When people talk about technology in retail, invariably they’re focused on things like omnichannel, mobile payments, robots and automation, product displays, and data analytics, among other digital tools and solutions. But there’s another way technology influences everything that happens in the retail environment, and that’s through internal communication.

Particularly for multiunit retail managers like district and regional managers who have to lead from a distance, technology is an indispensable leadership tool for communicating expectations, managing performance, staying connected to the field, and maximizing store visits.

But of course, it’s a two-way medium, and many multiunit leaders find themselves overwhelmed with information coming in through different forms of electronic communication. Our research also shows leaders that frequently create some of those information overload problems themselves.

We’ve all been there: Do you constantly check your smartphone for messages without thinking? Do you put your phone where you can see and hear it during lunch or other personal time off? Access has gotten us all well-trained! (Even more than that, it’s turning us into addicts.) And as new tools keep being introduced, it seems like there’s an infinite stream of information coming at us at all times.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of communication you receive daily from phone calls, emails, texts, chat, and social media, just to name a few. There are usually multiple priorities that have to be dealt with, and many of them often have to be handled at the same time. They might even conflict with one another.

But one of the things that elevates superior multiunit retail managers above the rest is the way they’re able to proactively shape their direct reports’ (and boss’s) use of technology when they communicate.

Here are some ways you can follow their lead:

  • Decide who is in control: you or technology.
  • Use emails as a way to document goals and conversations.
  • Create outgoing phone announcements and auto-replies that let others know your expectations about length and content of messages.
  • Where possible, set up a process for monthly reports instead of getting daily updates.
  • Take advantage of the email subject line to communicate critical, succinct messages.

In addition to having guidelines for technology, effective leaders also know that the extent to which they can individualize their follow up with managers is key. By adjusting your use of technology to each situation, you can tailor the follow-up to ensure you’re meeting the full range of each manager’s needs.

All forms of electronic communications have their pluses and minuses when it comes to effectively leading the managers in your district or region. For a quick guide to the benefits, uses, and pitfalls of different technologies, including email, text messages, telephone, and Skype, download our Electronic Communication Tips for Multi-Unit Managers.


About Michael Patrick

Michael held positions in retail management, merchandising, and human resources before joining MOHR Retail’s predecessor in 1986. In 1990 he purchased the retail division of that firm to form today’s MOHR Retail. Michael holds true to his retail roots by delivering learning that changes behavior—providing both immediate and lasting business impact. In addition to facilitating MOHR Retail training programs, he offers executive-level coaching in one-on-one sessions dealing with critical strategic issues such as succession strategies and executive team development. The author of “The New Negotiation Mindset: Guarantee A Bigger Slice,” Michael is a longstanding member of NRF as well as ISA: The Association of Learning Providers. He has a B.A. from San Diego State University, completed Master’s level work at Arizona State University, and lives with his family in New Jersey.