Inspiring Greatness In Uninspiring Retail Environments

Inspiring Greatness In Uninspiring Retail Environments

Let’s face it – the state of most retail organizations is pretty bleak right now. Retailers are struggling to evolve to today’s consumer spending preferences and habits. With that comes internal struggles that can, frequently, cause the culture to become rigid, confused, and desperate. In these moments the culture will be impacted negatively. We tend to become haphazard in our communication of changes, we start to value compliance over innovation, we cease involving the teams [especially in the field] in planning processes, feedback, customer perceptions/obstacles, etc and become micro-managing dictators of compliance.

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In these environments, more and more employees feel stuck at work and are looking for glimmers of hope for the future of the organization and their role/purpose inside of it.  Not only do your best and strongest employees want to be heard, but more importantly they want to know that their contributions are being noticed and valued.  Not for the sake of attention, but because they want to know that their competencies are still relevant and useful and that they are making a difference to advance the organization’s health, futures, and their teams’ career collateral – as well as their own personal growth and career objectives.

There are four mantras that I repeat to my colleagues and team members most often during these moments of challenge:

  • Hope is not a strategy
  • What got you here, won’t get you there
  • You are what you repeatedly do
  • As a man thinks [and does], so he becomes

These thought-provoking, self-challenging ideas really allow truly strong [even those that don’t know it yet] retail leaders to reflect on what they can do to own their results and inspire those who look to them for guidance. It also shows you who your best performers are and who your compliance robots [you know the ones…the mediocre, zero-charisma employees] are. These moments and mantras truly do separate the remarkable from the mediocre.

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Great retail leaders know that in today’s evolving retail environment they must become more intuitive; separating from the “this is how we’ve always done it” ways that have become predictable, uninspiring, and – frankly – ineffective. Too many retail leaders are out of touch and disconnected from their employees because they are so focused on their own personal agendas and protecting their jobs. This is obvious in those leaders that don’t connect with the individuals on their team – who view employee interaction as a chore rather than a moment to inspire and motivate , to earn trust, build credibility and loyalty, and stimulate team performance.

Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it. – Henry David Thoreau

Leaders that are committed to success understand that in today’s evolving workplace, there does not exist a single right solution to encourage employees to perform better.   Today, it’s about how to maximize your interactions and engagement in order to create hundreds of opportunities that are customized and authentic; that provide long-term support and impact to drive results in both small and grand scales.

How & Why Retail Leaders Can Lead, Inspire, And Motivate

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  • Solving Over Selling: Retail Leadership is about more than telling your team to do better or give you more [which we do all too often in retail today]. It’s about inspiring efforts and showing them why their effort is important and how great it is to gain a sense of personal satisfaction through accomplishment. Taking time to explain why their contributions help to solve today’s business challenges and contribute to the health and growth of the organization. Employees (especially those worth their salt) are absolutely more inclined to elevate their performance when they understand their effort will add-value and to support a healthier business.
  • Purpose Over Profit: Retail employees are inspired by knowing that their hard work makes a difference beyond profitability.  Employees want leaders who see beyond the obvious and look to create wider reaching impact that extends into the employee’s personal career collateral. Great retail leaders show employees what they are capable of even before the employees are aware of it. It’s not about the profits for most employees [unless they have a stake in them] but it is about the growth and possibilities of how employees can excel and derive a sense of accomplishment from their efforts.

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  • Know Your Team So You Can Authentically Connect With Them: There is absolutely no one-size-fits-all leadership approach to inspiring and leading a successful team. People, rightfully, want to know that their leader understands their path, their tendencies, behaviors, strengths, and opportunities. The absolute most effective retail leaders always do. When you spend time with your employees, make it truly count. If you are expecting your time and title to inspire them – you will be profoundly disappointed! Retail team members need a leader that pays attention to them and who genuinely cares about their success and their lives.
  • Value Learning Over Lecturing: Most retail employees are three dimensional people with drive and ambition. Which means they value growth and opportunity and want to learn and build their career capital over being told what to do or, worse, treated like mindless robots or cogs in a machine. Retail employees are eager to learn and remain relevant and deliver innovative ideas to improve business. However, no one is inspired by a retail leader that rules through fear or by placing compliance as the apex of effectiveness. Developing retail leadership wants and deserves fair, balanced, in-the-moment, and on-going feedback. They want dialogs that will support their growth but that are real conversations – not filled with complex ideas or buzz-word filled lectures. Help your employees do their jobs well by providing the right tools and support that will make them better – not treating them like children by giving them a laundry list of to-do’s to drive compliance.

