Setting Retail Store Managers Up For Success

Setting Retail Store Managers Up For Success

I engaged in a very lively Skype video conference the other day, following an article I wrote, with some colleagues and we were discussing a succession plan and, subsequent, career path planning for their organization for Store Level Leadership. As we were talking through a better process, their two greatest impediments became extremely clear: (1) that they were promoting based on time in position  and (2) that they were using the archaic succession planning process that involves “forced ranking” on an outdated and ineffective set of criteria that was developed to position the most compliant of the bunch as the most qualified for the next level [and there was no next step in place to close gaps]. Their process wasn’t building value around any innovative, unique, or – even –  people competencies. I love these types of dialogs because the moment someone actually acknowledges there is a better way to assess performance and elevate results it just takes on an amazing, creative, colorful dialog filled with ideas and opportunity.

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Here are the absolute most critical points, we determined, for kicking-off a viable succession planning process that is meant to measure critical skills and ability to grow and develop a brand through customer experience and employee experience/development:

  • Customer Experience Delivery: Retail is all about making sure the customer has an excellent experience every time, so this skill should be at the top of your list. If your store leadership isn’t getting the areas of anticipation, experience, and creating a memory right – nothing else matters at the end of the day.
  • Building & Leading Their Team: A retail manager leading a quality team includes – sourcing and recruiting market talent that is a fit for the organizational culture and community, developing leadership, and leading inexperienced employees earning modest wages for a tough job, they need to quickly be able to focus the team on delivering customer experience, building an effective team to ensure all operational and visual initiatives are met with enthusiasm and above expectation results. Leading requires the need to handle delicate situations with fairness, balance and patience, and hold every employee to high standards. They build recognition and appreciation into their team and daily behaviors.
  • Selling Focus: This is the next step in the commitment to deliver a great customer experience and ensuring your team can meet metric expectations as well. This focus is evident in all business levers as well as customer growth and spending trends. Their collective team should have the energy and skill set to actively turn browsers into buyers through engaging and interacting with customers to build trust and relationships. Great leaders inspire team members to be advocates for the brand, not only for the customer aspect but selling your organization to market talent and inviting great, enthusiastic people to join the organization because there is fun, growth, and a future.
  • Performance and Selling Guidance: Store Team Leaders will consistently need to assess and deliver guidance on performance and selling skills to up-skill and grow their team’s capabilities. They will need to ensure that all company goals and objectives are met with results that exceed expectations and energizing the selling culture of the store. They need to create, essentially, a “best place to work” for their teams to ensure that every team member is contributing, eager, and committed to delivering solid results. If they are, the store leader is recognizing and rewarding the individuals and the aggregate team performance. If they are not, the store leader is up-skilling their team through using tools and resources available.

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  • Resilience: Leading change is a critical competency in retail, regardless of organization. Keeping a level head, persevering, and creating a plan for the team to organize and bring clarity to urgent or confused communication is a key skill that defines leaders in the moments of chaos. Great leaders can create a plan, celebrate it when complete, and move on from any headache it may have caused. It is the retail leaders who are flexible and mentally tough to deal with day-to-day variations that are successful. While the constant evolution of the industry can be exciting and energizing, it can also lead to burnout if you don’t have the chops to handle it! Great leaders do.
  • Organization: Retail is a fast-moving and dynamic industry, and it takes a lot to stay on top of everything that’s going on. Successful retail managers are organized, good planners and strong troubleshooters. In most geographical markets retail leaders don’t recognize how important their reputation and professional brand are. If they are scattered, disorganized, and ineffective – the team will be to. Great talent asks around before accepting job offers and if a manager’s reputation is that they cannot plan for the day-today rigors of retail – they are unlikely to be able to coordinate time to develop and grow talent inside their store.
  • Effective Communication: I probably should have positioned this one in the second place to Customer Experience – it is THAT important. Communication is critical and impacts all of these points listed. When someone can effectively communicate to customer, colleagues, team members, senior leadership, and vendors by understanding the individual before them – it is an absolute winning competency. Great store leaders can energize, engage, and encourage action for their audience through dynamic communication on even the most mundane of topics. The retailer’s personal leadership brand is loud and vivid to the market and the industry. And with social media it is also globally accessible. Communication can make or break a leader’s reputation.
  • Vision | Values | Signature Relationship Practices: Not only do effective leaders consistently work within the organization’s mission statement and values to deliver strong results but they also create “signature relationship practices”. Signature relationship practices are unique to the leader’s team and how they function. These practices are defined by the way the employees interact and respect each other in the store. They fit well within the established organizational culture to enhance the business. They are tough for others to replicate due to the uniqueness of the team. These practices are memorable and mostly intangible but very evident and the team can tell you what they do as a unit to achieve great results in all areas. Average leaders – follow policy, meet goals and objectives, and deliver “good enough”. But – that’s not good enough in today’s retail environment.

