Op-Ed: Maintaining a Motivated Workforce

How to keep the optimism strong during challenging times.

One of the most heavy-weighted topics currently centers around maintaining a motivated and committed sales force team. Hence, the question circulating from leaders in most retail-businesses worldwide: “How do I keep my team motivated with the looming risk of redundancies and store closures?”

Tina Sharp, former General Manager of Harvey Nichols Dubai and Bloomingdale’s Kuwait at Al Tayer Group, provides team leaders her valuable advice below.

About Tina Sharp

With more than 20 years’ international experience in optimising the performance of high-profile department store operations, Tina’s expertise includes creative direction, quality merchandising, sales & marketing and team leadership.

Tina’s journey in global retail has been an exciting one, initially with House of Fraser in London, then with Harvey Nichols in Dubai. In 2016, Tina was promoted to General Manager open the new Bloomingdale’s store in Kuwait, where she oversaw the build, store set-up and supported the in-store development. Tina set up all store routines, recruited and trained staff, and worked closely with teams on delivering marketing campaigns and establishing local and international partnerships. 

Numerous articles describe that businesses with foresight and ambition are the ones that will come out of this pandemic stronger than before and the leaders in their fields. Great teams define a great business. Part of this formula to success is the trust and strength of its leaders. Overall, the brand, product or service  can be of the highest quality, however, without the right team driving this, a business can never be more than mediocre at best.

If you translate this into the current situation, it would be fair to describe this as more challenging since leaders are needing to navigate so many unknowns. However, the rudimentary skills required to help keep the team focused still remain.

More often than not, many leaders tend to avoid being honest, choosing to bucket the challenging and sensitive communications as corporate directives that they can’t control. Furthermore, they tend to be selective with what is shared, in order to paint a more positive but unrealistic picture for the salesperson. One common example is the topic of reduction of salaries, which most companies have implemented recently in some way or another, either through unpaid leave or short-term reduced pay. However, the method used to share this has been mixed. Some leaders are very transparent, others are more selective and unfortunately, some choose not to communicate these updates at all, leaving the workforce insecure and fearful that they could be made redundant at any time.

Many leaders who have been challenged with managing such types of situations are most successful when asking themselves: “what if it was me?” and “what’s the worst thing that could happen if you are honest?” When answering worried staff-members about the state of their jobs for example, informative and direct forms of communication tend to relieve them best. For example, a leader could answer: “I cannot confirm that there won’t be any redundancies, but I can assure that there are none being discussed right now. Further, should we need to look at this in the future, support will be provided.”

"Overall, the brand, product or service can be of the highest quality, however, without the right team driving this, a business can never be more than mediocre at best."

Overall, before the pandemic, Dubai was already experiencing challenging trading times. Leaders were hiding behind laptops and written announcements rather than conducting face to face meetings that allowed the necessary opportunities for questions to be asked. The need for transparency and availability from leaders is even more paramount now.

Whilst social restrictions do no allow for the physical contact freedom that we have enjoyed historically, leaders with foresight are utilizing new tools such as Zoom calls to enable face to face dialogue, especially when it comes to reassuring their teams. There are unfortunately still instances found where leaders are not being transparent with their team enough, which results in team members feeling demotivated to sell or look after their customers. When worried, they’re instead motivated to self-preserve and self-validate via venting with colleagues.  Ultimately hurting the business productivity. 

Considering the high health risks to the frontline teams, leaders need to be out in stores and on the floor supporting firsthand, in order to act in solidarity with their business heads. At the end of the day, these challenging times have quickly highlighted poor management and a subsequent demotivated workforce. On a positive note, it has also showcased a next generation of leaders who tend to cultivate dedicated, loyal teams. Reactive companies will survive.