Here are six reminders to leaders in retail, but in truth, these reminders can serve leaders everywhere. Taking the word ‘retail’, here are six things, which if done, will enhance your business success.
1 Rethink your business. The global recession has forced many back to the drawing board and sadly for others, it has meant being forced off the table altogether. These have been tough times but as with all difficulty, there are always opportunities that invite discovery. One such opportunity has been the invitation to rethink key aspects of your business as the external context has led to decreased profits and put strain on past ways of operating – ways that may have brought success. Some have been forced to rethink their entire business model, for others it might have been to rethink vital aspects of the business – for example, your strategy, customer service, talent retention or internal HR approaches. Rethinking key aspects of the business seldom occurs when things are going well and according to plan. We have long been taught not to ‘fix it if it isn’t broken’. It usually takes the pressure of a crisis to force us to rethink that which we have assumed will always work and which will always keep us ahead of the pack. It shouldn’t be the case but that is often how human nature works. It was Peter Drucker who has warned us not to rely on the past when looking towards future success when he wrote: “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence, it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”
Those who have done this work, the work of ‘rethinking’, will know it is tough. It is tough for it means letting go, often of ways and systems that we hold dear, with which we are comfortable and which have resulted in success, recognition and reward. Shifting paradigm is never easy yet, by not rethinking things, the chances are you are not thinking at all!
2. Emphasize the positive. It is all too easy to give in to the negative, be that about the economy, the country or the team whose colours you wear. Rare are the individuals who always choose to see the glass half-fill rather than half-empty. The ‘Appreciative Inquiry’ approach launches from the positive rather than the negative. The process begins by asking, ‘what is it that we do well?’ It is a strengths –based approach rather than the standard approach that looks to find the weakness and then close that gap. Think about this as a parent: how often do we as parents find it easier to point out the problems, what our kids aren’t doing well, rather than accentuate what your child may be doing that is positive and right? So we find ourselves often spending more time criticizing, faultfinding rather than praising and affirming.
This emphasis often spills over into how we lead. Leaders need to catch their people doing something right and find ways to recognize, reward and pass-on such instances. We have all the formal mechanisms in place for this but leaders needs to pay attention to the informal opportunities that present themselves everyday. “I thought you handled that criticism brilliantly”, “I noticed you helping that client with her parcels – well done”; “I overheard you chatting to that client at the till and appreciate the concern you showed for her situation, thank you”. It really isn’t rocket-science, and whilst we all like to be the recipients of such attention, what leaders need to ask is, ‘what is my role and responsibility in creating such a culture within this environment?’
3. Talk to your people – staff and customers alike. It has been said that in larger organizations, senior leaders seldom talk to staff more than two levels below them. It is just that their respective worlds seldom intersect. It seems so simple – talk to those who matter most (your staff and customers), and it is simple! Why then does it so rarely happen? Leaders need to make sure they are in touch with their staff, they need to be sure they know what their customers are thinking and feeling. All too often this information is fed to those in leadership via sterile quantitative surveys and meaningless statistics devoid of context. Leaders need to spend more time ‘walking the floor’ chatting to their staff and customers, building relationship, observing what is happening and set an example. After all, if you are not doing it, how then can you expect your staff to?
4. Ask questions. Given the need to talk to your staff and customers, then a good starting point would be to ask them questions. By asking the right questions leaders can get important information. And here is a tip: having got an answer to your question, follow that up with, ‘why do you say that?’ Use questions to dig deeper, inquire further and get to understand things beyond the obvious, the superficial. A retail culture that asks questions is one where things will improve; it will be one that is able to remain in touch with consumer needs and trends. Asking questions is what allows growth at both a personal and corporate level. For the most part, leaders do not ask enough questions; perhaps it has something to do with the fact that they are always expected to have the answers?
5. Individuals matter…learn to see the individual. In retail, seeing the individual is vital. No longer are your clients and customers willing to be seen as an account number, part of a demographic segment, one of the numbers who walk through your door. Customer expectation is at an all time high in this regard. Not only do they have the power of choice but also should they be dissatisfied, they have the ability to do your brand serious damage through access to a variety of social media outlets. This is especially true when your customer or client base is weighted in favour of the younger generation. How often have you had the experience of being a regular customer at a certain outlet and there has never been any attempt to recognize that fact, either by way of getting to know you and your preferences or even reward your loyalty? If you want to keep customers coming back then you had better give them a reason to do so – a reason that goes beyond the ‘norm’, beyond what they can get anywhere else.
6. Learn…and do so quickly. Retail environments are more susceptible than most to consumer mood swings. You, and your organization need to be quick learners if you are to be adaptable. Again this sounds obvious but is it? At a personal level, when last did you subject yourself to formal training? Read an insightful book that challenged your paradigms? Ask questions in such a way that unearthed new information? Challenge yourself and your team to find better ways of doing things? Look outside of your industry for answers? Stop and take meaningful time to reflect and think? Many of the leaders I encounter have stopped learning: they rely on their experience to see them through. Perhaps the most obvious ‘learning area’ that leaders have neglected is that of technology. Some wisdom from an unconventional source, namely Homer Simpson, who said: “Every time I learn something it pushes some old stuff out my brain”.
So there you have it!