5 ways to be a great area manager

by Matt Grimshaw
September 30, 2016

We’ve worked with area managers in many organisations. Based on what we’ve seen the best area managers consistently do, here are five ways to put yourself amongst them:

1. Protect your people

In large multi-site businesses, store managers get bombarded with information, initiatives and requests from the centre. Great area managers act as a filter. They push back on the centre to stop their people from getting distracted by short term tasks that would undermine their long term performance. One of the other defining features of multi-site businesses is that there’s always a heightened focus and pressure on underperforming business units. In these circumstances, great area managers make their teams feel safe, so they have the time and space to turn things around.

2. Look for insight not control

Great area managers don’t try to do their store managers’ jobs for them. They make their store managers accountable for their store’s performance. They don’t waste their time trying to control everything that’s going on in individual stores. Instead great area managers focus on finding new insight. They develop the quality personal relationships with front line team members that mean they get genuine, honest feedback. They also make sure they find time to observe firsthand what’s going on and they ask questions of their store managers that encourage them to see their business from the outside in.

3. Manage the probability of success rather specific outcomes

When you’re an area manager, the temptation is to set goals, insist they are met and, if store managers fall short, to personally step in to turn things around. The problem with this approach is that it undermines the autonomy of store managers. It denies them the opportunity to develop and over time it means that the stores become increasingly reliant on the area manager. Great area managers instead focus on creating a system and culture that makes it more likely the stores will succeed in the long term. They expect failures and setbacks along the way. Indeed the best area managers make sure their store managers feel they have the scope to try things and fail. This permission to make mistakes, encourages managers to try new ideas and to figure things out for themselves.

4. Spend time with your best people (your pioneers)

It’s easy as an area manager to fall into the trap of focusing your time and effort on your underperforming stores. After all, these are the ones on your boss’ radar. The problem with this approach is that when area managers stop spending time in their best stores, they start to lose sight of what great looks like. They become less clear on the behaviours and ways of working they should be replicating in their underperforming stores. At the same time, the best performing store managers start to feel the effect of receiving less attention. Great store managers no longer feel stretched or recognised sufficiently and they become demotivated with the result that either their performance drops or they leave.

5. Focus on strengths, fit and getting people to work together

Great area managers are always looking to curate their teams. They take great care in matching people’s strengths and personalities to create complementary teams. They try to fit the styles and skills of their managers to the different customer profiles and challenges of the different stores in their area. And they take great care when they recruit new team members. All this means that they have teams that work well together, that support each other and that share ideas.

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