Stephen Covey defines synergy as the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  Synergy can be compared simply to a team that has the same objective.  Let’s use a football team as an example of the whole being greater than the performance of individual players on the team.  The football team in on the goal line and will attempt to run the ball into the end zone.  If the linemen do not block strategically together then the result of a touchdown decreases drastically and the result of the play being a yardage loss increases drastically.  The principle of synergy works the same way in management corresponding to proper delegation and job specification.  Managers typically are great individual performers but without adequate employee support the whole organization becomes less efficient.  A smooth operating machine will produce better results and for a longer period of time than one that is not. 

An organization that works well together is practicing principles of creative cooperation.  As a manager it is a requirement to be open minded and have a willingness to accept various ways of thinking.  Being open minded will force you as a manager to take suggestions that differ from yours and construct them into the optimal means for the organization.  The principle of synergy uses all the other habits previous to synergize and uses the sum of all their parts to complete the whole.  Managers who adapt and utilize the real meaning of synergy will see the value that differences can contribute to the whole.  A good manager doesn’t carry out the first idea that pops into their heads but more importantly seeks alternatives to expand on the original idea.  The power of alternatives is endless and when used properly creative cooperation will fall right into place.     

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Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

As a manager when you follow up with your employees it becomes very clear cut whether or not they understood what you asked them to do.  Stephen Covey’s fifth habit Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood perfectly cradles the effectiveness of your delegation.  If you’re consistently having to re-explain or demonstrate what exactly you want accomplished, it is possible that you are not allowing yourself enough time for the employee to comprehend the given task. 

Before you delegate a task, figure out exactly to the finest detail what you expect as the finished product.  Your ability to understand the task at hand is the first step in understanding what needs to be done and the direction given to you by your supervisor or senior manager.  It is rather logical…if you don’t understand what is expected, how can you delegate effectively?  Two words – you can’t. This is why it is so vital to have a constant grasp of what needs to be done, how it is going to be done, and why it is going to be done.  Without preconceived understanding, you will be in a boat out in the middle of a lake with no paddle. 

Another thing, as a manager if you do not comfortably understand something DO NOT attempt to train your employees. I deal with employees from local and nonlocal stores that have been trained incorrectly on numerous occasions.  The latest that bewildered me was a store manager did not know how long employees were allowed to work until they took their thirty minute meal period.  This particular store manager has been a manager for nearly a decade and hasn’t known this information.  The response I got was…no wonder my payroll is always messed up…           

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Think Win/Win

My previous post about Stephen Covey’s third habit focuses on building your brand appropriately by means of prevention, recognizing new opportunities, and relationships.  The fourth habit, Think Win/Win, builds on the ideology that managers should spend the majority of their time in Quadrant II.  A win/win attitude is defined simply by Covey as:               

A frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions (207). 

Now, let’s talk about attitude and stances with your employees and business partners.  Without even knowing the six other paradigms of human interaction, we know based on the positive context associated with Win/Win there is definitely a high probability that it is the optimal paradigm.  An effective manager not only thinks about himself, but he equally thinks about his employees and business partners (supplies, vendors, customers).  Win/Lose, Lose/Win, Lose/Lose, Win, and No deal all will generate a disadvantageous state for someone or something. 

Majority of the paradigms have a negative connotation with them meaning someone will benefit significantly less or not at all.  To choose a paradigm where your employees “lose” will result in feelings of worthlessness and that goes against any method to motivate or engage your employees.  You do not build relationships and business colleagues within a company by living by a paradigm that creates fierce competition among the organization. 

Managers need to acknowledge all the ways human interaction can take place and plan accordingly.  In my experience it is best to maintain a Win/Win attitude among your employees because the results they produce will benefit you drastically.  Think for a second about a running play in football.  There is a specific sequence to the play and the process needs to be carried out exactly as drawn up or the play will not be successful.  This process involves everyone on the field from the snap of the ball, to the sound of the whistle at the end of the play.  Same with a business environment, you need each of your employees to do their job requirements and do them to the best of their ability.  If that means you need to pat them on the back and tell them they are doing a great job, DO IT! Give your employees a sense of pride and accomplishment to provide room for everyone to improve or benefit (including yourself). 

Too many managers manage and concentrate on the self-centered prospective.  These are managers who are doing whatever they can to get ahead and have no problem stepping on you on the way up.  This type of manager is practicing a Win/Lose paradigm and the bottom line is nine times out of ten, it will be the employee with less experience and less education that will pull the short straw.  Concentrate on bettering your position in the company by helping others around you become more experienced and knowledgeable.  Thus creating a Win/Win attitude that will benefit the organization. 

