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How One Retailer’s Productivity Point System Failed Employees


Not Busy

This statement was for customers. It was written on the back of every employee uniform and worn throughout the bookstore corporation’s 34 locations. No issues or confusion had been reported. As the store manager of the company’s first American brick-and-mortar, I was asked for feedback. Was it clear? I respectfully suggested that American customers would misinterpret the meaning of Not Busy.

This is the story of a company’s first brick-and-mortar store. It failed due to a productivity point system. The point system was supposed to boost productivity, but it tore the staff apart. This is how it happened.

Our productivity was measured by one system. As employees, we were all given an ID number, which had its own barcode and needed to be scanned prior to performing the following productive tasks:

      • Register (POS)
      • Buybacks (grading the condition and buying used books)
      • Daily Inventory (scanning items and updating inventory loss)
      • Shelving misplaced books
      • Replenishment or re-stocking inventory

The first productivity point system report was posted in the office and an email was sent announcing that the highest performer would be awarded a bonus. The lowest performing names could be found at the bottom.


Not a Team

The day the first productivity point system report went out, teamwork diminished. An assistant manager pointed out that the staff member given the bonus had been completing steps incorrectly and altered the inventory. The report was adjusted. There was a new winner. Animosity grew and created tension where none existed. The staff was confused about which task warranted the most attention and how the percentages were calculated. As their manager, I encouraged them to balance the workload, but even my authority weakened under the productivity point system. It was my word against the system.


Not Heard

What became apparent was that customer service would also suffer. Even though points accrued from checking out customers, there were no metrics established to optimize customer service. It wasn’t measured.

It’s important to understand your customers. But it’s just as important to know your staff. My customers wanted book recommendations. Everyone working in the bookstore was a reader. Customers want guidance. A handwritten recommendation was the perfect signal.

Little of this mattered when the productivity point system shaped our priorities, but I brought it to the company’s attention and proposed the scores be recalibrated to include staff recommendations. I suggested that a new location be created at the front of the store, where the staff could display their selections. We began to keep track of the books here that sold and the percentage was factored into their scores. My staff felt smart, which they were. Like they had something special to offer, which they did. Customers left happy and returned knowing there would always be a good book waiting for them.


That’s Not the Way We Do Things

Don’t let anyone tell you this without a real explanation. It’s bad business. Sometimes it’s described as company policy. Approach management as a scientist. Collect the data that is available and consider the variables. My company was blinded by its 10 years of bookstore experience. It should have helped. And in some ways it did. But what matters most in retail right now is the customer experience. Demographics are everything. In a race to increase productivity, statistics were dismissed.

But the location of our store mattered. The store was in an outdoor promenade known for its heavy foot traffic. What the company ignored was its proximity to the beach, which made the promenade a tourist destination. Customers wanted souvenirs but the merchandise was manufactured overseas and focused solely on the kind of literary gifts that can be purchased from other major booksellers.


Busy or Not

As the store manager, I was responsible for a wide range of duties. It was expected that my points would be lower than the staff’s. But when the total scores were measured against other high performing stores abroad, they were considerably lower. This didn’t mean we weren’t doing our jobs.

The staff abroad was experienced. Customers knew the business for a decade. My customers were in unfamiliar territory. Whether or not my staff was busy wasn’t my priority. Your company might not agree. Hear me out. What’s important is that customers are approached, or in this case, greeted with a handwritten note. Busy or not, this statement should come from us. Preferably, with a smile.

The people you hire should be there because you believe in them. Give them purpose. Let them connect with customers. Productivity will follow. Don’t set standards that can reduce them to numbers. They have names and experience and skills for a reason. Listen. Show them compassion. It’s an investment in customer service. It’s critical to the success of your business.

To learn more about how CB4 tracks our tasks and reports on employee and store performance, take a look at our Content Library, where you’ll find product overviews, case studies, and more.


About the Author

Jessica Amodeo is a freelance writer with eight years of retail experience in management at top brands like G-Star RAW. She received her MFA from NYU in 2012, and currently lives in Los Angeles.

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