Practicing Personal Accountability In Retail
As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have been very busy for the past few months. So much so, that writing has fallen by the wayside a bit, unfortunately. I have, literally, been searching for free moments here and there to start, work on and finish this post because it is about a real challenge we are facing in retail. So here we go…
I am working with three organizations right now and one of them is a specialty retailer that is really feeling the challenges that so many smaller retailers are feeling but they also have added another layer of challenge where they hire predominantly to the criteria that their Store Managers are warm bodies with a pulse. Unfortunately they don’t assess for behaviors/competencies like honesty, reliability, accountability, or business acumen. Which has led to probably one of the most challenging experiences I have had in the past ten years.
I am geographically close to a fairly saturated market for this organization so my project consisted of getting into the stores and getting to know the teams, understanding their perspective on their compliance driven culture and how we can support a more customer-focused environment to protect the bottom line of the business. Understanding how they interpret the frequent direction of “do better” and “sell more”, from their leadership and corporate executive teams and how they choose act and plan around those direction. And then providing guidance and improvement ideas to support their sustainability and organizational health.
The reason this market was such a perfect petri dish of retail reality is that it had a long-term Market Manager in place who recently transitioned out of the business. I was told that this Market Manager was “disengaged” for at least a year and by the looks of the team, stores, customer experience delivery – I would say “a year” is a generous assessment. One of the biggest challenges I faced while getting to know this team – especially at the Store “Manager” level is that there was no personal accountability in their business. This business, in particular, inside the organization is really challenged – if I am not mistaken, was in the bottom 2% of the organization when I arrived.
Poor performance has been excused over and over and blame assigned to the economy, the customers, and the junior level team members in most stores. There was an absence of leadership in the stores on peak business days as they were allowed free scheduling reign as there was a trickle down attendance issue in the market. “Managers” that have been in their stores for as little as four months to many as five years are excusing their team’s performance by stating they didn’t hire their whole staff (huh?!?!)! And they were told – according to them – that they couldn’t follow up on poor performance and to “love the one they’re with”. The worst Store Managers frequently referenced state law and policy while – without hesitation – leaving the store early or coming in late whenever they had the coverage and leaving the team out of compliance with the state mandated meal and break periods. It was a market in crisis.
The worst of the worst Store Managers were two of the most outrageous and dangerously passive-aggressive people and frightening liars I have ever come in contact with in retail [or in life, for that matter]. These were people this organization invited onto their team and who, almost immediately, showed their true colors. I met them 11-12 months after they’d started with the company. These people are no longer with the organization.
On a great note – in this market was one of the most talented, driven, authentic, and trustworthy Store Leaders I have ever worked with (how she made it through the same selection criteria is still beyond me). And I also had the pleasure of working with an amazing Assistant Store Leader who will do great things in retail – I just know it!
So there you have the two extremes: One amazing store leader, two truly frightening and toxic store leaders. In between there was a large number of mediocre, not-truly-terrible-but-severely-under-developed, and zero-charisma “managers” who were content to use hope as their primary business strategy and excuse or assign blame to any-/every-thing that they could to explain soft metrics or their ability to drive change and improvement to the business. After supporting an open dialog between the managers watching over the district and the toxic store leaders failed to produce improvements – we worked through those issues with Human Resources [which all of these managers – according to them – were previously told they weren’t “allowed” to do]. Such a dangerous, complacent, and toxic culture.
It was such a challenging and bumpy first month in this business just to sift through the mess and devastation that existed in this really average and typical market for this organization – it wasn’t a surprise that the business was so inconsistent or soft. The GREAT news – I identified pretty quickly is that it wasn’t the customers, it wasn’t because they are a mall-based organization, it wasn’t a product/allocation/presentation issue – it was a personal accountability issue with the field and store leadership. It was an issue of addressing rampant dishonesty, upward delegation, and poor performance. It was possessing a truly unwavering commitment to finding out where each under-developed leader’s greatness was hiding and helping them to uncover it. While doing so we saw the numbers strengthening. exponentially. We saw the business grow healthier, incrementally. There was an elevated sense of personal accountability and conversations around how the teams made it happen. Customer experience started to improve within about six weeks to support return business and brand loyalty and – as of this extremely verbose post – the business sits in the top 50% of the organization and is steadily moving up.
