3 Overlooked Steps in Solving C-Store Performance Problems

It is commonly known that problem identification is the first step of solving any problem.  C-Store Managers have reports, experience, Business Intelligence Software and sometimes, even Consultants to help them in this task.  Once a problem is defined, the question then becomes, how do we resolve it.  This will vary on the type of problem of course but, there is a second process taken in C-Stores to resolve their problems.  Issue identification is only the first. Without these other steps there is no point in finding the problem.

LOCATE THE ROOT CAUSE
Once a problem is identified, it is time to investigate what caused it. In a C-Store company, declining sales could be caused by not ordering enough inventory, market demand could be shrinking, or a competitor could be running a promotion on an entire category, etc. Analyzing why a problem is happening can be complex. You need to know what could cause the problem and then investigate those areas. If you do not have an analyst on your staff, this is where Business Intelligence tools come in. They give you quicker access and reporting on what is happening to identify where the core root of the issue may lie.

ADDRESSING THE CAUSE WITH THOSE RESPONSIBLE FOR IT
Simply identifying the problem is not enough. Once you know what is causing the issue, it needs to be fixed. This also can be cumbersome. A lot of different things can create a problem. If inventory is ordered at the store level, it could be time to talk to the Store Manager. If market demand is shrinking, perhaps Marketing needs to change their focus. If competitors are undercutting your pricing, perhaps strategies are to be devised by your category management team. Where ever the problem lie, making the responsible party aware of the problem will be key. A manager can show them the reports, and have a meeting with them to discuss resolution tactics but ultimately, they will be the ones taking action to solve the problem. It will require heavy analysis or tools to help them find the core root of it.

MONITOR FOR IMPROVMENT
Here lies the irony in C-Store problem solving. It is the responsible parties that must solve the problems where managers cannot fix the problem for them. However, in the end, managers are ultimately the ones responsible for resolving issues as they arise. Managers must track and monitor the progress to be certain the issue is resolved. This includes the problem and all things that could cause it. It is in this part of the process where they identify underlying issues within the problem. Fixing the underlying issues resolve the problem for the long term. It is where true resolution takes place. Without tools, this can put them in a constant state of analysis. C-Store managers who are successful in problem solving know the importance of this step and take the time to do it. It is no wonder that they are the ones who seek tools to help them do this so they can keep on top of it all.

When it comes to problem solving, most business intelligence tools only take you part way there. When seeking a business intelligence solution, you need to find one that will go beyond identifying the core root and look for one that will take action with the information that it finds.

1) It needs to communicate the problem to those responsible for failing KPI’s to make them aware of it.
2) It needs to have a way for Managers to track the progress of problem solving so they may monitor all issues quickly.
3) It needs to see resolution all the way through to the end for you, by keeping a constant watch and reporting performance levels until
they reach continuous satisfactory levels.

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4 WAYS EMPLOYEES WIN WITH ACCOUNTABILITY

I am one of the “doers” in my company. I report directly to our CEO by completing reports showing my activities,  how my projects are progressing and how I am spending my time.  I am held accountable to my results.  Few could argue that it is my activity that yields the  results I achieve so, we track my activity and compare it to my results.   Many Managers would cringe at imposing these requirements on their employees.  They fear employees won’t like it, and they think it will mean more paperwork for them to review and monitor when they already have enough to do. I even admit, when first working at my company, I was a little negative about it myself.  However, what surprised me over time, is that I prefer it. Because I do my job, I  find I only gain from it.  It was an eye opener that has made me more productive in many areas.  There are four areas where I found I had benefited. Untitled-2 copy

EXPECTATIONS

Expectations were clearly defined so I never had to second guess what I was to be focusing on.  Part of accountability in our company is informing our boss why goals are not to be met, and to offer suggestions for change so we can reach our goals.  By tracking activity I was not only able to track/chart  my progress, but I learned to foresee issues so I could inform my boss of potential failure so it could be corrected before I actually failed.  Together, we work through those issues before they become problems for both of us.

GOAL ATTAINMENT

There is a saying in business that claims if you measure it, it will improve.  The issues many companies have is that they monitor things when they are failing but drop that process when things improve so they can tackle other deficiencies.   They stay “better” for a while, but things that caused the failure to begin to return.  A finely tuned accountability process will determine the things that lead to successes and track those activities as a constant activity.  When constantly monitored the desired results become a constant.  Therefore, my activity tracking leads me to my goals. So often, companies monitor results without tracking the activities that led them there.  By this time, failure demands fire-fighting, which puts stress on everyone.  With constant watch, there are no fires, only embers to be doused when they begin to glow.  Achieving goals becomes the norm instead of a challenge each quarter.  If the activity is not getting you to your goals, then you most likely must look at changing the activity before you can hope for a change in result.

PROFESSIONALISM

If anything is a constant it is change.  Activities that worked in the past, may not work in current times.  As I track my activity along with my progress, I am able to prove I am doing what was asked.  I can also show where activities that worked in the past may not be working now, because I have the statistics showing the  before and after results when conducting the same activity.  This also allows me to highlight a need for change in a more professional manner, regardless of whether the reasons are either internal or external to my department.  It will not look like I am pointing fingers or just making excuses.  My boss likes this as well.  When complaint comes with evidence and a suggestion, it is easier to identify a true need for change and to impose it.

TIME MANAGMENT

We all wear different hats these days.  It becomes difficult to juggle it all to be able establish priorities. When measuring my progress, I can clearly see where I am falling deficient, and can adjust my activities so I don’t end up failing in any one area by the end of the month.  Prior to this tracking, I just worked my hardest and hoped for the best by the end of the month without any real sense of direction other than the habitual activities of my job.  It was great for the normal times, but I learned that things can go amuck when times were changing. By tracking activity and result, it is much quicker to know where you need to change in order to adapt.  Also, over time, task measurement enabled me to visualize patterns where I now know what activities need to happen when to keep me productive in all areas.  I have no doubt that my time management skills have vastly increased.

Accountability always seems to hold a negative connotation.  Your teachers were going to “hold you accountable” to doing your homework.  The IRS wants to know if  the forms you provide each year are “accountable”.   The life lesson, that is often over looked when the word comes up, is that when I did my homework and documented my finances, everything was alright. These things made me a good student and a good citizen.   So, why wouldn’t it make me a better employee and keep me out of trouble?  Do your staff a favor and initiate a little accountability.  You will be doing them and yourself a great service. It is definitely a win/win for everyone.

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