Minimizing and Managing Chaos/Crisis In Retail

Minimizing and Managing Chaos/Crisis In Retail

It is likely, at some point, in every retailers career that we have experienced chaos and confusion in the workplace. It can come in many different forms but as leaders our teams will look to us to minimize the impact of confusion and bring clarity and sanity to the business.


Retail is rife with process and systematic interdependancies and changes are not always predictable and clean. Each human involved in the process interprets it differently and looks at it from a different perspective and probably has their own opinion of the priorities and ways to address them. This can either bring innovative and creative solutions or it can create some serious additional confusion.

So at times like this it is critical that you support resilience and an adaptive capacity on your team. Merriem-Webster defines resilience as;

:the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens

: the ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc.

Establish A Support Team

You absolutely have two or three very trustworthy business partners at work who you can share and sort through all the confusion with [hopefully your boss is one of them]. Partner with them to determine the best course of action for your team. Present a united front as to the steps you will need to take to work through the chaos and proceed with clarity (at least for your area of responsiblity).

Perform frequent check-in’s with your support partners to work through any challenges, issues that may arise so that you address them to assuage any tension or conflict that may bubble up and to be able to address any questions the team may have to keep everyone informed. Solicit feedback from your team and answer their questions honestly to keep the process open and transparent.

Provide Communication Updates

If the situation has a global impact, show respect and trust to the collective team by providing updates on the situation that is causing the chaos. By establishing a clear communication strategy early in the process, you can ensure all parties know what to expect and when they can expect it.

Your team will feel more at ease (and more accepting of the information shared) if you show you are keeping a calm head through confident and open communication with them.

Focus On The Right Solution, Not The Quick Fix


Invest the time in pulling the right people together and away from their daily tasking to focus on the particular issue that needs repair. The time and attention invested will yield much better results for a solution [both in the current situation and to eliminate the challenge in the future] to the issue creating the chaos as opposed to a “band-aid” fix or “fire drill” fix. The only way to put out the “fire” is to fight the fire.

In retail we expect change and challenge but everyone has to have trust and confidence in their leadership that the challenges will be appropriately handled. That defines, in a lot of cases, our competence and leadership ability.

Always Bring The Company Mission & Values Into The Conversation

I talk about this ad nauseum…so, mea culpa but, it is that important…

Sometimes, with all the inherent craziness of retail we lose sight of our organizations vision and values. Those are the guiding principles of the business. Chances are that the culture is in a pickle because we lost touch with one or more of the values as it relates to a process or as a commitment to the business. Acknowledging that and making deliberate moves to get back on track with those founding values will help everyone recognize and embrace the organization values and trust in them.

Empower them to make decisions that will help the business and protect the customer experience.

Take The Time To Listen To Your Team

Depending on the situation you may have people who are worried about the state of the organization or just so completely frustrated they are thinking any place will be a more amenable alternative. It behooves leadership to take the time to listen to their team’s concerns. Allow them the time to vent, to offer suggestions and solutions [they may have some amazing ideas], and to be upset and worried.

Reiterate the plan to right the issue and let them know that you need their support in fixing the challenge. Give them specific steps to help the fix initiatives, whether it is being a champion for change with their peers or if they can do something more tangible. People want to be part of the solution. Your team member’s actions will tell you a lot about them during workplace chaos and crisis. You have to give them an opportunity to speak their mind though.

If people choose to perpetuate rumors or gossip after you have acknowledged the problem(s) and the failure of the leadership or system, allowed them to vent/ask questions, and prescribed a solution and action plan to fix the issue – that is a separate issue and needs to be handled [See more on that by clicking here].

Keep Calm and Keep It Professional

You are likely feeling all the same emotions your team is feeling. As a leader you need to keep calm and present an objective confidence to your team. They will take their emotional cues from you.

If/when you are feeling anxious or frustrated, speak to your boss or your company buddy (this is where workplace friendships come in super handy). Don’t share your emotions with your team unless they are supportive and encouraging. It will benefit the change initiatives.

Your workplace buddy or retail buddy should be the only person you share your frustrations and concerns with. After work…out of the office…over martinis is always an option to express your feelings.


Share The Lessons Learned

Once all is right again with the business, recap the situation. What broke down to cause the chaos and confusion [recognizing it and articulating it makes it less likely to happen again because people will have a higher awareness of cause and react to address issues more efficiently].

Discuss what impact it had and the knowledge gained from the situation. Bring the challenges back to the human element. All too often we don’t acknowledge this part of the business but “to err is human” and your business will be back to normal soon and the challenge will, likely be, forgiven and forgotten.

Thank Everyone

Thank everyone involved [which means your team] for keeping calm during the crisis and for contributing to the fix. Show your genuine appreciation for their contributions and find the humor in the chaos.

Then, deal swiftly with the malcontents or those who exacerbated the challenges during the chaos to demonstrate that there is no place for that type of personality in the workplace culture.

There is never going to be a workplace free of challenges but if we deal with them in an objective and thoughtful process, quickly, we can minimize the effect it has on the business, it won’t touch or impact the customer experience, and the team will see that the human leadership involved in the business is committed to taking ownership of the challenges and fixing them. Your team and business will benefit being able to identify and understand that the organization is committed to taking action and staying true to making yours a great place to work – even in the tough times.


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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