18 Minutes That Can Change A Retail Manager’s Life

Successful retail management is a constant struggle for control over time. Without a good system, managers are at the mercy of external events, and things fall through the cracks day-after-day. The things that don’t get done are often the things that are most important to the business, like staff recruiting, new hire training, and team development. When these things don’t happen, it causes heavier reliance on the manager, and that makes the manager’s struggle over time even worse. It becomes an ever-devolving cycle that hurts the business, the manager, and all members of the team. And with new technology increasing the pace of communication and companies looking for more ways to streamline resources, the problem will continue to grow into the foreseeable future.

There is a solution. Managers must have a structured system for how they proactively take control over their time. One 18-minute video can be the difference, and it’s free on YouTube. The concepts in this video will work for front line managers in traditional retail environments, in retail financial branches, in restaurants, in self-storage businesses, and in all other retail-type operations.

Please give this video a try, and please forward the link to anybody in your network or on your team who will benefit from having a better time management system. Investing just 18 minutes can be a life changing decision for a front line retail manager.

Time Management Workshop


Why Is Structure So Critical To the Hiring Process?

We all know managers who have a ton of confidence in their ability to use gut instinct to assess talent and make great hiring decisions. You may be one of those managers. The confidence comes through in statements such as…

“I can tell in the first five minutes of an interview whether a candidate will be successful on the job.”

“I know a great candidate when I see one.”

Such managers gain their confidence from a long history of interviewing and hiring and the feeling of habit and routine that comes with having done so much of it. But, it’s that feeling of habit that creates a dangerously false sense of control. Allow me to explain.

Human brains are wired for habit. In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman describes how our subconscious (or “fast thinking”) brains evolved in the early days of our species to keep us out of danger. One run-in with a predator that leapt from the shadows, and our brains became programmed to send us running at every noise we heard in shadows. A very efficient machine for keeping primitive humans alive, for sure. But not every noise in the shadows meant danger. In fact, some shadowy noises would have been friends or other good things.

It’s thousands and thousands of years later, but the same biology exists in modern human brains. The fast-thinking brain helps us complete routine tasks with minimal need for conscious thought. Consider the minimal amount of thought it takes to brush your teeth. This is helpful because the process is exactly the same every time you do it (your teeth are in the same place every morning!), and your conscious thoughts can be dedicated to other purposes, such as preparing for the important presentation you must do later in the morning. The fast-thinking brain likes to provide short-cuts for other modern day tasks as well, such as interviewing and assessing candidates. And this is where the problems start. Because every candidate and every situation is different, the short-cut creates a habit for a task that really requires presence and active thought.

The errors caused by the fast-thinking brain are called cognitive biases. There are many different types of cognitive biases, and they all cause us to jump to conclusions which may or may not be accurate. For example, our minds trick us into assuming that the attractive, well-spoken candidate has all of the leadership skills we require, or the outgoing, confident candidate is the type of energetic leader we desire. Without a good check on cognitive biases, we are left to the mercy of our fast-thinking brains.

Structure is the antidote. Good structure can slow down the process and prevent us from becoming hijacked by cognitive bias. This doesn’t mean that all gut instinct in the hiring process is wrong. But structure does help us sort the helpful instincts from the harmful ones. Structure can be added in many ways, including in an ideal candidate profile, in the actual interviewing methodology, in the candidate assessment process, etc. For specific tools that will help you add structure to your hiring process, read The Retail Leadership Profile at the link below:

The Retail Leadership Profile


The 5 Best Books I Read in 2017

book shelf (2)

I read a lot of great books this year, and it was tough to narrow it down to the five best. But those listed below are the ones I just didn’t want to put down. In no particular order, they are…

