Introduction to the Weakest Link

Have you ever heard the saying ”your store is only as strong as it’s weakest link”? What or who do you think this “weakest link” is referring to? The weakest link in your store could be a member of your management team,  a sales associate or even a negative vibe that your store gives off. One of the hardest things about addressing performance conversations is that holiday is just around the corner and the idea of closely assessing your staff might seem difficult, or perhaps not an ideal time to make a change. But the reality is, by ignoring the issue, you are going to cost your store in sales results and potentially lose customers, for good. Addressing issues doesn’t mean you have to fire someone. However, waiting and hoping they improve is not a good approach either.

My goal is to provide you with tangible and easy actions you can take to ensure your team is on their BEST game as you go into the holiday season.

In today’s blog we are going to explore who these weak links are and what you can do to move them off the “weak link” list. We will also address how to minimize weak links with all the seasonal hires you will be bringing on board for holiday.


The Weakest Link on your Management Team

One of the weakest links could sit on your management team. This could be the newest member of the team or the one with the least experience or even an experienced manager who is struggling in their role. The first step is to identify who the person is and what the root cause of their performance issues are. Once you have identified the issues, partner with your District Manager for their advice and support on how to address. Every company has their own set of do’s and don’ts so I am not going to attempt to provide direction here.

Just the Facts, please

To identify the weakest link on your management team, you want to focus on the facts. In order to do this, focus on their performance results.

(1) Do they create a customer centric environment when they are the manager on duty?

(2) What are their Sales and Conversion results like? Are they achieving their goals?

(3) How do they interact with / coach the sales associates?

(4) What are their store standards like? Do they effectively recover the store at close? Are they able to keep the store filled in after peak periods? Do they follow your expectations?

(5) How would you evaluate their operational strength? Visual Standards? Floor set Execution? Backroom Organization?


Now I want you to STOP and add some components that are not listed here but are relevant to your store.

Ok, have the full list identified? What steps will you take? The conversation could vary based on if these are weak areas due to being new in role or if they are weak because the associate is misplaced in their role or struggling in role. If they are new in role, continue to support and train leading up to the holiday.

These conversations can be difficult however, one of the best ways to overcome the discomfort is to role play the conversation with your supervisor or HR partner first.  This will also ensure you are following company expectations on how to coach associates. 

The Weakest Link on your Sales Associate Team

Similarly to how you addressed performance issues with managers, evaluate your part time associates next.  It is Important to focus on the facts, not emotion.  Include your management team on the assessment of the sales associates. A 360 degree view is important and helps with objectivity.

Do the sales associates:

(1) Show up on time for work in the correct dress code with a positive attitude?

(2) Display a customer centric attitude and use the selling model?

(3) Achieve sales goals and/or tasks?

(4) Act as a team player?

If the answer is no to any of these, then there are coaching opportunities.  You know the old saying, “one bad apple spoils the barrel”? With new seasonal associates joining the team soon, take care of issues now before the undesirable behavior becomes contagious to new hires.

No Complaining Rule

We have addressed potential performance issues on the management team and amongst sales associates.  However, the weakest link could be due to negativity amongst the team and not a specific person at all. Maybe your store results aren’t where you want them to be or traffic is down and the team feels discouraged. Whatever the reason, there is a solution! If you have been following my blog or my recommended reads, you know I am a fan of Jon Gordon. Jon has written a great book called “The No Complaining Rule”.  Adopting some of these rules in how you run your store will make a big difference this holiday (and always).

4 Simple Rules to follow

Rule #1: No Mindless Complaining. People are not allowed to mindlessly complain to their co-workers or team members. If they have a problem, they need to bring it to the Store Manager or someone who can address the issue. Why is “no mindless complaining” allowed? Because mindless complaining focuses on problems. You need to expect “justified complaining”. What is the difference? Justified complaining is solution oriented!

Rule #2: Listen, Hear, Act. For the no complaining process to work, your people need to know that their complaints and solutions will be heard and considered.

Rule #3: Celebrate Success. To reinforce the No Complaining rule, you need to recognize people who successfully turn their complaints into solutions that benefit the store.

