphere which Cadence accomplished. It’s just about the bottom line for investors.

Making matters worse, our store/district manager explained to the department heads that he had cut 20 hours/week from each department – roughly 3 hours/day – for January and the numbers would return to normal in February comparative to last year. Well, I went back at the numbers and found a huge discrepancy. The smallest weekly hours cut for my department – comparative to last year – over the coming months is 30 hours, fifty-percent more than the promised 20 hours. On average, between now and the end of March, my department is losing 38 hours/week. That’s target-to-target hours, and at the beginning of the year my department was above target. My bakery took a few hits in our busiest weeks this year – injury and sickness both during Thanksgiving and Christmas weeks – thereby bringing us down a little below target for the year. Our new targets, which are forcing down the hours, are significantly lower than anything we missed them by in the past year. Effectively, our store/district manager looked all of us in the eye, and lied.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m not a particularly good manager. But even I know you cannot lie to your subordinates. Without trust and integrity, all working relationships break down. Employees are no longer inspired to go the extra mile. Concerns will not be brought to the attention of untrustworthy and ineffective management, which will only, in turn, exacerbate the problems. It is a vicious cycle to find yourself in, and there is very little hope of getting out without change at the top. And it looks like corporate is unwilling to make those changes. Before his promotion to district manager, we all did a survey of our store manager rating his trustworthiness. He didn’t fare too well. I’ve been brutally honest with these anonymous surveys, as have many other department heads. Still, corporate saw fit to promote him to his new role. What does that say about how the company listens to and cares for the employees?

So, if you are in a leadership role within a company, never forget the importance of honesty. If you don’t have your employees trust, you don’t deserve their respect. And where will that get you?

Special Note: You will notice that I never mention my current employer, and I never will. Borders is long gone from the business world, closing their doors over three years ago. So I can’t get into trouble with them. Those of you who know me know where I work, but I must ask of you never to mention that within the comments of this blog. Although I’m not happy with the environment of my store, nor the corporate culture, I do enjoy receiving a steady paycheck and must grin and bear it until I can find greener pastures. Thank you.

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2 Comments

  1. I could not agree with your note about integrity more. Once that’s broken, it’s broken forever. I’m much more willing to work for someone who admits mistakes / shortcomings than someone who ignores / hides them. Thanks.

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    • I’m not sure it’s broken forever. It can be re-established, but it takes a very long time or a discernible sea-change from the offending party. Hopefully my situation will improve, I’m going to just continue to do the best I can with what I’m given. Thank you for sharing, bradsdesk. I’ll be checking your blogging out soon.

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