  • Give and Take by Adam Grant – This book is a few years old, and I just got around to it in 2017. I’m glad I did! It makes a compelling case that self-focused, me-first personality is NOT the way to get ahead and stay ahead in today’s business world. Anybody who is a true “giver” will want the validation and affirmation that this book will provide.
  • Shoe Dog by Phil Knight – This self-told story of the creation and history of Nike is both inspiring and engaging. You will feel like you truly know the company’s founder, and you will like his humble, “level 5″ leadership style. And you will feel compelled to turn page after page in order to learn how he found his way through challenge after challenge.
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman – The behavioral psychologist and Nobel prize winning author leads readers through a fascinating journey of discovery into cognitive bias and the tricks it plays on our minds. Based on countless experiments and real life events, Kahneman’s findings are eye-opening and hard to dismiss. You will have a whole new perspective on the quick judgments your brain leads you to after reading this book.
  • Flash Boys by Michael Lewis – Lewis tells the story of high frequency securities traders and how the system they built has quietly generated billions and billions in profits to the detriment of average investors. And the story follows a small group of technology and trading experts who figured out the system and built a solution that would run parallel to allow the market to avoid the high costs being paid to the secretive high frequency traders. It’s a modern day version of the Wild West played out via stock exchange computers. A fascinating tale that should have received much bigger news headlines than it ever did.
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie – Don’t worry – I did not just discover this one. This is a book I make a point to re-read every single year. Perhaps I am remedial in this area, but I just can’t be reminded often enough of the amazing lessons that Carnegie teaches in this book. I receive particular value from Part IV, Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment. There is a reason why this one is on all lists of the most important books for managers and leaders to read.

I hope that at least one book I have mentioned will make your top list for 2018.

I will also leave you with one more suggestion for 2018. My new book, The Retail Leadership Profile, is now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions, and it will soon be available on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes in audio version. This book is a guide to hiring, developing, and becoming top retail talent. It combines strategic, theoretical concepts with extremely practical and structured processes. Tools to support the processes are available via download. Check it out, and please give me your feedback! I really hope this one hits your top five list for 2018!

The Most Forgotten Part of the Hiring Process

You found three highly qualified candidates. You conducted a thorough interview process with four experienced leaders who all asked behavior-based questions. You assessed each candidate based on a pre-determined set of job-based skills. You gathered feedback from all four interviewers. You selected the candidate who seemed to be best suited for the role, and you extended a compelling job offer. The candidate accepted the offer and agreed to a start date of two weeks later. Congratulations – the hiring process is complete! Or is it?

Too often, “hiring” stops at the point of offer acceptance. In reality, the candidate is not a full-fledged, contributing member of the team until they have been properly on-boarded. Actually, the best candidates are still at very high risk until they show up on Day One and complete their new hire paperwork. That is because their current employer may work hard to get them to stay, and that might include a compelling counter offer. To increase the likelihood that a top hire actually shows up, hiring managers should spring into “closing the sale” mode. That should include the following activities:

  • Congratulations contacts from all interviewers and from others on the team
  • Informational material about the job and the company that will reinforce that the candidate’s decision to join your company was a great one
  • Material about the on-boarding plan which shows enough structure that the candidate will feel good about the training she will receive
  • Pre-Day One completion of any new hire paperwork that can be completed remotely

Once the new hire starts, it is imperative that her early experience be a great one. As one of my most influential mentors says, without a good on-boarding plan, “…you can’t expect the candidate to live up to the potential you saw during the interview process.” Studies show that a substantial share of employees who leave, do so within the first few months of employment. Research conducted in 2014 by BambooHR indicates that the following are important components of a solid on-boarding plan:

  • clear guidelines on roles and responsibilities
  • personal involvement of the direct manager in the training process
  • assignment of a qualified buddy or mentor
  • helpful co-workers
  • recognition for early success and early contributions

Once the new hire is trained to do the job and is functioning successfully, you may consider the hiring process complete. Until then, the high quality candidate on whom you spent considerable time and energy to attract is at risk of leaving or falling short of his potential. For the best hiring results, don’t forget to include high quality on-boarding in the process!

Who Owns Employee Growth Plans – Manager or Employee?

