Recognition & Motivation

#Retail Recognition/Motivation

In my blog post titled, Celebrating Top Performers In #Retail, I mention the fact that, “The pedestrian (and all too frequent) approach in retail is to manage and focus on the bottom performers and so frequently that is done to the detriment of appreciating and supporting the “A” and “B” players in a company.”

I can remember a couple examples of this during my own career but I will share one of the most recent ones:

I worked for a company where my team produced amazing results, week after week, we were the #1 Region in the Company in every single key performance indicator. The bottom performing RM who was <23%> to LY and <27%> to Plan had two AMAZING weeks in a row in sales and this region was celebrated, the RM received flowers from the Director of Stores and a gift card, the Store Managers in this Region received gift cards. The week after the gift card was received this RM regaled all of us, on conference call, on how it was spent and how great it was to receive.

My team consistently produced positive comps and maximized the YOY increases for all KPI’s and nothing. Frequently, I was told, by the Director of Stores, that we needed to try to give the company $18,000 – $21,000 more in a week over Plan to cover the poor performers, which usually, we could. But this was done without any fanfare, without any “thanks”, without any recognition (other than “we need more from you”) of any kind. But, we did it, because as a collective group we loved a challenge and we celebrated our success within our Region – giving special appreciation to the Top Performers who drove the best results. However, this situation took a bit of a toll on the team and there was explaining to do about what was the point of delivering great and consistent results? Why did we have to deliver more to make up for the poor performers? Why is it expected of us but everyone else gets recognized? All of these concerns were valid and even though I didn’t articulate them, I was thinking them.

I remember, after the two weeks passed, the DOS would refer to those two great weeks, hoping aloud that team would duplicate it. The RM said on a phone call two weeks after this “win” that she did as well and it “must have been a lucky fluke”. They were celebrated and rewarded because they were lucky. Not because of talent, initiative, strategy, or innovation.

It was then that I was able to assuage my team’s irritation with the situation. We create our own success, we are deliberate in our pursuit of winning, we are focused on delivering results for ourselves and our colleagues. We were too solid a team to let luck or hope be a part of our strategy. We were smart enough to know hope isn’t a strategy. It was a great lesson and one that helped us all recognize our own value and drive for success.

This specific example yesterday bubbled up in my memory because of a brilliant article by James Weber that was posted on EREMedia, The Real Problem with Crappy, Mediocre Managers. It is an amazing read for Executive and Senior level leadership. This scintillating read is peppered with nuggets of wisdom and 100% truth. Here are some highlights:

The law states, “For any title level in a large organization, the talent on that level will eventually converge to the crappiest person with the title.” Say George is your “worst” vice president; he becomes the bar. Leaders under George benchmark themselves against his poor performance, expecting (and likely demanding) promotions as soon as they reach that level.

Cut the crap and recruit confident managers

Focus on hiring managers who are innately resourceful and confident, and then aim to shore up those qualities by providing learning opportunities that develop the skills and industry-specific knowledge they need to succeed.

These individuals understand that being a high-performing manager involves strategic skill. While their teams are in the trenches, they’re managing the battle from a higher vantage point. This means they have to make sure employees can do their jobs effectively, and that nothing gets in the way of that. They’re “crap-smiths,” shoveling refuse aside to make sure nothing and no one comes between employees and results — including themselves.

I love this because it is extremely relevant to the Retail Industry. How often do you see your colleagues or your bosses hiring lousy talent or allowing lousy talent to continue? Thinking to yourself, why on earth did they hire me if they are content with this person? This hurts morale. This hurts productivity. This will motivate your strong performers to start looking for a new job.

When these inferior teams and especially their leadership are allowed to function under a different set of standards where the bar is set so low that they are incentivized just to do their job – it hurts the company. It hurts your true talent that is committed to delivering results consistently and deliberately. Retail needs people who are innovative, resourceful, passionate, savvy, and possess the skills to seek out these qualities and instill these traits in others. Executive leadership needs to bench their talent against the highest level, not the lowest.

I find myself, frequently, being able to mention a quote by Eric Ryan – “Mediocre hires are like empty calories. They will make you bigger, but less healthy”. It is so true and so appropriate.

You want great talent? Hire great talent, hold everyone accountable to the same level of performance, recognize contribution and performance when it is appropriate and consistent. Recognize success when it is above and beyond the expectations or normal circumstance. Place value on your top performers through growth opportunities that are fair and beneficial to the employee and organization. Don’t allow “crappy or medicore managers” to harm the business weekly, monthly, quarterly and then reward them for “luck”. They shouldn’t be a part of the culture.

Your business will come to a screeching halt if you allow poor performance to continue. I wish I could say, in the story I shared above, that we licked our wounded egos for a day and then got back on the horse to be 100% again as a region…our collective confidence and positive outlook took a two to three week dip. Why did we work so hard and go home exhausted if luck is what gets rewarded? It look our focus off of our company’s success and I heard “what’s in it for me?” for the first time in my area. It hurt the true top talent, and created more work to mollify their, justified, bruised view of, not just the business, but of the Executive Leadership for perpetuating this culture of mediocrity when we were all about winning, success, and growth. When I am in a business that is my assumption of my role – to drive growth and development to create future leaders who are capable of the same. There is no luck to it – it is a focused program that needs constant attention and hard-work.

Hire talent that can take the company to the next level, produce consistent results that support brand loyalty and company growth. Develop people who can step into the next role of their career based on their interests and contribution. Why do we allow people inside the company to create obstacles for these initiatives? Isn’t the business tough enough without internal impediments?

It is time for a #NewWayToWork. It’s time to recognize, celebrate, reward, motivate, and invest in the people who consistently deliver and drive the business. It’s time to get rid of the “dead weight” on your teams, if they aren’t giving you results, demand it. If they still won’t give you results, find people that will. Chances are the great performers are ready for a new challenge and can easily step in to higher-volume or higher-level roles in the company. They will be appreciative of the opportunity and they will take your business where you want it to go.


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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