Rule #4: Monitor and enforce the No Complaining Rule. Make it positive and fun. Expect your team to weed out negativity and create a positive culture. Training positive energy will make your store a beacon where associates and customers will want to be! Focus on what is right in your store and not what is wrong. Address the issues for sure…but do it in a way that highlights what you get to do, not what you have to do. (See Resources on my website for the ‘Are you a Complainer?’ Assessment)

What about New Hires?

Holiday has us hiring more seasonal associates than any other time throughout the year. While many retailers are hiring less seasonal associates this year than in 2018, there are still a very large number of seasonal associates being hired. NRF is reporting retail companies hiring anywhere from 10,000 associates to over 100,000 associates this holiday.

If you have been running stores during holiday, you know how difficult it can be to find the right zone for all the new associates. Cashwrap can be difficult if they just learned to work the POS. The front door can be difficult if they feel shy or unsure of what to do or say. The fitting room can be tricky if they aren’t knowledgeable of the store layout and the merchandise. So how do you make these new seasonal associates an asset to your team instead of a weak link?  Let’s keep it simple.  

5 Simple Recommendations

(1) Don’t skimp on the on-boarding / training.  Put your best manager in charge of the training to ensure high levels of quality engagement.

(2) Train each associate like they are part of your store’s family, not a seasonal who will leave in a few weeks.  Each shift, genuinely inquire how they are acclimating to the job and what you can do to assist them.

(3) Pair a top performing associate with a new hire.  Good habits are contagious. This is a great way to recognize strong associates for their performance while at the same time, set new associates up for success.

(4) Zone the associate where they are the demonstrating the strongest behaviors.

(5) Associate appreciation / recognition is a great way to make new hires feel appreciated and part of the team.  This will minimize turnover.  Target has ear marked $2M for associate appreciation this holiday! Now we don’t all have budgets that size but small things matter too!  A warm and sincere thank you for a job well done during or after each shift goes a long way.

Action Time:  Identify the Weakest Link

Time to think about what actions you can take to address the weak links in your store.  

Here are four simple actions to consider:

(1) Evaluate managers and associates.  Identify potential weak links and the root cause behind the issues.  (Remember:  always partner with your leader when addressing performance issues)

(2) Implement the ‘no complaining rule’ and keep the store a happy place for associates and customers.

(3) Make the experience for new hires a positive one so they will in turn make the customer experience a positive one!

(4) Read “The No Complaining Rule” by Jon Gordon and work to apply your learnings to both your work and personal lives!

As hard as you work to achieve strong sales results and deliver remarkable experiences with every customer interaction, can you really afford to let unaddressed performance issues negatively impact your store’s reputation?

If you get stuck, reach out to me at Rachel@runninggreatstores.com.  

Rooting for your success,

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6 thoughts on “WHO IS THE WEAKEST LINK?”

  1. Dee says:

    Awesome. Rachel. I love this article/ blog. These are behaviors that I exemplify.However going to a new store and evaluating new team this exactly what I had to do from the beginning.
    I’m so excited to be with this team and looking forward to an amazing Holiday Season.

    Thank you Rachel keep the knowledge coming please.

    1. Thanks for the note Dee, so glad you are finding the content both helpful and validating! Wishing you the best holiday season ever! With Joy, Rachel

  2. jweisenstein says:

    Deeply insightful as always. I’ve always imagined the weakest link to be somewhere among the merchant groups. I’ve talked to a lot of people who are frustrated at having to sell (enthusiastically) merchandise they know isn’t desirable to a lot of customers. Seems to me if the merchants hit it out of the park, it makes almost every other job in the business easier.

    1. Hi, thanks for the note. I agree, the store team can only do what is inside their control. If the product is bad, life gets a whole lot harder for the field teams. I would say we could apply the “weak link” to every team within organizations, right? Biggest ones – merchants and marketing! I used to get so frustrated when the marketing team would create compelling content and it was offered “online only” driving customers to shop online instead of driving them to shop in store. But I digress…

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