Retail Career Obstacle: Inability To Think Strategically

#Retail Career Obstacle: Inability To Think Strategically

With the New Year quickly approaching I thought I would cover some topics that are opportunities in retail as professional resolutions for 2016. The first topics I have written about are #Retail Career Obstacle: Defensiveness, #Retail Career Obstacle: Unwilling To Self-Develop,and #Retail Career Obstacle: Excessively Ambitious and Arrogant. Now I want to cover another growth hurdle I have seen during my career in retail: Inability To Think Strategically

The nature of retail today demands that we are constantly assessing our priorities and processes and reacting to the changing pace of our retail environment. Strategy can take us from reactive to proactive in most cases.

Merriam-Webster defines strategy as (a) a careful plan or method for achieving a particular goal usually over a long period of time and (b) the skill of making or carrying out plans to achieve a goal. No matter what capacity you work in in retail, strategy is a necessary competency to possess. It is a competency that is used everyday in our industry.

However, there are still team members – frequently in the store level of retail – that haven’t been developed in this area or choose not to utilize strategy to deliver consistent results. I still find, all too often, that people are crossing their fingers and hoping for the best. Hope is not a strategy. and I hear it too frequently, especially, when I enter a new business or support a business and I have initial dialogues with store level team members.

All employees should be encouraged to be strategic. Most people believe themselves to be but here are some key behaviors people display when they require support in this competency:

-They speak only speak in current terms – not future
-They miss critical components when discussing strategy
-They can’t have a dialogue around their business strategy
-If you ask them for steps they use words like “basically”, and “try”
-They may oversimplify their plan
-They don’t include their team in their plan
-They are not visionaries, they are more followers so you will hear they they called someone in another store/department for help…a lot
-They articulate their plan in the form of a question – which means they lack confidence or effective knowledge of their plan to execute

When I first started working with a particular company they were coming off of five years of positive comps. It was a compelling business with a unique and very fun store aesthetic. It carried novelty product at exorbitant prices. The newness and novelty, by year six, had worn off a bit and traffic was declining. Many customers still loved coming in the store and would buy their favorite item at the elevate price but many learned to be more strategic and buy their product elsewhere for a reasonable price or wait for our predictable markdowns. In any event, we had to deliver sales to Plan or LY, whichever was greater – daily and weekly. Strategy wasn’t a skill this company had previous interviewed for or developed – so there was a lot of support and coaching for the store teams needed – which was great, I love developing the competency of strategy with my teams.

One of the tools I supplied to this group was an electronic four week rolling history workbook so they could strategize their week ahead and we had lots of conversations around it. The goal was to give them a real snapshot of their potential traffic [since that was our biggest challenge] based on trend. Their average Average Dollar Sale they could build a plan with, based on trend. All of this to beat plan or LY (whichever was greater). This workbook could give them a number of sales they would have to close for the day to ensure they made their day or even break it down to $ by read for them. They quickly learned to adjust it based on their reality during that business day but it was something they could measure throughout the day to know where they had to focus their selling efforts – drive more units? Close more sales? This was a crucial workbook to our success and one of the reasons we were one of two districts producing a positive comp. In any event, sometimes I would have Assistant Managers or Supervisor send me or show me workbooks that broke it down by hour and by specific focus item. I loved that they were embracing the idea and learning from it. Not only was their manager learning it it but they were coaching their team. HUGE win for our team! I love speaking with these team members still and hearing them talk about how they made their week or month because of skills that we reviewed and learned as a team to deliver excellence consistently. I love when they share how to introduced strategy to other areas of the business and how they improved upon the basics (or even better upskilled their personal learning in this area).

When people are upskilling in this competency you will identify that they:

-Have a clear vision and can articulate a roadmap of how they will get there
-Will be able to speak to any anomalies that may pop up
-Will create helpful addendums to make plans their own
-Include others in their planning
-Are planning on the future and speaking to trend with more frequency

Again – strategy is a skill that is required daily in retail, regardless of area of responsibility. If you aren’t hiring for strategic thinking competencies – it is something you need to develop your employees in. It will benefit all parties greatly and the long term outlook for the business.

Here are some helpful links if you believe this to be an opportunity are for yourself, a colleague, or your team:

From Inc.: 3 Essential Steps to Thinking Strategically

From Eat Your Career: How To Be Proactive At Work

From Harvard Business Review: Developing Strategic Thinkers Throughout Your Organization

From Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, NYU: Leaders Learners Guide (PDF)

From All Business: How To Train Your Team To Think Strategically

From Brainzooming: Exercises and Tools for Creative Thinking and Strategy

From TLNT, Here’s What It Means To Be Strategic [Added 12/1/15]

When strategic thinking is embraced it turns business challenges into opportunities. It turns “stressors” into calls to action. It empowers you to deliver higher-quality results. It instills a confidence in retailers that compels them to overcome obstacles. When the all of the teams in a company are aligned with, and committed to, thoughtful planning and execution for maximum business results, there is not a lot that can get in the way of success.


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 | [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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