As a business owner or manager of a retail store, in order to be successful, we must deal with difficult and sensitive issues with our employees and subcontractors so that our businesses will flourish. Though we may be masters at finessing our communication so that our messages are clear and understood, doing it once or twice is rarely effective in facilitating change in our organizations. As the mother of learning is repetition, so is the essence of leadership.

Leadership is taking people to a new place; getting there is a struggle. We all would like to change, but we are creatures of habit. We are ruled by habit, not choice. And so are our employees. Habits are like chains that bind us; they are very difficult to break.

Addressing a sensitive issue once will rarely change behavior. The desired behavior must be reinforced over and over. As a leader, we must remind our constituents again and again of our vision and what we want and expect. That’s why if our employees or sub-contractors are not doing what we want them to do, it is a leadership problem. They are not the problem, we are. The quality of our leadership will be the quality of our communication.

As I work with clients and speak at conventions, there are some issues that routinely come up that leaders blame on their constituents. The installers don’t clean up after the job; they come and go as they please; they don’t show up on time; they are not professionally dressed, etc. For salespeople, it’s that they are ornery; they don’t greet the customers quickly with a smile; they don’t fill out the paper work properly and fail to get a signature on the agreement; they don’t ask for the proper deposit; they don’t ask for the customer’s name and address if they don’t purchase, etc.

What are some of your complaints?

As leaders, our communication must be relentless. Our constituents, be it subs or employees, must know what we want and expect. Here are a number of communication tools found in great leaders’ toolboxes:

Set the Example: First and foremost, great leaders walk the talk. They do what they expect; they set the example. If you want your salespeople to greet the customer quickly with a smile, then you must do it and do it well. The old, “Do as I say, not as I do,” has never worked and never will.

Written Standards Procedures: For every position in your company and even for your subs, you need written standards of performance: 10 to 20 specific, measurable standards up to which each person in that position must perform. For example: “Every customer will be informed of our credit offering,” or “Every customer will be greeted with a smile within 30 seconds of her entering the store.”  Standards of performance are how McDonalds is able to duplicate their prototype in thousands of locations.

Weekly Meetings: When I ask retailers how often they hold meetings, their eyes often go blank. Great retailers bring their team together weekly to discuss issues like aged-inventory, aged-accounts receivable, showroom issues, etc. Meetings don’t have to take inordinate amounts of time. The information must be pertinent and precise or your constituents will perceive them as a waste of time. You must be relentless in your communication.

Reinforce and Reward: Rewards and recognition work better than threats or coercion. “Catch people doing something right.”  Remember DNA:  Decide what you want, Notice when you get it then Acknowledge the behavior. Positive reinforcement works when training animals; it also works for humans. When your constituents do what you want, congratulate them and reward the behavior, even if only with a compliment. You must be relentless in watching for opportunities to reinforce your communication.

Measure: This tactic may the most powerful reinforce of all: “When performance is measured, performance improves,” or “Inspect what you expect.”  This is how college and professional athletic teams get their athletes to do want they want. My good friend, Lou Morano of Capital Carpet and Tile in Boynton Beach, Fla., reinforced his message with his subs by measuring their installation performance with his customers. In a very short time his customers’ satisfaction with the installation of their new floors increased dramatically.

P.P.I.s: Personal Performance Interviews. “When performance is measured, performance improves, but when performance is measured and reported back, performance accelerates.” Great retailers reinforce their communication by having monthly or quarterly interviews with their employees. I must emphasize, this is notan annual review; annual reviews are not effective because they are done so rarely.

The PPI is a time for a constituent to reflect upon his/her performance. It’s a time where the leader asks questions like, “How do you feel about your performance?” “What’s working for you and what’s not?” “What can you do better?” “What are your goals?”

PPIs are times of accountability, where the constituent reports back and sets personal goals for improvement. It’s another time and opportunity for the leader to reinforce his communication.

There are many tools and tactics of communication. But telling someone once is not enough. We have to remind ourselves that we are slow to change and so is everyone else. Habits are hard to break. Our communication must be relentless and must permeate everything we do.

Our constituents must hear our message again and again. If they are not doing what we want and how we want it, remember, it’s a leadership issue. And if it’s a leadership issue, that means the fault lies with us.