There are a lot of arguments in favor of employees taking responsibility for their growth and development.  The first is that it is their own growth and development.  A second is that they must be fully engaged in the growth plan for the lessons to stick.  And a third is that employees must have “skin in the game” so they will be committed enough to do the hard work that is involved with meaningful growth.

But there are two very strong arguments for managers taking ownership of employees’ development.

First, it is our societal norm for the person of higher authority and higher formal position to have responsibility for leading educational processes.  Think about teachers, doctors, religious leaders, and parents.  We would never accept somebody in one of those positions who said, “It’s up to my student/patient/parishioner/child to take ownership for their own growth and care.”  And there’s a good reason – because the teacher/doctor/religious leader/parent is the person who knows better.  This is also true for retail managers.

A second reason for managers to take ownership is that the employee is not the only benefactor of her or his growth.  It is vital for the growth of the business that employees become more effective and more efficient over time.  For that reason, one of a manager’s key responsibilities is to teach and manage in a way that builds team skills.  So the entire business, and the manager themselves for that matter, benefit from employee growth.  This makes the earlier argument, that it is the employees’ own development, false.

In reality, employee growth is a win-win.  Both the business and the employees benefit from team members becoming better at what they do.  Ideally, employees and managers will be equally committed to the vision of ongoing growth and development.  But the person with the higher level of responsibility and the larger amount of experience should bare the greater burden in pressing for team member growth.  As managers, we owe it to our staff, and we owe it to our businesses.

One Thing That’s Better Than Hiring Top Talent…

Finding and hiring top talent is an important priority in almost all retail and retail-type businesses. Adding that new leader who truly “gets it” can be the difference between good team performance and great team performance. Highly skilled leaders raise the level of team morale and engagement, and they drive consistently effective implementation of strategies and initiatives. For that reason, leadership hiring should be a rigorous process with very high standards.

But there is one thing that is even better than hiring top talent – DEVELOPING top talent. When you help existing employees to grow in a way which gives them top-notch leadership skills, you end up with the best of both worlds. You end up with top talent who also possess a wealth of inside knowledge and experience. This extra knowledge can help the internally-grown leader be more effective. Internal talent is also likely to enjoy a higher level of credibility from existing members of the team. And by promoting from the ranks you create a positive atmosphere of opportunity for others who aspire to grow with the company.

Developing top talent does require a bigger investment. It takes more time and energy. It means more tough conversations and more side-by-side coaching. It means sometimes letting people make mistakes that they will learn from, and also being there to help them fix the mistakes once they are made. Developing top talent is not easy, but it’s worth the effort.

Gut Instinct or Structure – Which is Better?

We have all seen leaders from both sides of this debate…

Type 1 leaders go with gut instinct. They have a knack for “feeling” when something is right and when it is wrong. They can’t quite put a finger on how to describe what exactly they are looking for, but they sure know when they see it.

Type 2 leaders go with structure. They have a checklist which tells them exactly what they are looking for, and they follow that list to the letter. They can tell you precisely what they are looking for; they just aren’t sure exactly when they see it.

Which is better? Are you compelled to follow the “gut instinct” leader who manages by emotion even if it’s not entirely clear to where you are being led? Or are you compelled to follow the “structured” leader who displays plenty of logic but doesn’t always make the emotional connection? If you are looking to hire a leader for your organization, which type of leader do you prefer to bring on board?

Gut instinct is really the product of all experiences one has had and the lessons one has learned. Those experiences and lessons are all wrapped up in our brains in a mesh of inter-connected synapses. Some connections are clear, but many are not. They exist in our minds in some subconcsious way that we can’t easily explain. For example, we may feel that a candidate for a job is just not right for some reason, but we can’t say for sure what that reason is. Perhaps our mind is connecting that the candidate’s lack of authenticity is similar to our experience of past employees who have failed terribly on the job. That would be our “gut instinct” correctly steering us away from a bad hiring decision. Or, it could be that our mind is connecting the candidate’s necktie to one that a hated ex-boss used to wear, and that is creating a negative impression. That would be our “gut instinct” tricking us with a form of cognitive bias, and we may be passing over a highly effective candidate.

