Solving Retail Performance Problems

Solving Retail Performance Problems


In this section, we are going to look at the reasons for performance problems.

We are first going to give you the highlights and later take each point and expand on that point.

There is a lot of good advice here because we not only look at problems themselves but also discuss solutions and methods to remedy most performance issues that are typical in retail stores.

We also cover areas that management has the ultimate responsibility to set an environment that is truly motivational and not just one driven by slogans with no substance behind them.

IDENTIFYING THE PROBLEM                            

  • Skill Deficiency (Lack of Training / Experience)
  • Motivational Problem (Area of Management Responsibility)
  • Behavioral Problem (Area of Individual Responsibility)

Skill deficiency is usually the easiest to deal with, and can be resolved through appropriate training.

Motivation of course covers a wide range of factors and influencers and it is the manager’s responsibility to create a motivational store environment.


  • Performance is punishing
  • Non-Performance is Rewarding
  • Does Performance Matter?
  • Obstacles

Behavioral issues are the most difficult to overcome; they are a total sum of individual’s upbringing, educational level and experiences.


  • Clearly Communicate Expectations
  • Use Appropriate Leadership Style
  • Give Descriptive, Corrective Feedback

Depending on the nature and the severity of problem, you may want to take one or more of the options listed below that are available to you as the leader/coach/manager.

Detailed explanation of each option is available later in the report.


  • Shut Up and Love It
  • Neutralize the Person
  • Neutralize Yourself
  • Threats, Bribes, Guilt Trips
  • Do Nothing & Complain

Once you decide to deal with the problem, you need to sit down with the person and have an open, straight forward conversation about the issue(s).


  • Describe the Specific Behavior to be changed
  • Describe the Behavior You Like to See
  • Determine Who Owns the Problem
  • Consider the Time Frame


  • State Your Concern
  • Help the Person Identify the Problem
  • Help the Person Identify a Solution
  • Get Commitment around Results
  • Restate Performance Expectations
  • Set a Firm Follow-Up Time and Date


  • Deal with the Behavior Not the Personality
  • Problem Solving is Not a Win/Lose Deal
  • Look for Win/Win Situations
  • Make it Safe, Comfortable, an Open Atmosphere
  • Create a Contract environment
  • Don’t Be the Only Person Working on a Solution

The first step with any situation is to define the problem, and a useful way to start is by differentiating between a “Performance” problem and a “Behavior” problem.

Performance problems are those deficiencies relating directly to the performance of a task or a group of tasks, such as: failing to achieve sales numbers, incomplete tasks, errors, low productivity, poor work quality, etc.

Quite often with a performance problem the manager or supervisor has a part in the problem.

For example, by not communicating performance expectations or using an inappropriate leadership style, we contribute to the situation.

As a result, to correct a performance problem the supervisor and the employee will need to work together to correct the performance.

Behavior problems are those situations of inappropriate or unacceptable actions that violate established norms, practices and policies.

Examples include: frequently arriving to work late, chronic absenteeism, arguing with customers or other staff, and the more serious problems of theft, alcoholism and/or drug abuse.

Before taking any action the supervisor needs to identify the problem as either a performance or a behavior problem and then analyze the problem in an attempt to find the “cause”.

Identifying the problem:

The first step in identifying the problem is to establish clearly the nature and extent of the performance discrepancy.

This is done by describing the difference between the expected level of performance and what the employee is presently doing.

Naturally, this means that you need to be very clear on what your performance expectations are.

You also need to be sure that you have communicated these expectations to the employee. Here are some examples:

Performance Expectation: Sell eight customers a day. Present Performance: Jane is only making two sales. Discrepancy: Not meeting the expectation by six sales.

Performance Expectation: Drive the company car safely, with “no” accidents. Present Performance: Dick had three accidents this month. Discrepancy: Three accidents is three too many.

Performance Expectation: Begin work at 9:00 am. each day Present Performance: Joe arrives at 9:00, but really doesn’t get started until 9:30 am. Discrepancy: Half an hour delay in starting work.