11 Ways To Lead & Inspire Your Retail Team

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  • Find Out What They Need From You: What THEY actually need from YOU – not what you think they need from you – but actually ask them what they need from you. By engaging in conversation and finding out where they want to go in their careers and what makes them feel a sense of personal and professional accomplishment – you will be better able to support and guide them.
  • Be Respectful: Your retail team will perform much better when they know that they have your respect. Show respect for their hard work, results and commitment – it creates a much more productive team. Lead with kindness, honesty, and openness. Commit to being proactive while protecting your teams signature relationship practices that these practices insist upon a collaborative and authentic team and workplace culture.
  • Lead By Example: Your work habits, passion, drive, ambition, and leadership will rub off on your team. If you disappear for a few hours each day, leave early, arrive late for work you aren’t leading by example. You should never deliver below the bar you set and expect your team to perform at. If you do – you will lose their respect and your credibility. And you are asking for mayhem to reign supreme under your “leadership”.

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  • Be Personable & Accessible: All too often we see retail leadership who works in a silo from behind a laptop thinking they possess the knowledge and savvy to fix the business from afar. This is rarely, if ever, the case. If your team knows they can come to you at any time with a problem, concern, or idea and you will hear them out then it is going to help create a productive, solution-oriented team.
  • Do What You Say You’ll Do: If you don’t plan on doing something, then don’t even mention it. When you do what you say you will, you will earn professional brand credibility and the respect of your team. Developing a reputation for following through establishes you as a retail leader who can be trusted and one who supports their team.
  • Display A Bias Toward Action: Your growth and success in retail is dependent upon the actions you take – not the words that you speak. Procrastination and indecision will slow you down. If you demonstrate decisive and thoughtful actions your team will develop the same high-level of decision-making skills and bias towards taking action and not waiting for solutions to be spoon-fed to them.

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  • Push Their Limits: If you never push your team or show them how high they can go – they will remain stagnant and stale. The work will get done, but don’t expect to experience engagement, enthusiasm, and growth without encouraging them to operate at a higher-level than where they are today. You want to achieve excellence and not mediocrity – challenge and support your team to find excellence!
  • Don’t Impose Fear: If you have to rule by fear and through discipline and threats – you have a bigger issue than inspiring leadership – you have an issue with hiring talent and emotionally mature and intelligent people. If you have to threaten to ensure your team follows through on their jobs – you need to assess your ability to attract responsible and effective employees. If this is an inherited team – give them a chance but hold them accountable, guide them for a short period of time. If they choose not to deliver or show drive – replace them with people who will help you deliver greatness.
  • Identify & Develop Next Leaders: Every retail organization should value and grow the talent that exists in the business today. Not focusing on employee or leadership development is a mistake for retail leaders. Especially when people have the courage to state where they want to go – we owe them our time and support of their career development. We owe them a career path and dialogs around their performance. As retail leaders our legacy should be about how many more leaders we helped grow and develop instead of how many tasks our team can comply with.

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  • Hold Your Team Members Accountable: Accountability supports your teams’ perception [and the actuality] that they are personally responsible – at least in part – for the success of their team and the health of their business and the organization. That what they decide to do or not to do, when they see what needs to be accomplished, they will do what is needed without excuse and proactively overcome obstacles to reach specific milestones that support excellence in their business.
  • Be Transparent: The best retail leader allows their team to see who they really are. There is no smoke and mirrors – what you see is what you get. Transparency also leads to problems being solved faster and a stronger level of trust being established between the leader and their team. The team also recognizes the expectation of the leader and will work to support the teams signature relationship practices and team philosophies. They will weed out those that don’t fit the team culture and support each other without question when they feel everyone is aligned with the same values and objectives.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail and 18 year retailer. I am a passionate and creative leader and coach committed to inspiring thought, action, truth-telling, solution-seeking, and dialog about how to maximize talent through identifying and creating a process around critical success factors, workplace culture, signature leadership practices, productivity, profitability, alignment of employees and company vision & values, and workplace happiness inside all retail organizations. I help create healthy, vibrant, high-performing, and highly-productive organizations that are talent magnets and focused on delivering the highest level of customer experience that will differentiate them from competition and result in long-term growth and sustainability.

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2 thoughts on “Inspiring Greatness In Uninspiring Retail Environments

  1. Hi Elizabeth,
    Great Article. I have been out of retail for quite some time but while I was in it I was passionate.
    I recently went back to one of my stores (will not say name of company) and was so disappointed in my experience. It was so bad I wouldn’t use my credit card.
    They should read your article, none of your points were used. Its a shame. It is like they are all beaten up.
    Retail built this country, they just have to re invent themselves over and over again to succeed!

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