Top Reasons Retailers Lose Their Best Talent

Top Reasons Retailers Lose Their Best Talent

Large and small retail companies share the common challenge of keeping their best and brightest talent in the organization. Companies lose amazing talent every single day and believe that they are exiting the business because of a better opportunity, more money, because they want a change. They are usually leaving not because they really want to – but because they feel compelled to. Here are some of the most common reasons that retailers lose their top talent:

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  • No Discussion Around Career Development/Path. You know the pedestrian question we used to ask in interviews “Where do you think you’ll be in 5 years?” Most people don’t know the answer to that. However, everyone wants to and deserves to have a discussion with you about their future in the company. Most bosses never engage with their employees about where they want to go in their careers — even [and especially] the top talent. The best thing we have done for my team in the last two years is to have quarterly “career path planning” dialogs with them in tandem with our “stay interview” process. Every single employee knows where they stand in the business and what the next step is for as well as a learning plan to get them there.
  • Performance Is Rewarded By Added Workload: Every top performer will recognize this. Your District/Region is outperforming all others – you may be the one District/Region beating LY and Plan. You don’t get a thank you. You don’t get any recognition. What you get is more work. Nothing burns good employees out quite like overworking them. It’s so tempting to work your best people hard because they are clearly capable of more than their current role. Overworking good employees is wrong. What you may believe makes them feel appreciated – makes them feel as if they’re being punished and taken advantage of for their strong performance. If you are going to increase the workload of your top talent, you’d better increase other things as well. Talented employees will take on a bigger workload, but they won’t stay if their job/boss just simply takes from them.
  • Company Bureaucracy/Red Tape. This is probably the #1 driver of disengagement for your top retail talent. No one likes rules, policies, processes that make no sense and add no value to the business. But, when top talent is complaining about policies/process, it’s usually a sign that they didn’t feel as if they had a say in these rules or the requirements can be unrealistic. When concerns are surfaced, they are simply directed to follow it to the letter – no questions. No voice in the process and really talented people start wondering who will include them in decision making if their current company won’t. Most company policy caters to the lowest common denominator of employee which is stifling and offensive to top contributors.
  • No Rewards: Verbal thank yous are terrific, but small rewards can go a long way. You might choose to reward the whole team with a company dinner or happy hour at a nice restaurant. Whenever possible, also reward employees individually with a small treats like movie tickets for their families, mani/pedis [a favorite of my team], dinner gift cards that would cover their significant other and any children. Their job has, likely, involved time away from family moments. This is a great way to show that you appreciate those concessions and they are acknowledged.
  • They Hire/Promote The Wrong People & Allow Poor Performers To Hurt The Business Without Taking Action: Good, hard-working employees want to work with similar professionals. When senior leadership doesn’t do the hard work of hiring good people that complement the role and the culture, or allowing poor performers to exist in the same organization – it’s a major demotivator for those stuck working alongside them. Promoting the wrong people is even worse. When you work your heiney off only to get passed over for a promotion that’s given to someone who politically positioned their way to the top or given a promotion based on longevity, it’s a massive insult to top drivers. In retail this happens more than anyone would ever suspect or cares to acknowledge.
  • Lack of Training: A Deloitte study found 75% of employees believe offering employee development programs incorporating training, education, and a mentor program help achieve a sense of important purpose at a company. If you aren’t providing onboarding and training new hires need to adjust and current employees need to grow, it will cause more stress on your best employees who carry the majority of the weight. One of the best programs we implemented in 2014 was to conduct a monthly learning series based on one of our company values. We involved the corporate and field teams and the benefits were measurable and engagement improved 3% after the first quarter with 78% of employees stated they loved the clarity it brought to our business goals and objectives and 72% stating they felt they could deliver a stronger customer experience because of the their connected value to the business.
  • Failing to Find a Project for the Talent that Ignites Their Passion: This is a tremendous win for retail organizations who have figured this out.  Retail has lots moving parts. Therefore, they usually don’t have people going around to their best and brightest asking them if they’re enjoying/intrigued their current projects or if they want to work on something new that would benefit the department or organization. Bosses also usually feel strapped for time and these dialogs become a “nice to have” rather than “must have” conversation. I am sure there is one time-waster that can be eliminated in lieu of this important conversation. If you are too busy to open this topic be prepared for some of your best people to voluntarily exit the business. Top talent isn’t driven by money and power, but by the opportunity to be a part of something huge with people they enjoy and respect, that will change the industry or at least the company [for starters], and for which they are ruthlessly passionate. If you don’t know what that is for each employee on your team – you aren’t engaging in the right conversations with them.
  • They Fail To Engage Creativity/Innovation & Fail To Challenge Peoples Intellect: Great retail bosses challenge their employees to accomplish things that seem inconceivable and unorthodox at first. Instead of setting mundane, parochial, incremental goals, they set lofty goals that push people out of their comfort zones. Then, good leaders do everything in their power to help them succeed. When talented and intelligent people find themselves doing things that are too easy or boring, they seek other jobs that will challenge their intellects and allow them to make a difference.
  • Ignoring Feedback: When your best employees identify opportunity in the business, create solutions, and say something – actually listen. Don’t pretend to listen and then ignore or invalidate their ideas. There’s a reason why they’re your best employees. They might have a better idea of what’s going on in your organization than you because they work more closely with the other employees and the customer. When they present an opportunity and solution, make the time to sit down and talk with them about it.  Your top performers are, likely, amazing influencers and can persuade their colleagues to help bring improvement to common business frustrations or obstacles.
  • Micromanagement: Research from the University of Pennsylvania found that highly productive employees work more when given autonomy over their processes and schedules. Granted, retail requires a little more schedule structure for their field teams than other industries but great performers know how to effectively manage their team and their business. Top talent demands accountability from their team members and doesn’t mind being held accountable for their projects/results. Therefore, have regular touch points with your best people as they work through their projects. They will always appreciate your insights/observations/suggestions — but don’t get in their way – they’ve got this.