Why Personal Accountability Is Critical To Retail Success
You – no one else – are accountable for your own success and happiness at work. It is 100% your responsibility to discover your talents, competencies, and the quieter skills that can give you a competitive edge and the greatest probability to have a deliberately successful career. Personal branding and reputation management requires quality connections, being in the right place at the right time [being able to identify what that looks like], working with the right people who want to see you succeed, earning a voice in the business, knowing your unique value and how to use it, being consistent, being influential – among other things But in the end, all of these factors require one important thing: a personal commitment to manage, build, and own your career and reputation.
Personal accountability creates opportunities instead of obstacles. It supports solutions instead of excuses. It supports deliberate growth and strategic planning instead of the use of “hope” to deliver “good enough” results.
Sounds pretty simple and straight-forward, right? But – similar to driving your business – it takes an elevated level of strategic thought and planning. It requires the ability to be profoundly objective and honest with yourself – and others, in the process. Making an investment in your personal brand insists that you know what you want the outcome to be. For example – what is your next level career goal and objective? When do you expect to see the results of this? How can you partner with your direct leader to support this? What are you doing to do to own your development and learning?
3 Ways To Own Your Career
- Invest In Your Strengths. Use Them Consistently: Again, if you are committed to owning your career and professional reputation you need to be very self-aware. Know what your strengths are to leverage them to support growth, business health, and your self-development. Conversely – being able to identify and articulate your weaknesses can support an elevation of your performance because you will be hyper-aware of where and when you need to dedicate additional effort and focus to a developing competency and not allowing for excuses in your personal performance.
- Invest In Your Self-Development. Become Maniacal About Your Growth: In retail – there aren’t many organizations that invest in development over and above your current role. A truly remarkable leader will support their team’s growth and development but there has to be a personal commitment to learning and personally growing your own competencies and soft skills. NEVER STOP LEARNING. This begins by investing your time to acquire the right intelligence/information and know-how that will accelerate and support your career growth and career collateral. Never believe that you don’t need to get smarter and more strategic about how to better manage your career path. Take the initiative. Build relationships with leaders you admire and learn from them. If you are in transition or you aren’t getting what you want from your current organization – identify the organizations that can support the career path you seek – and start networking. If you are waiting/hoping for someone to give you your path – don’t expect much. You get what you give in retail. No one owes you anything if you aren’t showing you are willing, enthusiastic, and driven to learn and grow.
- Invest In Building Relationships With The Right People Who Will Support You: This step is all you…if you are combative and closed off to development or not willing to take ownership of your team, your performance, your opportunities – you could work for every respected leader there ever has been and you wouldn’t learn a thing. I have never met a retail leader at the District level or above that didn’t want their team to be successful. We all go into working relationships with our team members and our bosses knowing that we have a lot to learn and to find out about the other people and what we can/should be doing for them. As leaders of people – when we are committed to our people – the relationship doesn’t end when we leave the organization we were both working for. We are there for them in their futures – when you are open and committed to delivering excellence – your leaders will support you and help you even if two years have gone by without talking and you need them. When you burn bridges, behave like schmuck, lie, refuse to practice any accountability for your performance – you will find yourself very alone – very quickly, in retail and with a pretty bad reputation.
Again – never, ever, ever make the assumption that you don’t need to get smarter and more strategic about how to manage and grow your career. Never make the assumption that anyone owes you anything – because…they don’t. Too many people in retail don’t have career growth plans because they rely on the organization they work for to provide them. Too few retail leaders recognize that the investments your employer makes in your career, if any, are not enough to maintain relevance in this evolving industry. Still fewer recognize that most of the time these investments align with the company’s goals, not their specific career objectives for skills and experience that must be transferable across other organizations or industries that they may want to explore one day. It is a mistake to wait for your organization to invest in your professional growth and development. You must know yourself and your desired career path and goals to recognize the necessary career capital investments you must make to determine and support your path.
10 Common Characteristics Present In Retail Leaders That Take Personal Accountability
- They Genuinely Enjoy What They Do: What you get out of your retail experience – in the form of personal satisfaction, success, stability, and enjoyment – will be the sum of what you put into the business. So if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, in all likelihood it’s safe to assume that will be reflected in the success of your business – or lack thereof.
