Managing millennials

At the age of 16, whilst at high school, my first job was working at Forges of Footscray, an institution in the retail landscape, known for its great brands at low prices. People would come from all over Victoria to shop there.

I would arrive for my shift and ask my manager, Bev, how we were tracking towards our budget and what we needed to sell to hit it. When I think back, I probably saw hitting the magic number as a bit of a game, and it helped build my competitive nature and passion for sales.

Since those early days in retail, not much has changed, but everything has changed.

Retail has always been filled with young people working and, like me, it’s where many start their working life. They love their roles, show passion for the brand, achieve their targets, and, as a result, are promoted to Assistant Store Manager and Store Manager roles.

Making career decisions

The early stage of a new manager’s career is important. This is often where they decide if retail is really for them and whether they can see themselves carving out a long-term career. So how they experience this early stage of their career is crucial.

While we sometimes feel the need to micro-manage store managers, this can result in them feeling like “caretakers” rather than leaders. This is not what they want for themselves and when faced with this situation they’ll often pursue a different path.

So how do we lead millennials and help
them to become long-term retail leaders?

Relationships matter
Millennials (born 1981-to-2000) will, by 2025, make up 75% of the workforce. By then, we will also be seeing a significant influx of Generation Z (born 2001-to-2020) coming into the workforce, particularly in retail. These two ‘digital native’ generations have different expectations from previous generations.

They respond best to a people-centric leadership style that allows them to show up at work as their whole selves. They are ready to work hard, and are capable and committed once they understand what is expected of them.

As their leader, use empathy to get insights into where they are coming from and what motivates them. In difficult situations, try to put yourself in their shoes. If you are open to input from your store managers it will give them confidence and help them feel like they are contributing.

Impactful Store Visits
Regular, scheduled and well-planned one-on-ones during store visits will help you give your managers a guiding hand while motivating them to perform. In particular, Gen Z is looking to connect with their Area Leaders and understand their career paths and experiences.

Creating ownership for store managers
Feeling the need to micro-manage is tempting for Area Leaders but stifling for store managers. Stepping back starts, somewhat counter-intuitively, with putting in place some guardrails. Have clear guidelines, systems, and expectations in place.

Can your store manager decide on the customer’s best interest without backlash? In my book, The Essential Guide For Area Leaders, I write about the importance of autonomous decisions, describing a time when what would have been a great shoe sale for a business literally walked out the door because the store manager was unable to make decisions.

We need to give ownership of decisions to our store managers and allow them a sense of control over their results. Will they sometimes make mistakes? Inevitably they will, but with the right leadership approach, these are important learning opportunities.

And finally, don’t forget how important it is to model the way. Your store managers are watching you even when you think they’re not. For your store managers, you represent your brand’s culture and values.

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