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The power of effective communication PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alixe MacRae   

ImageIn almost every survey of which I'm aware has given management low marks for communication, regardless of the retailers' annual sales, head count, market profile or ownership. Even companies that score well in other areas - winning the, ‘this is a great place to work' section - generally don't do well in this area. Almost always, management is slightly baffled by these results. Their response is usually along the lines of: "We send our memos. We have monthly meetings. What more do they want?"

Before getting somewhat baffled themselves, independent store owners should remember that effective communication with employees in particular has six critical ingredients.

Speak their language. Have you ever tried to explain a complex problem in a foreign country? Unless their mother tongue was English, I'm willing to bet the results were not positive. You need to know what is important to your team before you'll be able to build bonds.

I once worked for a vice president who spent most of his time bragging about the value of his Nortel stock; it did not endear him to his team. If you know their music, kids' sports, favorite teams, activities (bird watching, running, travel) you can communicate. By the way, this takes some work; you need to know how the Dallas Cowboys are doing, or the time for the Toronto Marathon winner. Casual chat about everyday things will lead to relevant business discussion while establishing a level of trust.

Give your team the power positions. An open door policy is fiction worthy of Mother Goose. Your office is your seat of power, and everyone knows it. You need to meet your team on their turf; on the other side of their desk, or beside the receiving line.

Yes, you'll lose your aura of being the "boss", and become one of the worker bees - all the better for establishing better, more effective channels of communication because once that is done, the tone of conversation changes immediately.

Ask to be called by your first name. A title divides the relationship. Not everyone will feel comfortable with this level of familiarity; but it's worth a try. If you can, wear clothing that mirrors what your team wears. (If they wear the company golf or casual shirt in the store during business hours, then you must as well.) Everything that blurs the line builds bonds.

Praise often, but not by email. Say it in person or write a hand-signed card. Be generous, you couldn't have done it without them. (And guess what, you can't - at least not day-in and day-out over the long term.)

Be personal. One year, I decided to send each member of my team - 146 people in all - a hand-written "holiday" card. After eight hours I vowed to never do it again. But the week after Christmas I got so many positive responses, I knew it would be an annual event. It was probably the best eight hours I spent every year (and much better than most meetings).

Don't lie, ever. Don't promise anything you're not willing to deliver. It's alright to explain that you can't give certain information, at this time. Once you lie, or don't deliver a promise, you've broken faith. Your communication will dry up, and, if you don't have a union, you've just opened the door to get one. I once promised to tell my team when the facility was closing. I delivered the news 13 months before the closure. There were no ill effects because it was a matter of trust.

When in doubt, remember that everyone wants to be treated with dignity and respect. Those attributes are reciprocal; give it to get it.

A regular contributor to Home Goods Online, Alixe MacRae is one of this country's best known merchandisers, having held senior positions at a variety of well-known Canadian retailers including Stoney Creek Furniture, Sears Canada and The Bay. She recently started her own business Concierge Relocation ( Her company specializes in move management, especially for those dramatically downsizing seniors and their overwhelmed children.

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