When you’ve defined the discrepancy, and you’re certain that your expectations are known, you need to ask yourself: “Is the performance discrepancy important?”

Well, all problems are important, however, decide if it’s serious enough to spend time and energy dealing with the problem.

If you do attempt to correct the situation, will you, in fact, create more problems?

If it’s a situation that doesn’t affect the productivity of the employee or other employees; or doesn’t affect the morale of the sales team, or the employee is to retire in six months, it may not be important enough to fix it.

If this is the case-no, it’s not important-ignore the problem. In two of our three examples there may be other factors that could be relevant.

If Jane’s sales are double her monthly quotas in selling to repeat customers, the problem may not be worth fixing.

If Joe is slow in starting but he stays extra hour everyday, always works the weekends and those hours which nobody wants to be in the store, his productivity is high and the other salespeople don’t seem to mind the situation at all, this problem may not be important either.

The key is to think the issue through and to use common sense. Always remember-if it isn’t important, don’t spend time to fix it.

However, if these factors aren’t present, (Jane’s not getting the sales and Joe doesn’t work extra time) then you have to decide whether the problem is a

  • Skill Deficiency
  • Motivational
  • Behavioral

In deciding if the problem is the result of a skill deficiency, the crucial question to ask yourself is:

“Could the employee perform the task correctly if his/her life depended on it?” Does the employee have the required skills; has s/he received the proper training?

Don’t make assumptions about the answer, but rather give it some serious thought.

If your answer to the question is “Yes, the employee can give the required performance if his/her life depended on it, but s/he doesn’t,” you’re dealing with either a motivational or a behavior problem.

Motivational problems are those which pertain to the performance of tasks-whether or not a job is done, whether it’s done correctly or it’s done on time.

Behavior problems are those which have to do with the overall demeanor of the employee.

His actions, dress, or conduct are somehow not meeting the general expectations, norms and standards of the organization.

Each of these three types of problems requires a different approach to assess and resolve them.

Skill Deficiencies:

When confronted with a possible skill deficiency the first question to ask is “Did the employee used to do it?” Has s/he ever performed this task?

If the answer is “NO” then the obvious fix is to arrange a formal training. If the answer to the question is, “Yes, s/he used to do it.”

The next question is, “Is this a skill that’s used often?” If the answer is “NO”, we need to arrange some supervised practice.

If the answer is “Yes, this skill is used quite often,” we then need to give feedback.

Provide the employee some corrective feedback so s/he can adjust or correct the performance.

Motivational Problems:

Motivation has to do with desire, wanting to do the job. There are four possible reasons why employee doesn’t want to perform:

1. Performance is punishing: Some times, employees receive some form of punishment or negative consequence for performing well.

The one who works hard and efficiently, will get more work to do while the less achievers get less work.

In the case of a large airline company, the baggage handler who delayed the plane to correctly route the luggage, got punished.

If he did not care, all baggage would have ended up in wrong destinations but nobody would have singled out this particular handler.

2. Non-Performance is rewarding: This is the converse of the previous situation.

Slower you work, the less you have to do and you sure get a lot of attention from your supervisor or you’ll have more time to chat.

If you are the last to arrive at a meeting, you become the center of attention.

3. Does Performance Matter? : Is there some consequence to the employee? Some accountability, some reason to be important to the employee?

This is quite often the problem when the priority and importance of tasks are not communicated to the employee.

Supervisors can not afford to assume “they should know “. You need to communicate your expectations clearly and provide consequences for performance.

To express this differently, the employee needs to experience consequences when performance is good and different consequences when it is inadequate.

If the employee can say “No one seems to care, if I do it well or poorly, no one notices!” Then performance really doesn’t matter, does it?

4. Obstacles: Are there obstacles or something in the way that prevents the employee from achieving the results?

Does the employee have proper tools, equipment to do the job?

An example for this would be, a manager going home early with the cash drawer keys preventing the assistant manager from cashing out on time.

Check to see if there is some obstacle preventing the employee from performing. If there is, “remove the obstacles”.

