Teleworking in Retail is being a way to face the Covid-19 crisis. Nevertheless, retail managers had to make an intensive master in Crisis Management, take decisions very fast, learning how to communicate efficiently remotely, when they themselves are working from home.

Since March 12, I have spoken individually to over 200 retail managers: International Managers, Retail Managers, Store Managers, Retail Owners, Independent Merchants, in the sectors of fashion, household, food, sports, optics, ….

These individual coaching sessions allow, in our vocation as coaches, to convert limiting beliefs (generating blockages) into stimulating beliefs (opening a vision towards the future). And now, we have a major challenge: which inspiring beliefs can we formulate to give sense and meaning and positivity to the Coronavirus for retail managers.

 

The transition to a new reality in retail

Many asked me during these interviews: “Benoit, you who are in constant contact with brands and the retail market, what are the big trends?” As a response, I bring here 65 sentences; like quotes, such as a timeless, unfiltered photo, pronounced during individual interviews with managers teleworking in Europe, America or Asia.

Still, some comments need to be recontextualized. These sentences are not “a trend”, but perhaps they mark the expression of crisis management, that discipline that is not learned in Business Schools, in which some managers show their limits. Thus, there we find the recourse to fundamental values: loyalty, leadership, courage.

I do not deliberately analyse or comment on them. Rather, my aim in bringing this text is that it contributes to an exchange of Best Practices, a benchmark, that can help and inspire the reader in their own action.

These 65 sentences mark a moment, a tempo, an emotion, a transition to a new reality. They mark the empowerment of managers, deciding not (only) to suffer trauma as victims but (above all) to assert themselves as the protagonist in a new managerial, technological and social position. Moreover, they show our limits and vulnerabilities.

This spring of 2020, we are writing together the world of the 2020s and beyond, the nature of face-to-face and omnichannel relationships with our employees and with our customers. The age induces an extraordinary acceleration of the technological, relational and managerial trends that we wish to stimulate together, because they are more ecological, effective and … necessary.

To facilitate the reading of these 65 sentences, I have regrouped them by categories. So that, good reading!

 

Crisis = Leader indicator

  1. I have always picked up my phone first; taking the initiative, not to let uncertainty take over, even when it is about giving bad news.
  2. During this period of teleworking, I try to be assertive: firm and empathetic. I don’t make too many promises that don’t depend on me.
  3. Like Churchill or de Gaulle, adversity reveals capabilities that I never suspected. It was in the heat of the action, in the war, when these two men became statesmen. So these first days of the crisis, I was in the first line, in permanent contact, I revealed a real capacity to decide quickly, to assume my responsibilities, while transmitting the decisions of my hierarchy.
  4. Our Top Management seemed puzzled. It took 15 days for the Board to send us a letter; it’s a long time. Managers also observe their company’s behaviour in this rough sea. Some executives disappointed with their management will leave the ship once the crisis is over.
  5. Teams watch the Internet, read the news, talk to colleagues on other Retail networks. It is important to communicate quickly, clarify, calm, anticipate rumours.
  6. We will all remember, customers, employees, partners, the behaviour of the company during this crisis, good or bad. So that the reaction cannot be neutral.
  7. We have organized 4 specific multidisciplinary teleworking groups for the coronavirus crisis: Employee welfare, Customer journey, Supply chain, Financial stress analysis.
  1. In France, after the yellow vests, the pension strikes and now the coronavirus, and the strengthening of Amazon, it starts to be a bit too much for us, the Retailers in France.
  2. The 8 spheres that I have managed, in this order: HR, Treasury, Stock, Sales, CRM Marketing, Crisis Dashboard, Training, Mental. (an independent merchant)
  3. The first days were really hard. I had to make multiple decisions, at the right time and always with urgency.
  4. As a boss, I was strong in front of my employees, and when I closed my office door, I cried. We managed to handle it; the rhythm was crazy. I even think that later we will get bored 😉 (Food Mass Market).
  5. I have had a separation, an illness in recent years. So I think these tests have made me stronger and more resilient, to better absorb this type of today’s shock.
  6.  Due to the stress of the last weeks having to explain, announce and reassure, I am blocked everywhere, neck, shoulders.
  7. I have signed up for yoga and meditation.