Measurements of successful soft skills become extremely important when we are succession planning for the next candidates group of store leaders at the ASM level. Great store leaders don’t have issues with store aesthetics, or merchandising challenges, they may need some development to help create moments of surprise and delight but they can execute POG’s and marketing initiatives that are in line with company direction/standards. It’s great to have these skills but a great leader does these things because they are intrinsically committed to excellence in operations and aesthetics. If we are promoting people solely on their ability to be compliant with direction – we are setting them and the organization up to fail in the long term.

Biggest Reasons Why First Time Managers Tend To Fail

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  • They haven’t been trained properly: This is OUR fault as senior leaders – not the new Store Leader’s fault. We have failed to assess or hire for the needed competencies that support strong leadership and we aren’t developing talent to those. We are training for a focus on compliance of company initiatives and policies in most of these cases. We aren’t placing people who have natural people skills, nor have we uncovered the latent creative and soft talents of these leaders. New leaders need to understand how to hire people who are great for the brand, not just who have the scheduling availability needed. People need to understand how to energize a team – not just do things themselves. Leaders need to know how to inspire and motivate their team. To show empathy to them. To involve their team in the business. Placing people for compliance rarely achieves these other, more important, skills and creates a huge gap in the business.
  • They want to be popular instead of effective store team leaders: It’s okay to want to be liked – we all want to feel liked and accepted by those we work with. But not to the detriment of getting your team to be great. Influence does not always equal popularity and it’s a distinction that new leaders sometimes struggle with – which results in high turn on their teams or they end up working so much to get everything done, they burn out. Having a strong store team leader to mentor their assistants is critical in growth and development for the next level candidates. Respect and being committed to people’s growth will make leaders with the highest-standards, ultimately, “popular” even if they consistently ask for more from their team.
  • They think on a granular level instead of broadly: Instead of concentrating on high-level issues and solutions, many first-time managers are too busy holding onto their former roles and tasks associated with their previous position because it’s their “baby”. They fail to make the transition from doing the actual work to getting great work done through others [empowerment, delegation, and development focus]. The top mistake that I frequently see from senior leadership is failure to help first-time managers make this shift and this can be done through an effective succession planning process and identifying the “critical success factors” that all top performers possess and developing these traits in ASM level and supervisor level candidates to give them their best shot.
  • They fail to build trust:  We have all seen it – rookie manager’s overexert themselves in the wrong areas or fail to hold people accountable for performance or even policy issues. This is upsetting to good employees as well as disheartening. And once you’ve lost trust, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to win it back. A new store leader is eager to do a great job and prove they were the right choice for the job/store. This results in focusing too much on tasks and not enough time connecting and learning about each person on the team. If the trust is not built – productivity can be effected negatively. If you don’t have your team on your side, the job will be that much harder accomplish.
  • They don’t ask for help: New talent needs to know we don’t expect them to know everything. We placed them in their role because they had most of the needed qualities to deliver results, support the brand, and make a difference. Senior leadership needs to engage in dialog with new leaders consistently and there needs to be clarity around the fact that we don’t expect newly placed store leaders to have all the answers but we do expect them to ask questions when they encounter obstacles.
  • They hire to fill shifts only: They aren’t hiring talent that will deliver improvement to the business. They are hiring “bodies” out of desperation or because they don’t know what right looks like. This piece is usually a symptom of other challenges inside the four walls but this hurts the customer experience, the team dynamic, and stalls growth for the metrics and the team members. An environment that is filled with bodies frequently experiences; call-outs, high turnover, and challenges with all areas of the business. This philosophy/practice also tends to create faster turn at the Store Leader level because they dig themselves into a hole they are unable to get out of.



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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3 thoughts on “Setting Retail Store Managers Up For Success

  1. Thank-you Beth for the thought provoking insights into leadership, retail organizations and the future success of leaders working to grow and develop their teams to support the company Brand, Vision and Values.

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