How to be a good manager

How you treat your staff has a big impact on how much money you make, argues Alan Fisher.

Over many years I have been involved in lots of management projects, both in and out of retail. Sometimes, the retail numbers consulting I was doing led to discussions of general management practices and led to a ‘free’ lecture from me.

Having studied and observed (and experienced) numerous styles of management, I can proudly say that Ken Morton Sr., who I mentioned in my last column, is the king of positive management styles. Ken owns Haggin Oaks Golf Superstore at the Sacramento, CA municipal golf course. Ken says he learned a lot from me, but the truth is that I’ve benefited more from being around him.

The first time I experienced Ken’s ways was during a trying period of an upgrade of his computer system. His project leader, now president of the company, was struggling with my sales rep in trying to resolve a major issue. Ken called me and talked about the problem. After I listened, I asked if he wanted me to get involved. He resoundingly said no and explained that both of these people had been assigned the responsibilities for this upgrade and that they deserved to resolve it without a heavy footprint from one of us. Well, they eventually did get it resolved (just not as fast) and I learned a valuable lesson about delegation of responsibility.

Years ago, as a relatively new manager of sales people, it was my (incorrect) way to jump in and tell people how to do the job that I assigned and supposedly trained them to do. I can remember making statements that ‘this is not the letter I would have written’ or the infamous, ‘what I would say is…’ No one can do things the way I can. That can be a good thing, and if they cannot do their job, then I’m the one who failed in training. Or perhaps I hired the wrong person, which is also my fault.

It is difficult as a manager to not jump in and try to right the ship. But that’s how Ken operates and that’s one of many lessons I learned from him. It starts with expectations and job description, down to the minute details. I remember having a client tell me that she was going to fire a person the next day if she did not vacuum prior to store closing. I asked her if she had told the employee. The response was, ‘No, but she should know.’ What? I suggested she tell her the expectation and, guess what, she started vacuuming. A year later, the young woman was still working for the business.

Ken has a hierarchy and, in any organization, it is important to always respect the hierarchy. If there’s a problem, take it through the channels for resolution. Allow the person who has responsibility to resolve it before jumping over someone’s head or going backdoor to another person.

Another lesson from Ken is to be a business friend to your staff. Nothing is more unpleasant than to have to go to work each day not knowing what blow-up the manager is going to have that day. I worked in a place like that for seven years in my first real job and I hated every day of those years, except when the owners were gone. I thought that every boss was just like that.

It was a pleasant surprise to land at Smyth Systems, a trailblazer of systems for golf courses. The late Bob Smyth was my boss, friend and mentor. He talked to me when I screwed up, but he also picked his battles. Not every instance was worthy of a severe talk. In 12 years I saw him lose his cool a few times, but never at me – even when it was warranted on more than one occasion. The standard reaction for many bosses is to rant and let their emotions control the situation, but if I had to choose between a ranter and a business friend it would be easy; Bob Smyth is the one that I would have swum across the Atlantic for. Ken and Bob were very similar owners and did business together. Working in both of those places was a great experience.

It has always amused me that some businesses, but not all, train their staff, but not their managers. Being a good manager is a learned skill, just as the tasks in working in a golf shop are learned. Many times a great employee makes a horrible manager. Different skills (and different training) are needed for different jobs. Unfortunately, many managers have learned from the bad types of bosses and believe that shouting at staff is the way to manage. However, from seeing Ken and Bob, I know that they got peak performances from their staff by being a team leader and motivator.

Alan Fisher is a US-based retail consultant focusing on open-to-buy, inventory analysis and profitability strategies. He works with golf shops, retail apparel and gift shops. He can be contacted at: alan@otbguy.com or by calling: 020 3289 4653.