 

Vulnerable and recognition partners in teleworking

  1. Some of our sales staff are strong on the ground; but not in their heads. Especially those who live alone and don’t have pets. Our best seller is a don juan, a seducer, and he is going through alone this confinement. Teleworking is really hard for him. I call him every 3 days. One of our saleswomen is 60 years old and lives alone. She highly appreciates the video sharing time.
  2. I would love to have managed to keep all my team members working in June 2020.
  3. In the United States, unemployment is very limited and there is government help. You have to read the small lines of each “bill”; we have access to “furlough”!
  4. I discover a new dimension of my collaborators and our partners, in teleworking from our respective sofas or our interiors, sometimes with the children who pass in front of the camera. We have all gained a more comprehensive and humane view of others. “We care”. Even with my boss, we exchanged more in 2 weeks than in 4 years with daily videos.
  5. At the beginning of the crisis, he talked a lot about people’s health. Nevertheless, today I start talking about the health of the company; brainstorming about individual contribution from teleworking.
  6. Of course, we support our collaborators to the maximum. But it is also a good time to let them see the importance of their contribution and reflect on this phrase by Kennedy: “Don’t ask yourself what the United States can do for you, but what you can do for the United States.”
  7. “How are you?” I have made a commitment since the beginning of the crisis to reinforce this “how are you?” question. With my collaborators and partners, I want to go beyond this phatic function of language (and the typical “good or bad” response). I make myself available so that a person who is not well has at his disposal a true listening.
  8. At Maslow’s pyramid, we have hit rock bottom. We have lowered 3 levels. Our employees “just” want to be able to pay their rent and eat next month.
  9. “Don’t worry, boss, we’ll get out of this!”. My team replaced me and took over the dossier. It did me a lot of good.
  10. Reassuring without lying: this is my challenge as a manager for the coming weeks.
  11. I don’t want to lose your trust. On the contrary, I want to strengthen their trust in me.
  12. I want to be able to give good or bad news by looking my team in the eyes. Keeping them mobilized in teleworking so that I can even defend them in the eyes of management.

 

Zoom teleconference to maintain the link in teleworking

  1. We have established a Zoom invitation twice a week, even if they have been dismissed, to keep the connection during the teleworking.
  2. Our morning Conf Calls are at 10am; they are all even more punctual than usual in Zoom. Even one of the managers brought out his guitar. Everyone sang from home; super exciting.
  3. I had a real area of improvement with my management of the agenda, my management of the “urgent vs important”. Thanks to teleworking and Zoom, we are forced to make and keep appointments.
  4. And also, in the future, for our individual calls with store managers, I will ask them to make them from home, because they are not interrupted, and it is so much more effective.
  5. Obviously we were not prepared for teleworking. Even our store managers don’t have laptops.
  6. Every morning at 11 in the morning, and especially in time of confinement, in the team we send ourselves by WhatsApp a message of encouragement, music, a video.

 

Teleworking as a way of productivity

  1. It is important for me to maintain hygiene and discipline in teleworking, even and especially at home. Every day I shave, I dress like a workday, I organize with my wife to have real work moments with the door closed, and to alternate the moments playing with the children.
  2. I have “time to take my time”; without interruption, thanks to video meetings. So, I think I am a better coach, both individually and as a team.
  3. At 8 in the morning, I talk to my Chinese teams about the reopening of their stores. After that, at 9am, I take care of my 4-year-old son. I am with my boss at 10am and with my English stores at 11am. At noon with my 8-year-old daughter and at 6pm on the east coast. Real gym;-) between professional and personal; between regions in very different moods.

 

How to maintain discipline and team motivation in telework?

  1. We wanted to take care of our teams at all times. Firstly, we offered volunteer work (whoever comes to work). Then to avoid coming by subway, the company was paying Uber. Finally we granted meetings with clients only by appointment.
  2. We brainstormed with the team; one of them suggested: why not work at night (to replenishment in shelves)? So they organized by sharing cars, and I later managed to get the city council to provide a minibus.
  3. I am proud to have had no Covid-19 cases on my team, despite intense contact with customers (Supermarket).
  4. For important announcements, I arranged a video call with everyone, and then called each store manager.
  5. How do you make team members feel like they are part of the team when they have been dismissed, even temporarily?
  6. I ask for evidences of progress every day, reports by email and use closer management thanks to the video follow-up points.
  7. I had to make 50 video calls in 2 weeks; from morning to night. And I am happy because I saw concerns that I would not have seen in writing.
  8. If I see a member of the team who is less involved during a conf call, I would call him/her back. It is a good barometer.
  9. We take the opportunity to do the IDP (Individual Development Plan); we never take the time to do them well. This year it is remote, by video, and it is very well done.
  10. We have taken the opportunity to train online and certify our teams in Retail Coaching, and in sales method by Zoom , with you CapKelenn 😉
  11. A store manager said to me, “If we were at war, I would be reassured to be on your patrol!”. It was a great reward.