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If you want your best and most productive retail talent to stay, you need to think carefully about how you treat them. While good employees are smart, tough, willing to show what they are capable of, and understanding to a level – their talent gives them options in the retail market. Treat your top performers as volunteers, you need to make them want to work for you and continue producing results for you. Give them the resources, recognition and reasons to do so.


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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12 thoughts on “Top Reasons Retailers Lose Their Best Talent

  1. Thanks for the post Beth!

    I find the process of retaining retail employees is truly the process of empowering them. Like you mentioned, micromanaging, limiting innovation/creativity, and not properly training or developing employees leads to distrust and dissatisfaction. Killers to any business trying to create a successful customer experience.

    1. Thanks Seth! Yes, we have to take a different approach if we want to retain our top talent. Retail, unfortunately, “manages” people for compliance – instead of embracing the competencies that make unique and high-performing retail leaders thrive – and it IS an obstacle for an engaging and memorable customer experience.

  2. Love your posts Beth! I truly hope managers/store managers open their eyes and hearts and put them into action.

  3. Excellent article… We are here because we are passionate about what we do. Store Managers and DM’s need to recognize and take action of their top talent so top talent can become a SM or DM in their future!

    1. I agree wholeheartedly – preparing our industry and our businesses for the next level of leadership will help protect our brands and support our organizations vision & values. It also will help keep some great and innovative talent from leaving our industry and going to another. Thank you so much, JoAnn! I appreciate your comment and thank you so much for reading my post!

  4. On a recent trip to the Houston Galleria I witnessed exactly why retail in the US is in the grim state that it is. In store after store it was the exact same experience, a staff who does not care about helping customers, or they have no idea what to do beyond saying “can I help you?” Over the last 15 plus years I have seen retail companies place less and less importance on the people working in the field especially those working in the stores. These are the most important people in the organization because they are the ones in front of customers every day, and they are the ones who’s job it is to generate revenue. Customers do not care who the CEO or CFO is, its the person in front of them that represent the organization to the customer. Yet the decision makers give the stores fewer and fewer hours, and mostly part-time employees because they can pay them less and the expectations on the store managers to produce results continue to go up. The reason that most retail companies are flat at best or failing is because they have no idea how to teach their people to deliver an experience that generates revenue. If you pay people well, teach them how to exceed expectations, and reward top performers not only can you retain top talent, but the company will thrive as well.

  5. This article is spot on with each point you addressed. It’s truly sad to see what is happening today in some retailers , the lack of product knowledge, the desire to work with people , a true passion for educating a customer and the sheer excitement of selling what you love because you want them to love it as much as you do . That is what retailers and ultimately the customers are missing out on or losing when they make the mistakes that you discussed in your article and I feel that its in part due to the employer’s wanting to pay as little as possible . It takes a certain personality type to work in retail and be successful at it . Physically it can be grueling but mentally it can be the greatest high ever , of you love what you do AND those are the people who should be rewarded , etc …. I wish or hope for some CEO’s , COO’s , VP’s etc etc to read your article and heed your advice for the sake of their customers and their own profits .

  6. Good post. I especially like the 1st and 2nd items. I’ve been around for a while and lived through all the scenarios in your post.

    I think you have to split management ranks and team labor because they work for and are motivated for different reasons. People who are committing to a company in the management ranks have an implied right to know what future opportunities exist if they excel at their job. Path, responsibilities, time line and compensation should be discussed with the requirements to get there.

    The 2nd item is very personal to me. Back in 90’s when I was working for a large multinational turning around underperforming operations, I asked my boss why I was doing all this work and getting the extra assignments when my peers with “senior” in front of their titles were doing half the work I was doing. Right, I didn’t get a good answer.

    Reward your good performers

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