I am astonished when I enter a retail establishment where employees are just standing around talking to each other, never bothering to make me feel at home or ask if they can help me.  Why is management positioning the business to look as if it is failing?  All too often these looks become self-fulfilling prophecies.

On a recent business trip I visited with a London businessman who was lamenting because all the help he was able to hire for his retail business seemed lazy.  I asked him how he trained his workers.

He replied that because his staff only needed to ring up sales, they didn't require any training.  I asked him if there was a certain image he wanted his employees to maintain.  His puzzled expression confirmed that he had never given this matter much thought.

I asked if he would appreciate being served by a check-out person who was chewing bubble gum and reading a book while waiting on him.

Of course not! he replied.

Well, if you were the owner, how would you ensure that didn't happen? I asked.

I'd post a set of rules, he retorted.

And if it only covered books and gum, I countered, Then what would you do if check-out staff started yelling at each other?

I'd change the rules to cover that as well, he replied with a look of smug satisfaction.

I asked him when he secured his first job.  He informed me that he started work in a chemist store when he was sixteen years old.

Did you enjoy having rules? I asked.

Oh, bugger, he responded, No teenager likes rules.

I agreed and suggested that what he needed was an employee manual, carefully thought out and stating the image that all employees were expected to represent to the customer.  For example, The act of having customers buy our products is what pays our bills and our wages.  When we lose customers, we lose sales and job security.  We are expected to be courteous to customers at all times, helping them find what they want and politely answering any questions or concerns they may have.  Because we want customers to feel comfortable in our store, employees are expected to be clean and neat at all times and to be on their best behavior, whether or not they are waiting on customers.  Whenever you have a concern if your actions or dress are appropriate, look at your situation through a customer's eyes, and determine if it is appropriate.

That's all I need to do? he remarked.

No, I responded. That's just a start.

If you want the best possible staff, it is your responsibility to motivate them.  Assign each new employee to an experienced employee who can help show them what is acceptable and what's not.  When you hire new employees, visit with them one-on-one.  Explain how their image and actions will affect the perception of your company by potential customers, who must always be left the impression that they are dealing with a top-notch business.

Explain to your newly-hired employees they are on a probationary period, because you strive to employ only those who will work constantly and consistently to put forth the right image for your business.  Then add that you would not have offered this position to this new employee if you did not think he or she could carry on your established proud traditions.  Finally, reinforce your words by trying to catch new employees in the act of doing something right, and offering them praise in front of the others.

It is your responsibility to create the tools for your employees to succeed.  When you invest in a training period for a new employee only to ultimately let them go, everyone looses.  The employee loses a job, and you lose the investment made in training that person.

When you provide the tools for capable new employees to succeed, instead of waiting for them to do it on their own, everybody wins, including your customers.