Keeping A Retail Team Positive During Leadership Transition

Keeping A Retail Team Positive During Leadership Transition

Benjamin Franklin said there were only two things certain in life: death and taxes. But I’d like to add a third certainty for those of us in retail: change! Those of us who work inside this industry get to experience change and shifting priorities on a daily – and sometimes hourly – basis. That’s one of the things we usually enjoy. If you are in retail and you don’t enjoy evolution – this can be a pretty rough and miserable industry to be in.

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. – H.P. Lovecraft

Usually, as it relates to our business, we are very open to, and accepting of, change but some change can be tougher than others. I remember when I was working for a great organization and within about six months we’d realigned Districts and Regions five times. Yes – five times in six months. And not small realignments but sometimes you would end up with a completely new set of stores and a team you knew nothing about and who knew even less about you. It was a challenging time for everyone but I learned quite a lot about connecting with a newly inherited team.

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 5.25.57 AM

Each time I get ready to begin a project with a new company, I am very excited and very much looking forward to the opportunity to work with some new people.  I, however, don’t know anything about the team I am taking on – so I am particularly sensitive to their probable concern and nerves around a new personality and the significant change that typically comes with a leadership perspective.

New leadership sets off a lot of different anxieties in all levels of team members.

  • Will I like this new leader?
  • Will they like me?
  • Will I be valued for what I do and what I have done?
  • Will I have a say in decisions that effect me?
  • Do I have to start from scratch to prove my worth, or will I be respected for my time here?

Mistakes New Leaders Frequently Make

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 5.24.48 AM

  • Not Establishing A Relationship With Direct Reports: Going in to meet new teams and talking only about change and opportunity is absolutely cause for alarm with team members. People want to know that you understand their business and that means have a full understanding not just what you see on the surface. Including their point-of-view, their concerns, their obstacles, their wins. They want to tell you these things. They also want to know about who you are as a person. What you priorities are. Being open to a Q&A will set a precedent that you value dialog and conversation and aren’t there to focus solely on compliance or directing their business. They want to know that you don’t have someone waiting in the wings to replace them. They want to know that you will take an interest in their career plan and path development.
  • Trying To Change Everything: This is something I totally understand and have to work hard to deliver better for my new team. I had a tremendous amount of success in this organization during my first round with them. I will need to be very sensitive to my timing and communication of easy improvements and what needs to be assessed for a little reshaping/reinvention or a complete overhaul. After hearing about the opportunities that exist in this business I have already started brainstorming how we can improve but have decided to involve my team and galvanize action through identifying a collective and organized course of action. Politically, going into a business like a bull in a china shop, rubs people the wrong way and actually increases the “but this is how we’ve always done it” syndrome. So take your time, and make sure you’re getting team consensus when you can and using influence, storytelling, and persuasion to drive support. Then – recognize results!
  • Not Delivering Difficult Feedback: You want to establish a friendly working relationship with your team so you overlook or put issues on the proverbial back burner until you “know them better”. However, this process is counterintuitive and incredibly dangerous for two reasons. If there are performance issues that exist and they go unaddressed, great talent who has been hoping that issues get resolved will quickly lose respect for the new leader when they do not – and exit the business. Additionally, if you let things slide and then decide it’s time to start dealing with issues your team will be very confused and your team will start to gossip and assumptions run rampant. Addressing issues and identifying solutions with your team should be the standard from the moment you step onto your new team.
  • Forgetting To Recognize Results/Contribution: In their haste to get things done and produce results and make an impact, new leaders often fail to recognize employee accomplishments. As leaders of a new team we want to leave our mark and great results can be overshadowed by the next thing to tackle on our list of changes. Ensuring you build time and a program around recognition will support the achievement and effort your team is putting in to the new way to work. Recognition also supports an understanding of the business goals and objectives and aligns a team around hitting milestones that will deliver to the organization’s success.