Behavior Problems:     

Supervisors are often confronted with behavior problems such as lateness, chronic absenteeism, conflict with co-workers, abusive to customers, causing destruction to equipment and property, excessive late lunches and other actions that are creating problems.

The first question to ask is: “Has employee been told specifically what the acceptable standards of behavior are?”

If you have not personally communicated these expectations to the employee, then do so and also outline the reasons why these expectations exist.

In serious situations, it may be wise to also tell the employee what consequences will ensue if the behavior does not change.

If the employee has been told what the acceptable standards of behavior are and s/he is still not meeting these standards then you need to provide some consequences.

The consequence should equal the seriousness of the infraction.

Before taking action on a performance problem, the manager needs first to give some thought to “Who owns the Problem?”

To identify that, you should ask yourself some pointed questions:

  1. Have I communicated my performance expectations clearly to the employee and am I confident that the employee has a clear understanding of these expectations?
  2. Am I using the effective and appropriate leadership style for the employee’s development level?
  3. Have I openly discussed with the employee his or her performance and given descriptive, corrective feedback?

If the answer to any or all of these three questions is “No” then you, the manager, own some part of the problem and you need to make appropriate changes to the training, job environment, your leadership style, or communicating your expectations.

If the answer to all of the three questions is “Yes”. (you’ve done all those things and the problem still exists,) then the employee owns the problem and you need to conduct a Problem Solving Interview.


When facing a problem with a person there are six options to choose from to deal with the particular problem or person. They are:


This is an appropriate choice to make when the problem is so minor it is not worth the energy to fix it, and trying to do something about it may only make things worse.

Remember the last two words of this option are “Love it”. Find something humorous in the situation that will ease or eliminate the tension caused by the problem.


This is similar to burying the cat in the neighbor’s backyard. Or the transfer, promotion or lateral arabesque.

Transferring or promoting the person at times is a very effective option-the employee may work very effectively under another supervisor.


Take yourself out of the problem situation by transferring yourself, getting a promotion, or choosing another career path.

This may be necessary if you have an irreconcilable difference with your boss. After all, it’s very difficult to have your boss transferred.


These are options quite a number of people choose.

Unfortunately, the success rate is pretty poor and the long term effect is often resentment and frustration, which may compound the problem.


This ulcer producing activity is also very common. By doing nothing the problem never gets solved. By complaining, the effect is throwing energy into a bottomless pit.

This is the most impotent of all the options.


As most people are pretty adept in the other five options, training is not required.

Yet, good management is all about facing and dealing with problems and fixing them successfully.

The following is a guideline for “Planning for and conducting a Problem Solving Interview.”

Problem Solving: The objective in engaging in a problem solving activity with an employee is: To seek a change in behavior as it relates to job performance.

Purpose is to work with the employee to help the person do something different (better) than they are presently doing.

Planning for the Problem Solving Interview:

  1. Describe the specific behavior you would like to see changed.

                        What is the person doing that I don’t like?

                        How does this behavior affect his/her performance?

                        How does this behavior affect the performance of others?

                        What are some examples? When does this occur? When did it occur last? Where does this happen? Who is involved?

It is imperative that this description be what the person is doing and not an overall assessment or conclusion by the supervisor.


Right: Mary, when a customer comes in I see you put your head down, pick up some papers, back away from the customer and remain out of sight until another salesperson serves the customer.       

Wrong: Mary, you are greeting the customers improperly.

The second statement gives Mary little or no information as to what it is she is doing wrong.

  1. Describe specifically the behaviors you would like instead:

                      What are your performance expectations?


Right: Mary, when a customer comes in, I want you to raise your head, smile, walk toward the customer and greet them by saying, “Good afternoon. What can I show you today?”

Wrong: Mary, I’d like you to greet the customers properly.

Mary’s idea of “properly” may differ a great deal from the supervisor’s expected performance.

  1. Who owns the problem?

                      Is a Problem Solving Interview required?

                      Does the employee have a complete understanding of my performance expectations?         

