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How Do I Motivate My Staff When Things Slow and More of Your Questions Answered

Data or instinct? People person or sales machine? Open book or closed?




How Do I Motivate My Staff When Things Slow and More of Your Questions Answered

We have a very seasonal business. How do I keep the excitement going for the staff — and me — during the slower times, specifically the long summer months?

OK, five quick ideas:

  1. Challenge your staff to show their creativity (see our lead story on page 30) and run some small experiments to improve any part of the business, be it marketing, customer service or inventory management. The stakes are low, and your team has the time to run with their curiosity.
  2. Offer to hold some workshops or run free eye screening sessions, either in-house or out. This has a two-fold purpose: it gets customers in the door in a low-pressure environment and gives you the chance to promote your expertise.
  3. Leverage some little-known holidays like Grandparents’ Day in September or Teacher Appreciation Week.
  4. Slow time is training time, for both you and your staff. Use the opportunity to learn some new skills or information that you can try out without the pressure of the busy season.
  5. Finally, get in some early preparation for the more hectic times of the year. We’re betting that when back-to-school or the end-of-year holiday season arrives, you’ll be lamenting the fact there are only 24 hours in a day.
My gut has mostly guided me well over my 20-plus years in the optical business. Am I setting myself up for a fall by ignoring what the data tells me sometimes?

History is littered with examples of businesspeople who made or lost fortunes because a) They trusted their gut or b) Trusted what the data was telling them. But most of these stories are little more than good examples of “survivor bias.” Just because George Soros’ back supposedly acted up when he needed to make a different market play doesn’t mean you should try to interpret what that dull ache in your lower lumbar means.

Your best approach is to balance the two, using data to verify and quantify complex issues, and using intuition to complement the numbers by offering alternative perspectives and considering unquantifiable factors. Data is useful for ongoing parts of the business where you can track and adjust based on new input, such as inventory management. Data analysis also provides concrete evidence and mitigates the risks associated with biased intuition. Meanwhile, your gut can help you make decisions quickly when the data is unavailable, unreliable, or overwhelming.

I’m thinking of going open book with my finances as a way of getting staff to better understand what’s involved in running a successful business. What do you think?

The core idea behind open book accounting is a good one: to foster a culture of trust and collective responsibility and allow staff to see how their day-to-day actions can impact financial aspects of your business. But humans being humans — and given their proclivity for cherry-picking information to justify behaviors — means such a level of transparency is definitely not for everyone. You may just want to reveal your sales figures even though profit margin is a much better indicator of performance. Let your staff know that with anything much less than a 5% net profit margin your business is barely surviving. Otherwise, discretion is the better course of action. “Know what numbers you can share and defend, or just keep your books closed,” says Greg Crabtree, a CPA and author of Simple Numbers, Straight Talk, Big Profits.

I want to appoint a new sales manager from among our staff. My choice is one individual who is very driven and very competent at everything she does and a second who is more laid back and probably more of a people person. Which would you suggest?

There is a saying that employees join companies and quit managers. The most important quality a manager can possess is the ability to identify people’s unique talents and bring out the best in them. That is a rare quality and it is not always possessed by the person who is striving to achieve her own goals. We’d say opt for the latter candidate.




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