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The Virtual Field Manager: Ways to Empower Your Stores’ Most Powerful Assets

Excited virtual field manager seeing her laptop at home.

Whether you call them District Managers or Regional Managers, your Field Management team has always played the critical role of driving store execution. They are the essential conduit between the head office and the stores. In recent months, the importance of their role has been elevated, while at the same time making it more challenging for them to fulfill their role. The Field Manager’s greatest impact is felt within the four walls of their respective stores, how do they harness their incredible energy, creativity and skills to lead in a new way?

In an effort to keep their teams safe, many retailers have eliminated air travel and have restricted physical visits to stores. Some of our clients estimate that up to 50% of their stores will not receive a physical visit from their Field Manager between March of 2020 and January (or later) in 2021. Essentially, Field Managers who manage geographically disbursed stores will have to go virtual, managing remotely from their dining room tables.

What Practices and Tools Will Be Needed to Enable Your Virtual Field Leader Team?

Field Managers are the liaison between stores and head office, they do so by playing the role of the Communicator, the Compliance Officer, the Recruiter, the Coach, and the Cheerleader. In order to make the Field Managers’ lives easier and help them be more effective virtually, we need to discuss what tips or tools are needed to maintain the same level of inspiration and effectiveness while faced with the constraints of working remotely.

A chart explaining the five critical roles of a retail field leader.

The Communicator

Communication from head office to the store and vice versa is critical. It is important to ensure the message is understood by stores and staff. By communicating the processes, objectives and goals clearly, it ensures the Field Manager can hold their respective teams accountable.

  • Enable a centralized communication channel in a more strategic, planned, and proactive way. Understand and assign the best tool or channel possible for your field leader to use;
  • Provide messaging capabilities on a daily and weekly basis with store leadership teams to communicate priorities, troubleshoot issues, and provide store teams with coaching based on business insights;
  • Review your communication process, from planning to executing and reviewing. Understand what needs to be communicated, how to execute, and review if store teams understood the message clearly; and
  • Allow your teams to access to an online bulletin board where Field Managers can hear daily discussions that are happening in store. This is a great way to hear store teams and their needs for completing their daily jobs.

The Compliance Officer

Compliance is easier to achieve remotely if Field Managers have the right tools to do so. Change is difficult, the current situation asks for an even greater need for everyone to be agile. To ensure teams are not scattered, structure must be offered to ensure for a certain level of consistency in store. Having a framework will also allow the follow up to be managed in a consistent way.

  • Provide automated store visit tools that store leadership teams can complete in self-audit mode in order to provide the necessary insights to their field leader and create meaningful action plans;
  • Enable an ‘at a glance’ operational planning calendar that shares critical information like tasks, deliverables (i.e. events), messages, and/or targets in one single place to keep them on track and on time; and
  • Allow your field leaders with video calling or photo uploading capabilities to enable a Store Manager to provide their Field Manager with “virtual tours” of stores using their mobile devices.

The Recruiter

While Field Managers physically used to walk a mall to network and find top performers from their competitors, today they are unable to do so. Field Managers are challenged to find new ways to recruit key players to up their teams. No doubt, there’s a lot of great talent out there, it is a matter of looking into the right channel.

  • Permit field leaders to use social media (i.e. LinkedIn) for them to be able to make those relationships online and to listening other people’s stories. There is always a district manager or associate looking for an opportunity.
  • Leverage their talent pool by area or district where they are able to identify key players in their respective teams, ensuring a full pipeline in their region.

The Coach

Coaching via digital channels can be challenging. The observational and behavioral piece that Field Managers used to obtain while visiting stores is no longer there. Therefore, getting the same level of detail and information – from home – is essential for coaching their teams to win. And, most importantly, for holding stores, managers and associates accountable to hit deliverables.

  • Empower your field leaders with real-time performance data to monitor their stores’ progress and targets throughout the day. By doing so, prioritization will occur in their communication and efforts;
  • Enable your Field Managers with KPIs on Sales Leadership performance to understand the success of each sales leader on the salesfloor. This provides insights to understand who is having success and where coaching is needed the most;
  • Revisit goals and targets based on current trends and conditions to set clear expectations that are achievable. In this way, coaching will be transparent on what teams are able to accomplish; and
  • Assign, where possible, mentors such as other managers in the district who are locally close to the store to assist with the missing behavioral feedback piece to ensure coaching consistency and follow up. This also provides a great development opportunity for upcoming leaders.  

The Cheerleader

In times of adversity, cheerleaders become the influencer, facilitator and motivator that make teams thrive. In retail, field leaders adopt the important role of empowering and inspiring teams to achieve a go-to culture, greater performance and positive behavior.

  • Enable messaging through bulletin boards to virtually celebrate the success of great achievements done in store; and
  • Give visibility to who the top performers are to cheerlead and highlight what they are doing right, share best practices and successful actions.

The Evolved Role of the Virtual Field Manager

While we wait for that much needed face-to-face contact again, the reality is that the new way of field management is here to stay. The role of the Field Manager is evolving and needs to be versatile and quick to respond to changes. With the right tools in place, the virtual Field Manager can be just as successful, making these new ways of working more efficient and cost-effective. They are now the retailers’ most powerful asset in making store teams stronger and enabling greater results despite the adversity.

StoreForce can help you to achieve your retail goals and labor planning effectiveness. Interested in learning more? Contact us and engage with one of our retail experts as to how we can future proof your overall retail store management.

Author:

Jean-Francois Vinet, Client Engagement Manager at StoreForce

Jean-François Vinet is a Client Engagement Manager at StoreForce. In his role, Jean-François interacts with client resources to provide guidance and input on how StoreForce can support their operational initiatives while building relationships at various levels in these respective organizations to ensure a strong partnership and collaboration. Prior to joining StoreForce, Jean-François helped build, train and develop teams in various retail organizations. Jean-François is a strong advocate of teamwork and collaboration, he values communication and leadership above all else. Jean-François likes to play viola on his spare time and is an avid skier and outdoor enthusiast, you’ll know where to find him when he’s out of office!

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