 

Can we sell during the Coronavirus?

  1. For the first few weeks, we don’t want to proactively sell, but we do accept customers who contact us.
  2. For 2 years now, my teams have been dragging their feet to prepare a B2B plan … and get out of the store. In teleworking, everyone started building lead files, which we will activate as soon as the activity starts again.
  3. “We have broken a record of sales from home, with the stores closed. We have contacted our clients just asking “how are you doing?”. Of course, the timing was not right for a pushy type of sale, but our customers easily understand that there have probably very good opportunities. And when we tell them that we always have access to the stock and that we need to bring cash to guarantee the viability of the company, they know that we are open to negotiating prices, up to a point”.
  4. Our salespeople were afraid of working and looing their individual commission to another staff. Therefore, they reject possible immediate sales. So we have found a solution. We had to readjust the variable commission plan.
  5. One of the scenarios we are preparing for is a shopping frenzy when it reopens; the revenge spending.
  6. Thanks to the Google 360º or facetime camera, we can show the store to the customer and interact with him. Firstly, we started doing projects via skype. Now we want to train all our team in this expertise.
  7. We have sharpened our methods of negotiation and customer relations. How else to ask a customer for a deposit for a customized product, when our factories are closed in Europe and we no longer have transportation?
  8. My clients and employees follow me on my Facebook account. Me too, I am becoming an omnichannel manager 😉
  9. The team had to be very patient and firm with clients. The first days, customers emptied the supermarket. Customers have calmed down, become more tolerant. And even, they now show real respect and appreciation to the store staff.

 

What about recovery?

  1. We will try to sell our excess stock without devaluing the brand and preserving margins.
  2. This crisis will make us better, better people and more professionals. And even to cough, we will take many more precautions.
  3. We ask all store managers to take their vacations (and thus extend their conditions to 100% before being dismissed); so, in the reopening, we will be as operational as possible. In fact, I think everyone will agree to shorten the summer break if necessary.
  4. The experience of reopening our Chinese stores indicates that the first weeks are 30% below a similar day last year. It will be slow.
  5. KPIs will need to be adapted in the Balance Score Card. The year is lost; clearly we will not achieve the objective of Revenue. We are thinking of more qualitative KPIs to pilot. Maybe this is a good time to take time with the customer, work on relationships, and improve the customer experience even more. Clients will need to speak.
  6. The reopening plan will not be released overnight. It will be a real background work. So we will have to motivate the teams and reassure the clients (communicating, for example, about the masks, the gel, etc..). We have a real Design Thinking job, brainstorming to do with the teams, starting now.
  7. I want to work and rehearse my first briefing, my first tour. It will be a key moment. What’s more, I want us to be even better for the recovery animation than for the store closings (despite sadness and anxiety, we tell each other things)
  8. I want to be able to convey on July 15 that poor performance is not a failure.
  9. At the reopening, we will probably make sales “by appointment only”, communicating the availability of masks and hydro-alcoholic gel to reassure customers and vendors that there will not be too much flow.
  10. Here in China, we were the laughingstock of the entire world in February; Today we feel sorry for you Europeans. Stores are reopening, and even new planned openings before the crisis are confirmed. I would like to send you a short WhatsApp video message with our benchmark of our reopens in a few weeks so that you can share it with European and American colleagues during the reopens. We think of you.

 

Conclusions

Retail managers may consider the coronavirus crisis as trauma or a challenge. The distinction between trauma and a challenge is the ability to react and the attitude that is adopted.

The coronavirus test accelerates the evolution of the omnichannel relationship, both with clients and collaborators. Certain brakes in communication modes have come off very naturally. Video conferencing is now part of the manager-coach toolkit.

 

Benoit Mahé

PCC (Professional Certified Coach of ICF) and a professional trainer for CapKelenn Retail Coaching

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