We like rewarding good staff, so what do we do? We make them assistant department managers–even when the department only has two employees and does not need an assistant manager!

The responsibilities for most assistant managers can look like an ill-defined overflow bucket for the manager. Perhaps the manager wanted to pay a particular worker more, so she created a vague position with no real responsibilities other than to be in charge when the manager is away. Adding an assistant manager might be just the right thing a department needs, but the position cannot only be an overflow bucket. Those extra payroll dollars must help build a stronger department and allow the department to realize new sales. So if your organization is considering having an assistant manager for a department, follow these steps to avoid the overflow bucket trap:

Do the math. Calculate the added payroll expense necessary to create an assistant manager. Then calculate what the department’s new sales volume will need to be in order to maintain the same payroll as a percent of sales. For example: If a department is selling $15,000 per week and has a labor budget of 10 percent of sales (which is $1,500), and then adds $180 in payroll each week, it will now need to sell $16,800 per week to maintain a payroll expense of 10 percent. Determine whether this is a realistic and achievable goal or not. If the department cannot come up with tangible strategies to achieve that growth, the department likely cannot afford to add an assistant manager.

Talk it over with the team. If the decision is to pursue the increased payroll of the position, get the whole team together to come up with realistic daily strategies to increase sales. Team members must understand that if they are going to have the added support of an assistant manager to help carry the load, then they must sell more products every day. Decide how the team will accomplish this and how they will track their progress.

Give the new assistant manager their own specific responsibilities. An assistant manager helps the manager only if she is removing something from the manager’s plate. For example, if the manager is going to be the primary person handling all scheduling, training and discipline, then maybe the assistant manager oversees all ordering, invoice coding and shrink management. Or maybe the assistant manager manages the warehouse relationships and the manager oversees all local producer relationships. Naturally, they will be required to fill in for each other during absences, but find some way to define their roles for the rest of the time.

An ill-conceived assistant manager position ends up being just a title holding a miscellaneous task overflow bucket. That is unsatisfying for all and expensive for the organization. Adding assistant managers should nourish personal development and team capacity. Just make sure you have done your homework on the cost of the investment, created appropriate department strategies and clearly defined the role.