                      Am I using the appropriate leadership style for this employee?

                      How long has this problem been occurring until now? What options have I chosen in the past and why haven’t they been effective?

  1. Time Frame: If the behavior has been repeated for a period of time, it may require more than one interview before the behavior changes. Ensure that you are willing to work with the employee until the problem is solved-if not don’t begin. Plan for an uninterrupted time frame to conduct the interview. Never, ever confront the employee in front of his/her co-workers or customers.

Conducting the problem solving Interview:

The following guidelines will increase the effectiveness of the interview.

However, it is a guideline, each situation will vary and there may be times that discussing each item may not be necessary.

The model is effective when it is adapted to your style as a manager, adapted to a situation and adapted to a particular employee.

The most important aspect of this technique is effective, open communication.

Simply having a problem with an employee is no excuse for not listening, or not expressing yourself honestly.

1. State your concern. Without much preamble, describe the specific behavior or performance you want to see changed.

This opening statement must be clear, direct, and brief; no more than 30 seconds before the employee has to respond.

Discuss the situation in an open, candid manner, without judgment or evaluation of what the person is doing.

You may increase the intensity by disclosing your feelings to the person. Example: “I feel really frustrated when I see you doing this.”

However, this may not always be necessary.

2. Help the person identify the problem: Ask an open question like “Charlie, why have you been slow at getting started work?”

Wait for the answer! It is important for the person to identify the reasons for the behavior. You may believe you know but you may be wrong.

When the person identifies the reasons for their behavior, at that point they are also accepting responsibility for the problem.

From time to time, you may come up against a person’s “denial system”, when even after a description of what it is s/he is doing, the response is:” don’t do that.” or “It’s not me, it is because…”

If this happens, restate your concern again.

If there’s still denial after two or three tries, restate your performance expectations and review the consequences of the behavior remaining the same.

3. Help the person identify a solution: As the person has identified the reason(s) for the behavior, why it’s happening, you now want them to find a way to solve the problem.

You, as the manager, may have a wonderful way of solving the problem, however, the person’s bizarre, mixed-up solution is better than yours, because they’ll be committed to using it.

If they have some difficulty finding a solution, allow some time to think about it.

Don’t give them solutions and remember: Suggestions from supervisors are often interpreted as orders by employees.

Get a commitment around results: Ask the person what s/he will commit to do. When will they implement the solution and what the results are going to be.

Restate performance expectations: In some cases it may be necessary to review the consequences of the behavior remaining the same.

What is your next course of action if the person’s behavior does not change?

Set a firm follow-up time and date:

This is essential for two reasons: First, this provides a time frame for the employee to implement the solution previously committed to.

Second, it is necessary to provide the person with feedback to reinforce the behavior change, as well as strengthening the boss/subordinate relationship.

If the problem behavior is repeated prior to the time of the follow-up, confront the situation immediately.

Prior to and during a Problem Solving Interview, remember these important points:

  •    Deal with what the person is doing (their behavior or performance). The purpose is problem solving, or correction, and you’re not trying to “get” the person.
  •    Problem solving is not a win/lose deal.
  •    Look for win/win situations.
  •    Make it safe; make it comfortable and an open atmosphere.
  •    Create a contract environment.
  •    Don’t take responsibility for the problem by being the only person working on a solution.


Performance review is extremely important because it facilitates communication between the staff member and the manager.

Good managers know how important the feedback is for their staff. They conduct brief performance reviews many times during the day naturally.

For those who have not figured out the importance of manager’s feedback, Human Resources usually legislates minimum time frames for performance reviews.

              Focus:                 Employee’s Behavior vs. Job Requirements

              Objective:            Evaluate Job Performance

              Individual’s Role: Listen, Clarify, Communicate

              Manager’s Role:   Appraise, Evaluate, Feedback

              Climate:                 Anxiety, Open, Comfortable

“I Succeed” Retail Employee Performance Evaluation System is a great tool to conduct successful performance reviews. 

I Succeed Retail Employee Evaluation System