How To Manage Transition Effectively


  • Acknowledge The Change: Talk about it with the team. Ask how they are feeling. Find out what they need from you and how can accommodate it – if possible. Recognizing that there is some anxiety about the transition is the first step in being able to manage it. Be authentic – let’s face it – there is anxiety around your role as well. Let your new team see that you are an honest and human leader.
  • Take Time To Support Your Team Through the Transition: Though there may be a laundry list of things to do – being able to build time into your day and during interactions with your team to ask how they are doing will show a great level of leadership integrity and authenticity. Find out if they have any questions or concerns. Not acknowledging or allowing for emotions to surface will only build resentment and create a barrier for your team to communicate openly with you.
  • Create A Positive Culture: Celebrate successes and recognize performance results that are aligned with the organization’s goals. Allow and create a program for employees to recognize each other. Encourage workplace relationships and partnerships over unhealthy competition. Commit to and model on-going, fair, and balanced feedback from the moment you step into the role to set the tone that you are there for the team’s growth and ultimate success.
  • Be Flexible: Build consensus through team involvement. Don’t just orchestrate change and demand compliance – create an environment of innovative solution-seekers. Your team – likely – understands the nuances of their business. Partner with them to find the best course of action.

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 6.17.10 AM

  • Be Transparent: You need to build trust and credibility with your team. You can do this by speaking openly about your expectations and your objectives. Sharing detail about who you are as a person and a leader. Creating context for the change and direction you hope to take your team in will ensure that your team knows that you want them along for the adventure.
  • Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!: When engaging a new team you cannot communicate enough. Be energizing and engaging in your communication. This will help clarify direction and bring meaning & purpose to direction and expectations. Be accessible and available to engage in dialogs with your team when they have questions or just need to talk something through.
  • Allow Them To Vent But Not To Dwell On The Past: Find out the history of your team and allow them to air their frustrations about past events but make it very clear that you are there to create a successful, forward-thinking, future-driven business and team unit and that once they have kvetched about any past infractions or injustices, the expectation is to move forward in a positive and solution-oriented business perspective.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

View all posts by

9 thoughts on “Keeping A Retail Team Positive During Leadership Transition

  1. Beth,

    Thank you for the wonderful advice. As you mentioned, leadership change is frequent in retail, and it leads to increased turnover. I think the advice you provide in this guide will help next time!

    Kind regards,
    Joe Croarkin

  2. Great topic -you are right change is inevitable in Retail .
    Our role as leaders is to effectively manage the process and be positive about the future.
    Engage with the managers and stakeholders in the business and work together to deliver our objectives. Emotions and engagement is a big element to our teams – love your thoughts on being positive about our predecessor, this I believe is a vital
    In communication- respecting and valuing the work of your peers immediately gains the trust of your team .
    Flexibility and getting to know your people alongside being honest about performance and behaviours with tools to support our teams to be successful, I believe is the key to success.
    Thank you for sharing this – great read

  3. Beth,

    Great article. People just want to feel their idea’s and opinions can
    be heard and considered seriously, which in turn will take out some of the anxiety
    that comes along with a new leader.

    I have found their is a fine line however between letting your employees know you
    value their idea’s while at the same time having them understand at the end of
    conversations and group meetings you are the person having to make the final decision.

    Most times, the majority of employees are fine as long as you seriously listen and respect their opinions.
    However there is also always that person or two who will challenge your authority. And as you mentioned
    those one or two people can poison the group. So really the main thing is to first asses each employees
    personality and deal with them accordingly. Some just need a friendly hello, a pat on the back once in awhile
    while others will need a little stricter approach.

    So this too as you say is in a constantly changing mode as people adjust to each other. Being able to read
    peoples personalities and motivate them is probably one of the most important talents a leader can have.

  4. Hi Elizabeth,
    Soon taking over running of convenience store to bring standards back up to a high level.
    This article will be of great help in achieving my and the franchisees goals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *