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Help Wanted

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One of the most difficult parts of being a retail business owner is finding the correct people to work in your store.

Hiring and firing can be hard to get right, because there is no exact science that can tell you when you’re sitting across the table from the correct employee. By the same token, it’s hard to make a judgment as to when to simply  part ways with an employee who is not working out.

But, author and human resource professional Paul Falcone has studied the issue in depth, and the result is a series of books that offer a number of answers, including “96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire,” “101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees” and “101 Sample Write-Ups for Documenting Employee Performance Problems.”
Choosing the right people, he said, starts with asking good interview questions.

“Retail sales people need the uncanny ability to chameleonize themselves on the spot and change their communication and body language style to match a customer’s needs,” Falcone said. “That, more than anything, will help them provide outstanding customer service and get the customer to trust and bond with them over a potential sale. Try asking an interview question like this after you’ve spent some time with a candidate: ‘Okay, with no undue flattery or Brownie points here, what could you tell me about my management and leadership style based on the questions I’m asking you in this interview?’ You’ll quickly see if the candidate sinks into her seat or elevates herself, eyes wide and smiling, to make some smart guesses about your communication and leadership style, approach to teamwork, and the like.”

Considering that many applicants for retail jobs lack an extensive professional background, Falcone said employers need to look at other factors to assess them.

“Even people without a lot of work experience tend to demonstrate patterns of achievement in their lives over time,” Falcone said. “Those achievements, in turn, can either be concrete or a bit more general. For example, if the individual was high school valedictorian, voila—you’ve probably got a very hard worker on your hands who’s eager to assume broad responsibilities and demonstrate his worth. On the other hand, a quieter, more self-effacing candidate may describe achievements in terms of balancing the need of family with work and school.”

But as much as anything else, the person’s attitude may be the key.

“That tends to be the dividing line between those who appreciate what the workplace offers vs. those who suffer from entitlement mentalities and victim syndromes,” Falcone said. “Ask, ‘Looking at your career and schooling up to this point, what are you most thankful for?’ Measure their response not only in their words but in their eyes. That’s where the truth to this type of interviewing question typically lies.”

Falcone warned retailers against making hiring decisions too quickly, and against assuming that likeability in an interview will necessarily translate to a good employee. Questions that can match the candidate’s personality to the culture of the employer demonstrate a lot. Falcone suggested asking how many hours a week a person needs to work to get their job done, and to describe the pace of their work, and to discuss how they respond to constructive criticism.

When firing, Falcone said there are important distinctions employers can make between employees who need a little more help and direction and those who simply aren’t going to work out. A big one is willingness to work toward improvement.

“Anyone who shows signs of apathy or entitlement typically won’t work out unless they have a major turnaround in their thought processes at some point,” Falcone said. “But it’s that lack of appreciation that typically plagues people throughout their careers, and let’s face it – you’ve got a business to run and aren’t responsible for the work ethics or attitudes that new hires bring to the table.”

Once retailers decide to fire an employee, especially when there are serious allegations against the person, they often do so too quickly and don’t do the homework that could prevent bigger problems.

“Rather than terminating someone on the spot, let cooler heads prevail by placing the individual on a paid investigatory leave for 24 hours while you look into the allegations against them further and get to sleep on it overnight,” Falcone said. “This will buy you the time you need to look at the record that’s been created, speak with legal counsel if necessary, and develop alternatives that might work both in the organization’s and individual’s favor.”

Those might include allowing the person to resign or an employer’s agreement not to contest unemployment.
When it comes to firing employees, it’s all about the record that’s created, and if a manager doesn’t address substandard job performance or inappropriate conduct on the spot, it could come back to bite the organization in the form of a retaliation claim.

- Dan Calabrese

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