One of the more problematic aspects of store management arises when older managers are called upon to supervise cadres of younger workers. The situation is particularly acute in food retailing since many stores use numerous teenage workers.
It sometimes happens that store and departmental managers become discouraged by working with young workers, not only because they can be difficult, but because the turn rate is so high it starts to take on the aspect of a Sisyphean task. But there's no doubt that skillful interaction with young workers can increase the satisfaction level of everyone in the store, whether worker, manager or customer. So, if for no other reason, the challenge of successfully managing young workers is worth accepting because satisfied customers tend to be far more valuable customers.
The delicate task of keeping a young workforce content and productive is something that has been on the mind of Chris O'Byrne. He brings a special combination of talents to the situation. He holds a graduate degree in organizational management, teaches middle school in Mulberry, Fla., and works at a Publix Super Markets unit in Lakeland, Fla. Chris has applied his research and teaching experience at the supermarket, and is interested in spreading his findings to others. So, with that in mind, he has prepared for me a primer that distills some of his learnings. And, in many instances, he found the Publix culture a useful adjunct.
Here's an adaptation of what he applies when dealing with younger workers:
Establish credibility: To be a credible manager, it's necessary to act like one. That includes dressing the part, refraining from gossip, and maintaining something of a distance from workers. At Publix, store associates are encouraged to address managers by their last names, which helps.
Expect much: Refrain from putting younger workers in a special class. Assume that they know their jobs and require that they perform them to acceptable standards. Don't make excuses for younger workers' poor performance, or accept it.
Supervise actively: Some managers concentrate on merchandise and marketing, losing track of what's going on in the store. To avoid that, a manager should walk around and see what's going on. Workers should also be asked what they are doing and why it's being done in such a way. The manager must also be mindful to look at areas off the selling floor, such as the back and break rooms.
Reward good work: Be sure to praise desirable behavior. At Publix, managers are authorized to reward desired behavior by giving out tokens that can be redeemed for food at the store's deli. This gives a tangible dimension to praise.
Discipline: Sooner or later, there will be some behavioral breakdown. In anticipation of that, a discipline plan must be in place. It must be written and distributed to workers. It must feature a hierarchy of consequences that is marked by logical escalation. Moreover, it must be consistently and predictably applied.
Documentation: Written records of significant interchanges with workers must be kept. The record should include both the good and the bad.