Getting The Best From Your Retail Team
If there is one thing every retail leader can depend on, it’s that there is no shortage of change in the retail marketplace. The reality is that every retail organization has to contend with aggressive competition looking to improve or disrupt the retail environment. Lots are successful. Others simply create confusion that wastes time and resources. Whether you lead a field team or corporate team, sooner or later you will be faced with the need to change things up, evolve the business, or elevate results. You could just simply tell your team to get creative with solutions/ideas but, without clarity, that may result in useless ideas and frustrated employees. Not establishing a culture that supports this is when innovation starts becoming a scary and frustrating word to your team. What you need is a process to get your people thinking creatively in an actionable way to deliver the best results.
Being a retail leader that helps organizations achieve operational and financial goals is an exciting and on-going adventure and a lot of responsibility. To achieve better than “good enough” results, you need a team of very passionate individuals that can translate their loyalty and commitment to their leadership, along with their enthusiasm, expertise, and skills, to the customer experience in order to produce truly outstanding results.
What Does That Look Like?
1. Hire and work with people who are passionate about the purpose, not about the paycheck: Why passionate about the purpose? Because truly committed retail leaders and team members are/should be a group of motivated and inspired individuals bonded by a common purpose, which is to deliver excellent results – in customer experience, in store aesthetics, in collaborative efforts. Every initiative we implement, every change we embrace, every innovative idea we surface is meant to support that purpose. The purpose and driving force of great team formation is to become recognizable in the retail industry and the community. People aligned in purpose will deliver results that will consistently validate that passion and alignment. As a retail leader, you need to define your cause, attract people who are equally dedicated to it and don’t lose sight of what you are trying to achieve – ever.
2. Foster cross functional and diverse teams: The greatest retail teams have different personalities, skills and strengths. Team members know what each others strengths are and allow people to work in that area while supporting them in their weaker areas. Great teams communicate about who should be involved in certain projects based on their skill and strengths and not on politics. Team members understand what others are doing on the team and therefore can help each other if needed.
3. Start with a wish [and a plan]: For many teams, creative solutions never truly becomes a reality, because fear, negativity, red tape, antiquated policies [and sometimes old school executive leadership] stop the free flow of ideas. As a leader, when you frame a problem to your team as a negative, the door closes for solutions. The best retail leaders are masterful at reshaping difficult issues as “wishes” that they dare to ask for action around. They take these wishes to their brightest people to collaborate on. For example, rather than saying, ‘We can’t get that support from marketing,’ a masterful and influential retail leader might say, ‘I wish we could find a way to sell this to marketing – it would really drive traffic. ‘Hey, who is close to someone in marketing? Can you help make this happen?’ – dare to ask – Then sit back and watch your team make it happen. Your team will champion great ideas that will help drive results – especially if they take part in creating them. When the task is accomplished – Celebrate! Recognize! Reward!
4. Ruthlessly drive team alignment and trust your team to weed out the dead weight: Your team must believe in accomplishing the same ultimate goals, that doesn’t mean that the individuals that form a team will follow the same path to accomplish those goals. Because of this, the team needs to be aligned and embrace a single objective. A few people working together and heading in the same direction towards a common goal will succeed more often and frequently than if they were all over the place. To accomplish this, our team needs to be in constant alignment, direction, and know where they stand through honest and transparent communication. Teams will weed out the people who are working inside a bubble and not contributing to the common objectives. A parallel to team alignment with direction is team alignment with how we do things. To be consistent with this – with both our internal and customer facing processes we need to have a complete understanding and clarity on how we all will operate and get the objectives accomplished.
5. Kickstart innovation with insight and eliminate things that don’t add value: Most teams have the ability to be wildly and productively creative, but purposeless ideas, committees, bureaucracy, and/or inefficient/ineffective meetings have little value and waste time and energy. According to Mike Maddock, “Innovators start with a significant market need and then, and only then, come up with a unique product, service, or business model to solve it. Once your team is clear on the market and the need, their ideas will more likely make a true impact on the market and your bottom line.” Clarity around direction and supporting the team through the elimination of silly and unnecessary processes will establish your commitment to them.
6. Champion full elimination of the phrase, “I know”: Objectively, false knowledge can get in the way of innovation. Many people, automatically, make assumptions about the unknown to feel comfortable but the potential to assume the wrong thing can be crippling. As a retail leader, you have to get the team comfortable in the unknown if they are going to unleash their creativity. Helping your team understand that it is perfectly okay not to know but instead to seek the correct answers will help support learning, collaboration, and sharing on your team. Supporting learning and sharing facts about a process, policy or opportunity will help to drive innovation and eliminate mistakes that can be made when one assumes something.
7. Pace your team and celebrate milestones with fun. Set targets and goals in small quantities that are attainable and not overwhelming. Then sprinkle in recognition for accomplishments and contribution. Then create the next set goals and targets to get to your objective. You will know when you set too many goals or need to sit down and clarify objectives with your team because some task associated with the project/initiative will start to lay dormant with no action. Follow up with your team members often to ensure they have what they need and they are able to maintain the pace established to stay on target.
8. Break the rules. Disruption and creativity are synergistic. Make sure that the rules and processes of the company don’t hold your team and the organization back from delivering innovative and creative ideas. There is red tape that exists in policies and established processes and that scares most employees. Successful retail leaders need to create a safe area for their team members to take risks, to make mistakes, and to find great, innovative solutions to common issues that exist in the business. Open communication will help keep the team on track.
9. Filter with purpose. There may be no bad ideas, but not all of them are useful or appropriate today. As a leader of an innovative retail team – let your team members go wild early in the process, but at some point, you have to remember why you started brainstorming in the first place. Retail leadership needs create and communicate [often] clear criteria about what great ideas look like for the business:
- They must be brand appropriate.
- They must positively impact the customer experience.
- They must not create more work for our business partners.
The more criteria you have, the better the results. When you are finished brainstorming, you can then rate and extract the best ideas, based on consensus, and start taking action with the resources available. High-value ideas are key – it’s better to focus your team on one or two really exceptional ideas than dozens with low potential or return.
10. Keep communication constant and centralized. One of the most important elements to a team is constant and focused communication. I am a firm believer in and champion of face-to-face communication – having open channels of communication is crucial to a company’s and team’s success. Another component to your strategy should be utilizing a centralized communication hub. As I have mentioned a lot in the past several weeks, I love Slack and ScribblePost, these productivity platforms provide us with real-time updates that are focused on a singular project, it automatically places our to-do’s in our calendars to keep everyone on track and “in the loop” and both platforms support collaborative communication and sharing. No longer do we have to have time wasting daily meetings but we can identify where we stand as individual contributor and team collaborators at any time.