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Intangible Benefits May Outweigh Salary in Retaining Experienced Managers

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Editor’s Note: We found the leadership principles of this article to be valuable not just for retail organizations, but all businesses. It has been republished here for our readers with full permission by the Outdoor Industry Association

Senior managers are the lifeblood of a successful outdoor specialty store. Over time, they can contribute significantly to a specialty shop’s reputation with local outdoor recreation enthusiasts.

“A senior manager is the single most important person in the retail organization,” said Dann Mann, president of The Mann Group. “The manager who guards the experience between the customer and the front line sales associates is crucial to a store owner’s success.”

At times, retaining senior staff members can be challenging in terms of salary, benefits and job offers from competitors. “Retail store owners have only so much that they can spend on compensation and benefits. At some point, if money is the driver for that employee, the store owner might lose them,” reported Bill Ford, president of Sesco Management Consultants. “That’s the tough reality.”

Roy Notowitz, managing director for Notogroup, an executive search firm with experience in the outdoor industry, agreed. “You can’t force people to stay. You can pay them more but that only gets you so far,” said Notowitz. “There’s a maximum value you can assign to certain roles. Once you hit the ceiling for that role, you have to find ways to add additional responsibilities that add value at a higher level.”

Although financial compensation is important, Mann points out that for many senior employees, the salary level may not be the most important reason they are looking at other employment opportunities.

“When folks list their reasons for quitting, compensation usually doesn’t make it into the top five reasons for departing,” said Mann. “The number one reason is the boss. People quit the boss.”

“One of the biggest reasons people leave companies is not money, but leadership and management deficiencies,” said Notowitz. “One of the best things a company can do is to continuously develop leadership and management skills so that employees are not dissatisfied with an incompetent manager.”

Paid a competitive salary, senior managers look for other rewards for their service. Compensation in the form of more time off, professional development, and invitations to attend industry events, trade shows and seminars can pay dividends. “People want to contribute in an environment where their contributions are valued,” explained Mann. “Recognizing them with new job titles and including them in strategic planning or assortment planning sessions are good examples of intangible rewards.”

If a shop is growing and the owners are looking for additional profit engines, such as e-commerce or event marketing, owners may offer senior managers opportunities to expand their business experience and skills. “What store owners have to do is provide a competitive salary and also create opportunities for the senior manager and the employer. As long as the pie is growing, there are opportunities for everyone,” said Ford.

Understanding what motivates senior staff members can help shop owners create meaningful compensation packages.

“What’s important to the employee? At some point in life, their motivations and goals may change,” said Notowitz. “One of the biggest benefits you can provide an employee is flexibility to integrate work and life. Time is the biggest currency, so being a results-oriented workplace that allows employees to weave in family life, exercise and volunteer activities will go a long way to retain and create loyalty.”

A company’s culture often plays a significant role in retaining managers. “Culture is key because buyers and managers have to buy into the spirit and focus of the store. Yes, it is an intangible benefit for the employee, but it is also a critical part of the identity of the place, and this benefits the customers and the store’s competitiveness as well,” said Zandy Wheeler, co-owner of Skirack in Burlington, Vt. “One key part of our culture is that our staff is known for being knowledgeable, helpful and trustworthy. Our culture includes the requirement that we do our job with energy and commitment even though a retail job can involve long hours and challenging situations.”

“There are a lot of ways to motivate senior managers. Some are motivated by equity and stock, others with bonuses,” said Notowitz. “Most important is the company culture. If the company culture is engaging, employees will stay. To be engaging, there has to be a culture that is defined and grounded in values that the employees share and embrace. Its not just about promoting people, but helping them learn, grow and develop into better managers, leaders and experts in their field.”

Despite the best efforts of store owners, employees will leave. Paying attention to training other employees who can take on more responsibility when opportunities arise is a key human resources management objective. Ford recommends storeowners think of employee turnover as an organizational issue that needs formal planning and attention rather than reacting after a valued employee announces plans to leave.

“The reality is, it’s about being system- and organization-dependent, not people-dependent. If someone leaves, you can train someone to grow into the position and be fine,” said Ford. “If you are people-dependent, they may walk out the door with your business.”

By understanding the needs and motivations of experienced managers, outdoor specialty storeowners can create compensation plans that keep valued employees in place. “Don’t just develop an overarching generic employee retention strategy. Make a list of the people you don’t want to lose and, next to each name, write down what you are doing or will do to ensure that the person stays engaged and on board. Keep these things in mind each and every day, not just at performance review times,” said Notowitz.

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