Staff Meetings That Work

“Staff meetings?? Who’s got time for staff meetings?? Surely there’s a better way to spend the few precious payroll dollars I have to spare! Besides… I’m great one-on-one with my employees and my customers, but I HATE having to talk in front of a group!”

Sound familiar? Sound like somebody you know? Well, if you’re among the many retail jewelers who don’t hold regular staff meetings, you might take some comfort in knowing that you’re not alone! Retailers and their employees find many excuses not to have meetings, most of which boil down to concerns about time, expense and presentation skills. No doubt about it; planning and holding regular meetings aren’t easy.

So, why bother? Well, frequent and regular meetings provide for open dialogue and good communication among your staff. They are the most effective way to make sure your employees have the knowledge and skills needed to exceed your customers’ expectations and that they represent your business the way you want. The bottom line is that effective staff meetings build your bottom line!

Here’s how to turn a daunting task into a positive, productive effort.

Time: It takes time to plan good meetings. Although tons of information is available for content, it still takes a lot of effort to research it, prepare it and practice your presentation. The best way to cut preparation time is to organize your thoughts in advance. Choose key topics and focus on very specific elements. Preparation most often becomes tedious when you try to squeeze too much content into too little time.

It also takes time to hold good meetings – at least an hour. Since boss and staff alike are busy with other things, it’s easy to procrastinate. You will find, however, that investing just one quality hour per week in an effective meeting will vastly improve your entire staff.

Meetings must be measurably productive to be worth the time they take. Discussing a single product (gold chains, for example) and demonstrating the features and benefits of each style of that product will boost the knowledge of every participant. Product knowledge builds confidence and confidence increases sales. Practicing selling skills – such as overcoming objections – during meetings also delivers a big pay off.

Expense: Some retailers worry about the cost of holding regular store meetings, since they must pay wages and salaries for time spent in meetings. But how can you afford not to provide a regular gathering to develop your staff professionally?

Here’s one way to look at the investment you’ll make in a quality meeting. The average retail employee makes less than $12 an hour. The average store has seven employees; 7 x $12 = $84. Add another 30% or $25 for benefits, and $20 for refreshments. Total cost: about $129.

That investment of $129 will provide knowledge, skills, confidence, professionalism, unity, camaraderie, team spirit, fun and a few calories. And just one $260 sale with a 50% margin will put that $129 back into the cash register.

Confidence: Most people hate public speaking of any sort and may lack confidence in presenting information, even if they’re well prepared. Lack of confidence can make even the best material dry as dust if it’s simply read from a page. Meetings are neither fun nor productive when there’s no interactive learning and training. Information must be shared with enthusiasm; skills must be practiced without intimidation in a fun and helpful way.

One way to make meetings interesting and worthwhile is to assign different people to cover a variety of short subjects, then open each subject for group discussion. Those who know more about the subject will have a chance to teach others. Those who know less may ask questions and learn. The more frequently meetings are held, the less intimidated everyone will feel with their brief “spotlight” role.

Here’s how it’s done:

After someone briefly covers a topic like greeting and profiling a customer, open a simple scenario for discussion: A 40-ish man dressed in a classic business suit and a Disney tie enters your store, pauses five feet inside the door, and looks around as if he’s just entered a board room. Have staff members describe how they would greet the man, open a dialogue with him and discover two facts about the reason for his visit.

You could also create good interaction with a product. Ask staffers to demonstrate and discuss every style of diamond solitaire necklace in your inventory, describing chain style, diamond weight and quality as well as the reasons why a customer would buy each one.

Three key elements: To get results from regular meetings, each should include:

  1. Exercises to improve skills, particularly selling skills, like handling objections or closing the sale.

  2. Information to augment product knowledge presented in small bits in each meeting; ultimately all of your product categories should be covered.

  3. Instruction on store operations – such as repair take-in procedures or security – to improve efficiency and productivity.

All of these elements can be addressed without meetings, and most jewelers leave it up to employees to improve themselves. However, bringing your whole staff together for just one quality hour a week can make a big difference in your bottom line.

Building participation: Most meetings are held merely to pass on information – and are almost completely unproductive. A good meeting provides a forum for sharing information. A productive meeting is one in which everyone shares information – giving and gaining in return. Great meetings happen when everyone has fun doing it.

If you delegate small parts to different staff members, have open discussion on all topics and involve your own merchandise in the discussions, meetings will always be productive. Here are some examples:

  1. Have one staff member briefly discuss gold and select several pieces of gold merchandise in unusual colors (green, pink, etc.). Have all staff members discuss selling features of each piece and write down at least three benefits that would appeal to prospective buyers.

  2. Have one staff member conduct a discussion on “closing sales.” Have everyone indicate on the following list which is a customer buying signal (‘B’) and which is an objection signal (‘O’) and explain what they would say to each customer:
    ___ Asking, “How much is this?”
    ___ Staring at the price tag.
    ___ Saying, “I need to look around some more.”
    ___ Leaning forward
    ___ Silence
    ___ Sitting back in the chair with arms folded.

As your staff becomes accustomed to meeting times and format, and as they realize that expectations are not overwhelming and that they learn a little each time, you’ll begin to notice they actually have fun. Inevitable quips about difficult customers or ugly merchandise will break the ice and establish common ground.

Planning: To ease planning, keep your objectives clear and simple and develop topics ahead of time. Plan three sections for each meeting – Product Knowledge, Selling Skills and Operations Details – with just one topic per section. Assign each topic to a staff member who is either best at it or needs improvement in it.

During the meeting, keep things moving briskly. Always start and stop on time. Every meeting should end with people thinking, “I wish we had more time!” Always have a timetable, topic list and assignment schedule, something like this (see box above).

When to start: The best times are before or after hours, with morning meetings generally more effective. Although there are probably as many night-owls as morning people on your staff, most are happy to start the day with freshly brewed coffee or tea, some doughnuts or pastries and some lively conversation. At day’s end, people are weary, anxious to resume their private lives and generally less focused on their profession. A “plus” for morning meetings: there’s a drop-dead ending time because you have to open the doors!

Some stores hold Saturday morning meetings. But you should try to keep weekends intact for those rare occasions that a retail employee gets to take one off!

Store meetings are really effective only when they’re held predictably and frequently. Attendance by both full- and part-time employees, including clerical and financial, should be required – even if it’s someone’s day off. That’s how you truly create a “team.” The only excuse for missing a meeting should be death, emergency or scheduled vacation.

Hold meetings at the same time every week – Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday morning before opening (not Monday!). Plan to put your merchandise out first (if there’s no doubt about security) so your staff will go straight from the meeting to the sales floor. They’ll be charged up, informed, caffeinated and ready for action!

The authors are the principals of Performance Concepts, a company dedicated to innovative education and training geared to the learning styles and lifestyles of career retailers. Performance Concepts offers a subscription to prepared meeting agendas and contents. Each is complete with information in the three key areas of knowledge, skills and operations. Agendas are also sensitive to the selling calendar, with focused information on gift-giving occasions. Quarterly subscription of 10 meetings: $199; special introductory offer: $149. Call for a free sample: (360) 754-7763. Custom and special meetings upon request.

Time Topic Delegated to:
5 minutes Welcome; congratulate top performers Meeting leader
15 minutes Product focus: Pearls & pearl jewelry
Group discussion items Group
25 minutes Skills focus: Overcoming objections
Group discussion Group
10 minutes Operations focus: Telephone skills
Group discussion Group