When John Martin joined Spar Castlerock Road in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, as a maternity cover manager he immediately had a challenge on his hands. "We were running a new promotion with Ballygowan water to raise money for breast cancer reasearch and all the staff were supposed to wear pink T-shirts, but I was told by my deputy managers that no one was prepared to do this."
John approached the staff directly and told them about the importance of the cause and why it was vital to wear the T-shirts to raise awareness. Some of the male members of staff were a bit reluctant because of the colour, so he had to explain that the whole reason for the T-shirts being pink was so that they stood out and people took notice. "Once they had had a chance to think about it, they were happy to help," says John. "I think part of the problem was that the deputy managers went in with a negative attitude and that rubbed off on the rest of the staff."
Skillsmart chief executive Anne Seaman says that explaining your reasons for changing something can often help to win staff over. "If you're just told you have to change something, then most people won't react well, but if people are helped to understand the broader context they are more likely to conform."
Seaman notes that managers who adopt a positive attitude are far more likely to implement changes successfully. "If the managers are comfortable with change themselves, then they can teach their staff to be the same," she says.
Nisa retailer Saqi Ghafoor, who owns a store in Gateshead, Tyne & Wear, had to overcome some resistance from staff when he introduced a new uniform.
"The whole idea of uniforms is so that customers know who they can approach for help," says Saqi. "A couple of staff were used to wearing their own clothes and were unwilling to change. I had to get them on side, so I explained to them that the uniform would actually heighten their status by making them look more professional."
The staff took in what Saqi had said and wore the uniforms reluctantly. But as soon as they made the change they realised that their manager was right. "Attitudes to staff changed dramatically customers instantly had more respect for them," says Saki.
Explaining how a change will benefit a staff member is a surefire way of gaining their acceptance, claims Richard Derwent Cooke, managing director of I-Change change management consultancy. "People won't accept a change that makes them worse off it's the 'what's in it for me?' factor," he says. "It has to come across as a win-win for all involved."
Introducing a new piece of equipment can also throw up problems as people adjust to a new way of working. "When we changed to a new epos system, it caused a few issues initially," cites Saqi. "It wasn't so much that staff refused to use the new system, but rather that they were scared of making mistakes."
However, he ensured that staff were as ready as they could be by informing them about the change well in advance. "We told them that it was going to happen in the weeks leading up to the change. Obviously, they were still concerned about how to use the system, but we started training them straight away and that settled them."
It's definitely worth explaining a forthcoming change in advance, agrees Pria Keshwala, business partner at Londis Latestore in Northamptonshire. "It's no good just springing things on people."
In fact, retailers can go one step further and involve staff in the development stages, claims Derwent Cooke. "You can involve staff by asking them how you can make the business better. If you start off by fixing staff concerns then it's not just about the company taking, but also giving."
Seaman believes that involving staff early on in the decision-making process is worthwhile. "Staff members are frequently kept in the dark not deliberately, but because managers prioritise things differently. Often people on the shop floor will have a better idea than the managers, so it's important to involve them in the early stages of change."
Another tactic, says Seaman, is to let people know the bigger picture so that they have a better understanding of why a change is necessary. "So often training in retail is about training people to do the job, but a big part of it also needs to be about people understanding the wider business where they fit in and how a new system can improve things," she says.
This is the method Pria used when introducing new technology to her staff. "When we introduced PayPoint and Payzone it created a lot of extra work for staff, but it was just a case of explaining to them that it was essential for the business to progress. They needed to know that it was important as it would help us to increase sales and keep up with the competition," she says.
Derwent Cooke supports this notion. "You need to create an environment where change is a constant factor not for change's sake, but to better the business," he says. "After all, if you're not setting the pace, then you're chasing it."
This is a message that Pria drills into staff from the word go. "When I interview people for a role at the store I tell them straight up that they will be expected to adapt to whatever changes we implement.
"In our type of business, you can't employ people for specific jobs; everyone needs to have all-round skills, so that they can try their hand at anything if needs be."
But in order to get staff to broaden their thinking, managers themselves also need to be fully open to change, says Seaman. Managers can sign up for training at their local skills shops, which are listed on the National Skills Academy website at www.nsaforretail.com.