Lead is the new Manage 

Motivating a Sales Team of Millennials in the Flooring Industry

Don’t even try to MANAGE Millennials.  Seriously.  That tactic, which worked brilliantly with Baby Boomers and Generation X is dead!  What must be done now is for you to LEAD them.

The good news is that millennials are just people – people born between 1980 and the early 2000s; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics they now make up nearly 40% of the workforce.  Like most people, they aim to have a job where they are valued, make an impact and develop their skills, all while being interested in what they do and being fairly paid for their effort.  At the same time they require to be part of a team lead by a “Players’” coach instead of a coach with an authoritarian style that manages through unrealistic expectations, threats, and sanctions.  

Sounds doable, right?  Here are a few roadblocks:  most flooring stores are owned and managed by Traditionalists (65+) and Baby Boomers (46 to 64) who tend to believe that strong management and systems will bring about strong results.  Most flooring owners are resistant to change.   Many flooring owners are too busy working in their business that switching their style to leading instead of managing appears to be a monumental task.   “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything”.  What a powerful quote by George Bernard Shaw!   Those flooring owners that are not willing to change their mind on how to manage today’s workforce must face the reality that where they are today is most likely going to be the best it will ever be. 

Leading is different than managing. Where managing is about organizing, coordinating and telling, leading is about inspiring and enabling and co-creating. The number one problem first-time leaders’ face is failing to understand that leading requires entirely different strengths than does doing or managing. For those willing to change, the successful framework looks a bit like this.

  • Make the store a place where you always want to be: if your mission is to provide a service better than your competition through working longer and harder than anyone else, you need to make the store a place your employees love to be.  Create an atmosphere where success is loudly celebrated, camaraderie is fostered,  meetings and training sessions are fun and upbeat, and the overall vibe is a place to have fun and the byproduct is work and results
  • Food means a lot to millennials: Millennials covet well-prepared food and dine out more often than not and the reward of a meal can be even more important than the potential spiffs earned from the manufacturers.   They say the true way to a man’s heart is through his stomach so why not think that the true way to motivate a sales associate is through her stomach?  The productivity gained and the vibe created far outweigh the cost of the food
  • A relentless focus on the bottom line will not inspire millennial workers to be relentless: Your business and financial goals will not be closely aligned with the goals of your millennial sales team.  The more you focus on what you and the company needs from them the less likely they are to give you what you want.   Provide the belonging and self-actualization needs they crave, and millennials will knock your socks off with astounding performance. If you give them the environment they seek your profits will soar
  • Quantifiable and collaborative goals allow for detailed, productive coaching conversations on how to achieve success. Ask each sales associate how much they want to make this year and then work the numbers.   Show them what that means in terms of gross profit, traffic, close rates and average ticket.  Once that is done the goal will be the centerpiece for all conversations and recommended sales strategies and tactics will not only be tolerable they will be welcome.  Goals are now the most important measure for each sales associate and not some sanction set by the management team to determine worth
  • Be specific. Talking in theory can make for an interesting conversation, but coaching specific items and tying expectations to measurable (and attainable) results yields the best outcome. This is especially true when working with millennials, since they have less working experience. Often, your newer employees don’t know what they don’t know, so they aren’t even aware if there are better options available or if their performance is subpar.

If sales numbers are not achieved telling them to work harder or “just get it done” will not work. They need to know the exact deficiencies and where they should focus their effort.  Is it that they are not seeing enough traffic, is their close rate too low, or is their average ticket lower than the norm?  See, these measurable items are something they can grasp.  They are also logical and with the right strategy can be worked on and eventually corrected

  • Be positive but realistic. Most people appreciate being recognized for doing well. Make sure you stop to point out successes as you see them. This does not need to be formal; just plan to give the “fist bumps” (you can even blow them up) as they arise. In addition, have structured individual meeting with your sales associates at least twice a month going over their performance.  Discuss performance against standards and goals and find out what is making them successful or creating a deficiency. 

Also, don't save the praise to be bundled with the negatives when you discuss what they need to improve.  This does not mean you just walk around telling everyone how great they are. You still need to coach through the areas that need to be developed.  However, effective coaching, just like good teaching, should not be negative most of the time.  It is much harder to motivate and improve performance when the millennial sales associate feels as if she/he cannot get anything right and they are more of a nuisance and hindrance than an asset

In summary, millennials are people too. They're just new(er) people to the workforce, and as such, they want and require more direction on a regular basis. Most managers probably have that direction (good or bad) in their heads, but the key is to share this information with your sales team in a productive manner along the way. Your team morale and performance will greatly improve as a result of your planning and attention.  Look at this quote by Tony Robins, “Change is inevitable – Progress is optional”. Is it more important to hold on to the ideals you have formed over your flooring career and stop progress or is it better to adapt to the attributes of today’s workforce, embrace change, and lead a company a greater level of profits and efficiency?  Your call, but the answer should be pretty obvious!