Engaging & Leading An Inherited Retail Team

Engaging & Leading An Inherited Retail Team

In retail we are incredibly lucky if we have the opportunity to build a team from scratch, usually, – however – when we enter into a new business we inherit an established team. Sometimes, especially for the most ambitious and determined retail leaders, this can be a very challenging scenario.  Stepping in as the leader of an existing team must be approached with sensitivity and patience, especially when you are new to the company and team. Here are some thoughts on how to get to know, successfully engage, and lead an inherited team to amazing results:

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  • Avoid coming in with a preconceived, detailed plan: Chances are you’re being hired to fill a void and address current challenges that have been identified during transition. In retail, it is very rare not to inherit, some [if not a lot] of challenges on a team. Take care not make the mistake of coming to the table with a predetermined plan based on these challenges. Take the time to learn the challenges, your team members’ strengths and opportunities and the extent of them for yourself. To do so, encourage your team to be completely open with you. This will support the foundation of trust and will allow you get to know your team members on a personal level. Being agile and adaptable will be a beneficial competency to possess. Give the team direction on some easy wins that will have an immediate impact that you can celebrate with them and then start building on to that.
  • Get to know your team immediately: Start by creating a culture of trust. Provide an opportunity to meet as a team and through one-on-one dialogs that are honest and open. Set the stage for handling difficult conversations you and your new team may need to have. Find out what have they heard about you? What do they know about your background? What are their greatest concerns about their work and you as their leader? What do they hope to accomplish in their current career? Asking such questions in a team setting, and individually, creates a chance for honest, open discussion, and shows where the team is aligned and where they are not.  This also creates an environment showing them you are not scared of hearing things you may not enjoy hearing. Be prepared to address concerns and questions.

  • Don’t make changes before you have had time to notice patterns: Give yourself some time to determine patterns, and ensure that the the changes you make address real problems and not one-off happenings. Making too many changes too quickly, especially when it comes to making cuts, may scare the strong players away and lead your team being cautious around you. It is critically important that your team is open with you so that you make informed decisions. Observing, asking questions, and listening for two weeks will give you a great idea of the common area of opportunity the team shares and a collective direction for growth and improvement.

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  • Let them know you are there to help them achieve success: Explain your strategic path to them, if you go into a new role with an existing team, and just start making changes and decisions that seem arbitrary to them, regardless of how thoughtful they are – they will not understand you and it will hurt your credibility. Communicate transparently with them so they know that you have their best interests top of mind. Explain they “why” behind their development and guidance opportunities. Help them manage and embrace change in the retail environment. And make sure that you are instilling them with career capital while helping identify their latent leadership talents.
  • Give existing team members the respect they deserve: You don’t know everything – even if you are the most amazing retail leader. Your team members probably know more about the inner workings of the business and they, usually, enjoy helping assimilate a new person into the business. If you show them respect for their knowledge and support – they will, typically, pay it back.  If the replaced leader is no longer with the organization, make sure conversations with the current team are productive and not simply opportunities to place blame on the previous leadership.

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  • Truly understand the culture: Every company has a culture, whether that is developed consciously or unconsciously. Every business teams also has its own culture. Hopefully, you’ll find your team’s culture is well aligned with company values, mission, and objectives. Set your intention to cultivate a positive, inclusive, and productive team culture and have a clear way to articulate that path. If it doesn’t exist – introducing a peer-to-peer recognition program into the business unit [that is build around the organization’s guiding principles] and how it is beneficial to the team.
  • Devote appropriate time & resources to “high potentials”: As you probably know, many retail leaders spend the majority of their time trying to “fix” the weak links [or under-performers] by dedicating an unreasonable amount time and energy to managing the improvement of these employees. However, the best retail leaders quickly identify the high-productivity and high-potential team members and work on helping them develop and grow.  These top contributors deserve your attention and the  investment of resources and time that is spent on cultivating  and guiding these future leaders. That’s not to say that the poor performers don’t need attention but they need clear direction, resources, and tools to drive improvement but you can’t “manage” these people to the detriment of the top performers/contributors. If your top performers don’t feel as though you are invested in their future, they will find an alternative that feels more aligned with their career path.


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 | beth@excellencein-retail.com [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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