- They Take Their Results Very Seriously: They know that their results are the manifestation of their leadership and their standards and they strive everyday to deliver excellence. You cannot expect to be effective and successful as a retail leader unless you truly believe in your business and your team. Great retail leaders that practice personal accountability are the leaders of the team members on their team – regardless of if they hired them or not. They are determined to get the best out of their team – and if their current team is incapable/unwilling to deliver greatness – these leaders will find people that will…no excuses.
- They Are Strategy/Planning Focused: Great leaders that take personal accountability don’t leave things to chance and would NEVER use hope as a strategy to deliver results. The act of strategizing/planning is so important because it requires us to analyze each business situation and potential variable, research and utilize learned career collateral to support the planning initiatives, and make conclusions and actions based on a variety of potential scenarios. This is done to ensure that we are ready for whatever experience we will have and that we are determined to deliver the most excellent outcome. A business plan also serves a second function, which is having your goals and how to achieve them, on paper. Great leaders use the plan created both as map to take them from point A to B and as a gauge to measure the success of each individual plan or segment within the plan.
- They Know It’s All About The Customer: Retail is all about your customers, period. After all, our customers are the people that will ultimately decide if our business is successful and sticks around or if it will be part of retail history. Everything great retail leaders do in business must be customer experience focused, including your daily priorities, the people we have interacting with the customers in the stores, the things we make important to our team. Truly accountable retail leaders weed out those who aren’t customer-focused. They deal with toxic people/issues, swiftly, that don’t support a customer-focused culture and selling environment. If a operational accountability doesn’t add value – in some way – to the customer experience, they champion it for elimination.
- They Build A Top-Notch/Winning Retail Team: Retail Leaders that practice personal accountability ensure they have the right people on their team. [Yep, even if they didn’t hire them]. They don’t accept excuses – because they don’t practice using them. They don’t accept mediocre results from even one of their team members. They create signature relationships practices that support the team effort and they insist that everyone pulls their weight on the team. The only invite people onto their teams that are emotionally intelligent and mature and they quickly act on performance issues that impede progress, team collaboration, and customer experience.
- They Become Known As An Expert: Retail leaders that are accountable for their results frequently find themselves being asked for their “secrets” of success. Obviously, people want the most accurate assistance that they can get. So, naturally most people seek an expert to help solve their problem. Therefore, it only stands to reason that the more effective leaders become known for your expertise in their retail organization, the more people that seek you out to tap into your expertise, creating more branding and reputation elevation opportunities.
- They Practice Self-Development and Invest In Themselves: Leaving nothing to chance – retail leaders that are focused on their growth and development will spend the time and seek the resources that are relevant to their desired career path. They seek efficient and effective practices that bring an elevated results to the business and their personal leadership style.
- They Are Passionate About Building A Rock-Solid Reputation: A good reputation in retail is unquestionably one of the business leader’s most tangible and marketable assets. You can’t simply fake a good reputation; it’s something that you earn by honoring your promises, making the tough decisions that are aligned with your organization’s goals and objectives and the best interests of your team dynamic and effectiveness. Consistency in performance is the other key factor. If you cannot come through with the same level of service, store aesthetics, experience for your customers on a regular basis; or a happy, efficient, and healthy work environment for your team, they have no reason to trust you . . . and without trust, you won’t have a good reputation, period. Retail leaders that are passionate about personal accountability are ruthlessly protective about their professional brand.
- They’re Involved: In every aspect of the business, with their community, with their team members, with their customers – great leaders are involved and have their fingers on the pulse of what is happening in their business that can potentially impact their results. They are planning on how to overcome things that may create an impediment to the business and how to leverage opportunities that can bring added benefit to the business.
- They Design Their Workspace & Teams For Success: Great retail leaders that are focused on winning are organized and committed to creating a great place for their success and for their team’s success. This means that thought and planning go into every aspect of the business. They know that they need to be organized to know what is happening and when. They know they need to invite people onto the team whose values and goals are aligned with the team’s. They support collaboration, innovation, and excellence for the individuals and the collective group.
- They Believe In Honest Communication: Honest, authentic, and open communication is the calling card of a leader that believes in deliberate success. They believe in guiding their teams, being accessible, supporting creativity, and keeping people up-to-date on how they are doing. They are committed to in-the-moment, on-going, fair, and balanced feedback and they seek the same for themselves. They also will exit those who are not open to discussing things honestly from their teams. Constant and consistent communication and follow-up enables leaders to turn average employees into future leaders, increase the value of each interaction with all team members, and build stronger business relationships with their core business team.