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Put First Things First

As managers we need to concentrate on focusing on our value and mission statement before we begin to manage others.  It is essential to put these things first as Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, encourages managers to do.  The items we should put first are the things that will highlight our value and contribution to the entity we are working for or with.  Covey illustrates this concept with the time management matrix diagram below that classifies how managers spend their time and how they should be spending their time.    

While looking at the diagram, understand which things listed are described as being urgent and/or important.  Each quadrant has classified things in them that occupy our time and the value that is attributed to them.  Contemplate what quadrant you fall in as a manager and which quadrant you should spend more time in.  It is easy to be distracted by interruptions in quadrant three mostly because they get our attention easily and can be annoying.  Mail and other activities are disguised as urgent, but over ninety percent of the time they are not important.  I recommend managers spend their time in quadrant two because that is where their personal development is highlighted.  Personal development is very important to your brand and what value you are contributing.  It is not considered urgent because of the time it takes to establish them. 

Ask professional bloggers how long it took them before they started to get the traffic they wanted or the stats they preferred.  Social media takes time to figure out and time to develop the right connections with the right people.  Anyone practicing social media knows how time consuming it is and everyone starts at the bottom of the learning curve.  That is the great thing about social media is that it is constantly improving and software is continually being added to social websites to provide fast, inexpensive and reliable information.  Getting back to time management focus on the things in quadrant two because that’s where you will get the optimal ROI of your value. 

Effective people are not problem-minded; they’re opportunity-minded.  They feed opportunities and starve problems.  They think preventively.  They have genuine Quadrant I crisis and emergencies that require their immediate attention, but the number is comparatively small.  They keep P and PC in balance by focusing on the important, but not urgent, high leverage capacity-building activities of Quadrant II (Covey quoting Peter Drucker, 154).        

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Begin With the End in Mind

Stephen Covey’s second habit is Begin with the End in Mind.  It is easy for managers to blend leadership and management into one when creating blueprints of their expectations.  The only problem is management and leadership are two different things that need to be separated and viewed as two principles that are independent of each another. 

In the words of both Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”  Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall (101). 

This principle of beginning with the end in mind will limit careless mistakes you may make while saving your company time and money.  We all understand time is money, so why make reactive management decisions without considering the consequences beforehand.  Covey compares the second habit to building a house, which parallels project management.  Contractors have a set series of steps that they follow to ensure each step is in pursuit of building the perfect house, not for the pleasure of being busy.  Have you ever gotten home from work and thought of how busy you were all day and realized you actually did not accomplish much at all, if anything.  Managers need to be reminded that being busy doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being effective.   In most circumstances, it alters your ability to begin with the end in mind because the feelings of being busy can be rather overwhelming. 

Managers who are capable of visualizing the end creation will be more satisfied when the task physically ends.  They will also be able to manage more efficiently since each step is in line with the predetermined goal.  Managers who work on applying this skill of beginning with the end in mind will benefit lavishly.  A major component of this habit is it provides significant structure to the way you manage others.  Tasks need to be organized in such a way that certain tasks will have one or more predecessors to provide smooth operations and prevent unplanned events.  As managers, we should all be able to cognitively think like chess masters.       

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Be Proactive

If you haven’t read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey, do so.  Not only do the seven habits have the ability to change your perspective on life, it will also benefit you professionally.  Managers can take away valuable information from the seven habits discussed in Covey’s book.  From a series of posts, you will have reliable content of how to structure your personal life and professional life to implement beneficial change. 

The first habit in Covey’s book is Be Proactive and managers need to do more than just scratch the surface of this principle.  Being proactive is directly correlated with responsibility and taking initiative, not just following directions.  From Covey’s book he states:

Look at the word responsibility – “response-ability” – the ability to choose your response. Highly proactive people recognize that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. Their behavior is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feeling (71).  

What does this mean to managers, simple, be proactive not reactive.  Instead of being dependent on company directives and tasks, become independent in making managerial decisions.  Managers who are proactive are conveying their value to their employees, which discretely differentiates them from managers that are just swimming with the current.  Reactive managers are consumed by their environment, whereas proactive managers make value based decisions and responses.  Effective managers do not wait around until someone else comes up with the optimal decision, they challenge themselves in taking initiative and add their value in the decision making process. 

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4 Simply Steps to Engage and Motivate Your Employees

Being a young manager, it is especially important to be able to motivate and monitor your employee’s performance.  Naturally associates are skeptical about being told what to do by either someone their own age or someone younger.  In retail environments productivity of employees can fluctuate easily depending on the store’s circumstance i.e. off ad-cycle, time of year, times of high unemployment, weather conditions, etc.  These 4 steps can help managers remember it doesn’t take much to increase your employee’s productivity as long as you’re consistent. 

