Retail Leadership Accountability In Team Dynamics

Retail Leadership Accountability In Team Dynamics

Holy Cow! It has been an extremely busy few weeks on my end so I have not been able to write as much as I would like to. The issue with this is I have SO much content to write about – I am overwhelmed by what to share and where to start. But…here I go…

Inside this colorful, busy, and active few weeks one thing has consistently stood out and become exceedingly clear…there needs to be lots of dialog around personal accountability in retail leadership. I am currently working with a retailer to support field and corporate communications and to ensure that the voices in the field are included inside corporate initiatives and planning.

One of my actions for this project is to get to as many stores as possible that support a spectrum of perspectives. What I mean by that is  – high-volume, low-volume, mid-volume stores; stores with long-tenured team, stores with new teams; stores that are crushing their Plan/LY, and stores that are drowning. During this process I have been asking a lot of questions of the store leaders, assistant leaders, and supervisors – questions around their team, developmental opportunities, culture perspectives, their customer experience delivery, customer feedback, questions around stores aesthetics, processes/policies that don’t add value to the business but are required…the list goes on and on.

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One of the things that has been consistent across all dialogs is that from the Store “Manager” role to the most part-time supervisor roles – there is a tremendous lack of leadership accountability. The most consistent things I heard while having benign conversations are:

    • Assigning of Blame [to their business partners in the store, the field leadership, and the corporate team];
    • Very broken and, frankly, dangerous store team dynamics;
    • No effort to recruit but hiring bodies to fill shifts [resulting in high turn, the challenge outlined in bullet #2 and inconsistent scheduling];
    • Preference to operations [as opposed to customer interactions];
    • Lack of confidence in the outlook of the business and the CEO.

Store teams inside this type of environment tend to work in a silo – there is a clear lack of focus developing workplace relationships so instead of understanding that everyone is sharing the same experience in the workplace and developing a plan to either eliminate or streamline operations – store teams are frustrated, nervous, resentful, and defensive about their performance.

It has been amazing to identify how truly challenged in-store relationships are and how uncomfortable store leaders [and district leaders] are opening up a dialog around store/team challenges. In about 80% of the cases, the issues a store finds itself wrapped up in, can be eliminated by a workplace  commitment to offer and encourage open, honest dialogs, and initiating conversations when we see potential issues arise. Being able to take control of workplace issues and repairing team dynamics had a tremendously positive effect of the confidence of the teams and the overall culture in the stores.

Dysfunctional Team Members

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Many retail organizations and retail leaders claim to focus on team dynamics to drive better decision making, increased productivity, creativity/innovation, and higher levels of engagement in stores and overall inside the company. The truth of the matter is that not many actually put the right program(s) into place either through their inability to allocate appropriate time or budgets to team building or their inability to attract/invite truly talented leaders onto their teams to effectively support and build a great company. Instead of healthy creativity and encouraging each other, there are fights for one’s own ideas and a stubbornness to protect and champion one’s own perspective. Instead of camaraderie there is resentment of perceived “luckier” or “favorite” employees or teams. Most frequently there is a “professional” level of vivid and loud passive-aggressiveness, where team members remain silent when together, but then dissent later in private among their work “friends”.

What has become painfully clear over the past several weeks is that most people are unable/unwilling to identify the role they play inside the team dynamic. Especially when it comes to leadership accountability, we must be willing to identify our ability to effect the team dynamic through the position we take and the level of effort we are willing to put forth to build and maintain a strong team and culture for our employees – because if our team fails, then we – as leaders – are the cause of that failure.

Certainly there are “characters” that contribute to the dysfunction but strong retail leaders can see trouble brewing and – usually – identify the roles that their employees are attempting to adopt and they meet these issues proactively – squashing the behaviors that are driving dysfunction. Here are a few of the roles I have seen consistently in the past six to eight weeks:

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  • The Victim/The Wronged One: By far, I have met this person the most in the last two months. If you’re the team member who has been marginalized and trampled over you need to change your attitude – it is time for you to “show up”. More often than not I hear this person talk about the past and why they cannot perform today. If you want to be considered great – you need to be delivering greatness…today. If you want to be considered “all in” you need to be all in.  That is because “the victim” often lacks the desire, the energy, and resilience to make another attempt at making their workplace or their job better. They are exhausted and defeated by their experience and often past the point of return because they carry a tremendous amount of resentment toward their coworkers, their leadership, and the organization.
  • The Evil One: In my finest Austin Power’s imitation I am typing this [pinky pointed on a slant up to my lips]. 18% of disengaged employees actually attempt to sabotage the business and the team dynamic. I suspect this is a fair [and, quite possibly, a generously underestimated statistic in retail] reflection of retail. If you rely on aggressive tactics–disparaging, not supporting, and distracting your team members by spreading rumors and telling colleagues to ignore leadership direction – you are a critical and damaging player in your team’s dysfunction.  These are the the people that actively undermine and destroy morale. They are toxic and revel in how much damage they can inflict on the team and the customer experience. They choose this role and their damage is deliberate. If they aren’t happy – they believe, no one should be.

