Employee Performance


The best performance review takes place daily.

As a new manager in my 20s, I found myself responsible for a dozen inside-sales staff and a half-dozen field salespeople at the natural products distributor Stow Mills, a predecessor company to United Natural Foods. While I had worked various jobs since age 16, this was my first time managing others. The wholesale business, much like retailing, moves rapidly. The pace set by daily operations—receiving products into the warehouse, order deadlines, picking, packing, delivering on-time, in-stock, and correctly to hundreds of stores every day—is like running an Olympic 10K race all day, every day.

In a fast-paced retail environment, a manager typically spends most of his or her time putting out operational fires; that sale item is out of stock, the cash register is out of receipt tape, there’s a mess on the floor by the bulk bins. Employee problems, when they occur, feel like an unnecessary interruption to the flow of daily operations. A manager—particularly a new manager—will tend to overreact or underreact. If the store has a periodic review process, the manager may take the path of least resistance: make a note to the file about the bad behavior rather than “make a scene” in the store, waiting until review time to bring up the criticism. But this is a poor choice for several reasons.

First, the review done properly should highlight strengths and set goals for the next period. It should not be the manager’s opportunity to play “Gotcha!” If the first time the employee hears a criticism about their work performance is in the review, this defeats the review’s purpose of positive reinforcement, demotivates the employee and signals the manager is not actively managing day to day.

Second, the criticism will be stale, with neither the employee nor manager remembering the situation and context clearly or completely. Instead of clarity, you’ll have argument.

Third, left until the review, the bad behavior will persist, creating a vicious circle of chronic poor performance, lack of supervision and, at review time, demotivation.

The way I overcame my reluctance to actively manage was through trial and error. Eventually, I realized that addressing poor performance right away solved so many problems. First, the employee could respond immediately to explain his or her behavior. Second, we could reach agreement on how to avoid the problem next time. And third, at review time, I could reward the employee for improving in this area, motivating instead of demotivating.

Four Steps to Actively Manage Employee Performance:
1. When: Immediately at the moment of concern.
2. Where: In the place where you observe the behavior.
3. How: Calmly, mutually respectful, and open-minded.
4. What: Stay focused on the outcome that is best for the business and customer.

The key, I found, is to approach the employee immediately but calmly, with a sense of mutual respect and, with a truly open mind, ask her or him to explain the situation. By staying focused on the best outcome for the company and customer, you will usually reach an understanding momentarily. Because your interaction is calm and respectful, most can take place without having to move to another area of the store. I’d love to hear your experiences with managing employees for better outcomes. WF

Jay Jacobowitz is president and founder of Retail Insights®, a professional consulting service for natural products retailers established in 1998, and creator of Natural Insights for Well Being®, a comprehensive marketing service designed especially for independent natural products retailers. With 35 years of wholesale and retail industry experience, Jay has assisted in developing over 1,000 successful natural products retail stores in the U.S. and abroad. Jay is a popular author, educator, and speaker, and is the merchandising editor of WholeFoods Magazine, for which he writes Merchandising Insights and Tip of the Month. Jay also serves the Natural Products Association in several capacities. He can be reached at (800)328-0855 or via e-mail at jay@retailinsights.com. Jay will be speaking at NPA SOHO in Orlando, FL, on Thursday, Dec. 6 at 7:00 p.m., where he will be leading a roundtable discussion about current retailing trends and independent retailer concerns. On Friday, Dec. 7 from 2:45 to 3:45 p.m., Jay will be on a panel discussing the benefits of branding your own store. Jay will be exhibiting at SOHO at booth #210.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, October 2012