1. Delegate Efficiently – When delegating it is important to know who your A players are and who your C players are.  Managers time and time again waste valuable time explaining or shadowing an associate that they are not confident in or having to go behind and change/fix what they did.  Know the employees capabilities so you don’t run into problems after the initial task is assigned.  Remember that the tasks that you delegate are the tasks your performance is being rated by and more importantly they can affect metrics that you bonus off of.     

2. Follow Up – NEVER leave an employee hanging.  Remember we are all human and enjoy some kind of communication after being given a task.  Feedback is essential in building a relationship with your employees so you can start building a mental database of reliable associates.  Following up is necessary in order to provide adequate training and development to employees. 

3. Kick in the Butt – Negative criticism is helpful and completely necessary when applicable.  Even your best associates will make mistakes, so it is crucial to coach them so mistakes quit happening.  Some managers feel uncomfortable when giving negative criticism, but realize making it constructive will allow them to learn from their mistakes.  If the problem is a bigger concern, it is important to take formal action that includes written documentation.  A manager needs to communicate to the employee whether the conversation is uncomfortable or not. 

4. Tap on the Back – Everyone likes to be told that they are doing a good job, including your employees.  One thing I constantly do is thank my employees for their hard work and efforts.  It doesn’t have to be an elaborate conversation about how they are the best in the world, but definitely give them some kind of signal at the minimum that they are doing good work and you are satisfied with it.  Managers fall prey to leaving reliable associates on islands without recognizing what they are accomplishing for you or the company and it can be detrimental.  Managers don’t want to create a disgruntled employee because we all know the repercussions of that.

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Education vs. Senority

In a retail environment it can be difficult to differentiate which is valued more, seniority or education when you are a candidate for advancement.  Many store managers have worked their way up through the ranks to become head honcho without any formal education other than high school.  Since being employed by various retailers and knowing several store managers from different organizations, maybe twenty percent have attended college that I know personally.  This particular dilemma makes it a challenge for me to stay with my current company because I feel as if I can’t leverage my education in being promoted.  If I am a significant player when it comes to candidates for store management will managers with my same position with more years with the company have an advantage?  Being educated by a credited university instead of an organization is completely different, but nevertheless you get a more diversified knowledge base from going to school.

Having management experience and having a degree I would think it would give me an advantage in landing a suitable career.  The only problem is that experienced management jobs aren’t being handed out like samples at Costco.  It is difficult to agree to leave a company after you invested years in college only to be handed an entry level job somewhere else. 

Graduating in December has raised some interesting questions that unfortunately I don’t have the answers for yet.  Even though it feels as if I spent the last four years getting a degree to be able to get an executive position someday, somehow those feelings have been nearly diminished by Billy Bob, the guy that has been with the company for ten years who can’t spell or do simply arithmetic.

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Managers Welcome

I’m starting a blog to share my experiences in the different positions of management I have held.  They have all been in retail and at the same company.  The positions I have held are operations, hardlines, and now currently receiving. I will go into detail about each position and discuss things I’ve experienced, either good or bad and share them to develop connections with other managers.  The reoccurring theme in my blogs will be related to age gaps in management and attempt to highlight efficient management techniques regardless of age.  My blogs on management will include topics on motivation, leadership, communication and others related to management.  My purpose is not to discourage managers from a specific generation or bash management techniques that I deem ineffective, but more importantly talk about my experiences and research to help managers understand each other and their employees.  With my experience as a manager and my education, it is evident that social media has and will continue to affect businesses.  Social media is not only used to connect with customers and get feedback from them, but to also find candidates that will bring value to your business. 

Occupying any level of management at the store level in retail it is necessary to have a good handle on CRM (customer relationship management).  CRM doesn’t simply apply to personal relationships and casual conversations to individuals one at a time anymore, but opens the door to many social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Salesforce, etc.) to reach your targeted group.  It is necessary for businesses to be able to use these social platforms properly for inbound marketing.  My advice to businesses starting out or already established just wanting to obtain more market share, would be to experiment with these various channels and save money and time while doing so.  I recently went to a lecture on social media,  Are You Ready to be Social, by Esteban Kolsky @ekolsky and it strengthened my feelings about the generational shift that we are currently leaning towards.  Managers in many companies are very focused on the baby boomer generation, but haven’t established a connection with Generation Y, which will influence a much larger market that will produce a significant ROI (return on investment). 

Being a part of Generation Y has encouraged me to take the appropriate steps to incorporate my views on management and where we are headed.  Many managers in retail have worked their way up the corporate ladder from part time, full time, lead, key holder, senior associate and finally reaching management.  They do this by seniority not by education, which can hinder your ability to manage effectively.  I would tell managers that do not have any formal education to be even more open to new ideas and speak with other manager about issues, concerns, and suggestions you may have.  Managers who are valuable limit habitual mistakes and constantly strive to polish their knowledge, skills, and abilities.

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