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  • The Observer: This person can and will tell you everything you want to know. They may not be actively involved in dysfunction but they don’t do anything to support the health and growth of their team relationships. As a retail leader you cannot be a bystander. Not intervening when you know you should is just as bad as initiating the problem. A strong retail leader will mediate between the two opposing sides and help everyone come together again by communicating the meaning and purpose of the business and the resolution through consensus to issue(s) that is causing turmoil. The Observer is usually the first to throw up their hands and say that life on the dysfunctional team is unbearable. Unfortunately, commiserating does nothing to change the course of things, and their  disengagement costs the team.
  • The Weakling: This is the retail leader that allows their team to run roughshod over their leadership and cause elevated chaos and dysfunction. To give you an example – I was speaking with a Store “Manager” recently for a store that is very challenged in every area of the business. My first impression of this store was that it was filthy and this was determined by simply walking up to the store front and seeing weeks of filthy hand-prints and nose-prints all over the store front windows. As I usually do, I ask the question about how the manager delegates cleaning and other tasking so as to not interrupt peak business. This manager explained to me that – as a team – they decided it was better to keep the window dirty so that customer didn’t accidentally walk into them. [I wish I was kidding but I am not!] Obviously, I had to dig deeper and as I was asking questions, the Store Manager explained that their Assistant used that excuse for not cleaning and it was easier for the Store Manager to accept than “argue” with the assistant.

Dysfunctional Teams

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Over the course of the past six to eight weeks I have also identified some team behaviors that are prevalent in our industry. These team dynamics are causing additional business challenges and taking the focus off customer experience. In each and every case the catalyst for the team to take on this descriptor was the store leader’s attitude:

  • The Apathetic Team: This is the team that is fragmented by team members who have actively “checked out” and are disengaged in every aspect of the business. This team is apathetic and only highly effective and engaging retail leaders are likely to get this team to subscribe to another attempt at delivering greatness.
  • Crisis Junkies: These teams love salacious gossip and often can be the nucleus for district or region dysfunction. They are usually made up of “the victimized” team member(s) and they will happily engage in dialogs around how unfair or whacky their workplace is. They can deliver mediocre results but they are, typically, not customer experienced focused and lack the initiative and strategic mindset to excel in the business.

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  • The Homogenized Team: This is a team made up of compliant robots. They lack innovation or the ability to strategize their business. They are amazing at following direction and rely on the status quo to protect their inability to excel and deliver truly excellent results.
  • The Conflicted Team: This is the team whose internal struggles don’t allow for any advancement at all. They are wrapped up in their own personal-professional conflict and self-imposed chaos. There is no “team spirit” it is every person for themselves and they actively undermine what could be a successful team made up of strong personalities.
  • The “Strategy of Hope” Team: They come in, turn on their computers or unlock the doors, cross their fingers and hope that their business ‘stuff’ happens. This means they will use whatever excuse available to rationalize their inability to deliver results.

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  • The Excuse-Driven Team: Absolutely everything is out of their control. The weather, the customer, Home Office, their boss – these are all reasons for their inability to deliver results. This team is usually understaffed and unable to invite talent into the business for a variety of reasons.

4 Ways To Exhibit Personal Retail Leadership Accountability

As I speak with teams about accountability to the team culture/dynamic I can almost see their eyes glaze over – especially in organizations that don’t practice a supporting culture. It certainly is easier to assign blame and look for reasons why “it” isn’t our fault, throw up our hands and complain about how dreadful things are – than to identify the portions of the challenges that we own and sometimes cause. Every great [and effective] retail leader knows that every day we control our business, we create the environment that allows for innovation, strong leadership, and attracting talent that is smart, savvy, and emotionally mature and intelligent…or not.

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  • Begin Each Day With A Positive Attitude: Great retail leaders are resilient, resourceful, and positive – even during the most chaotic moments. We choose our attitude every single day. We make the decision to be happy, wicked, compliant, innovative, lazy, great, or mediocre. If we allow others to dictate our mood and choices, we are weak and ineffective and we are choosing that as our professional brand.
  • Add Full Value: Though it’s a bit “buzz-wordy” – great retail leaders know that their reputation is influenced by the level of results they produce and their bias towards action. Great leaders support their professional brand with a high-level of engagement, effort, and results in their personal style.
  • Amplify Other Voices: Loan your leadership credibility and your support to your colleagues and employees whose points-of-view are usually too quiet to be heard or ignored.  Very few things help establish credibility and a commitment to team spirit like authentically supporting your coworkers in a positive way.
  • Embrace Productive Dialogs: In retail it isn’t unusual to have a variety of perspectives on a variety of topics. When we are flexible and adaptable to ideas other than our own, we are creating a culture that is conducive to creativity and innovation. In retail – what got us here – won’t get us there. Great retail leaders understand this and know they must look outside their own knowledge to find the best solution to support the delivery of excellent results.

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A healthy, thriving, and strong retail team is absolutely worth fighting for – and not just for the business benefits – but for the improvements it will make to your own state of mind and working culture. By practicing personal accountability you will eliminate chance and hope in the business and find deliberate and remarkable results. In doing so, you will teach your colleagues and employees to embrace the same philosophy. With persistence and patience, you can change a toxic team for the better and make your job happier and more rewarding [and successful]


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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