The point is that gut instinct can be good, and it can be bad. What if gut instinct and structure were not mutually exclusive? What if, instead of being the opposite of gut instinct, structure was a tool to organize gut instinct? A definition of structure is…

“The organization of component parts of any larger, more complex thing which contains all of the parts.”

Without a doubt, a mind full of experiences is an incredibly complex thing that contains millions of parts. Structure can help to organize the huge mess of thoughts that swim around each other in our brains. When we organize those thoughts, we can make better use of them. And, more importantly for those we lead, we can more effectively communicate our thoughts to others. Structure can be seen as the perfect complement to good instinct. Either one on its own is less effective than both together.

Using the Rosenthal Effect to Identify and Develop Talent

Through reading Adam Grant’s book Give and Take, I recently became aware of a study which has interesting application for those of us who are in the business of identifying and developing talent in others. The study was completed in 1963 by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson. They experimented with students at an elementary school in San Francisco. They started by issuing an IQ test to all of the students. Without revealing the actual test scores to teachers, they told teachers the names of the 20% of students who were identified as “academic bloomers” and could be expected to outperform other students in learning progress during the upcoming school year. At the end of the year when a follow up IQ test was issued, the students who had been identified as bloomers did indeed significantly outperform others in terms of their increase in IQ.

This was a major validation of Rosenthal’s hypothesis, but not in the way you might think. You see, the bloomers were not chosen by IQ test results; they were chosen randomly. The improvement through the year was therefore not due to anything having to do with the students themselves, but it was instead due to the behaviors of the teachers. The point of the study was to determine whether teachers would treat “bloomers” differently than other students. The fact that bloomers performed so much better than other students indicates that teachers’ knowledge of their status became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Teachers spent more quality time with bloomers, gave them more encouragement, and gave them more extensive feedback. All of the extra attention led to improved learning and better results on the end-of-year test.

This “Rosenthal Effect” is also known as the Pygmalion Effect. It has been demonstrated in other studies outside of the classroom. The general concept is that genuinely higher expectations themselves lead to better performance.

What does this say to us as leaders? How can we use this knowledge to become better at getting the most out of people? What might be the opposite impact of having low expectations of other

The True Value of Sales Reports

Imagine you are a regional sales director who supervises sixty stores across several states.  You are maniacal about analyzing your region-level sales reports, and you are in the habit of doing a deep dive into the store-by-store reports every Monday morning.  For two weeks in a row, one of your top performing stores has taken a nosedive in its year-over-year sales results.  After the first week, you assumed it was a fluke.  Now after the second week, you have become concerned.  You pull more reports to try to get to the bottom of what was going on.  Your extra analysis includes the following:

– You dig into inventory reports to see if they had run out of key merchandise.  No, they had plenty of inventory on all of the best-selling items.

– You look at average transaction values to see if salespeople were all of a sudden not selling complementary add-on items.  No, units per transaction were as high as they had ever been.

– You look at payroll and scheduling reports to see if there was a staffing problem that you did not know about.  No, hours and staffing were right in line with budget.

There is no obvious answer in the reports, yet the problem exists – sales were suffering.

Finally, you stumble onto something in one of the reports.  While analyzing sales at a product-by-product level, you notice that the new line of women’s sportswear is not selling nearly as well as it is in your other stores.  That’s it – the new merchandise, which is a bit more fashion-forward than the product lines of the past couple of seasons, is not appealing to this store’s customer demographics.  You go back to the merchandise distribution team and ask them to adjust future orders to slant the store’s assortment more towards basic, non-fashion items.  It took a lot of analysis, but you eventually figured it out and solved the problem.

Or did you?

What if most of the new merchandise was still sitting in the stockroom and hadn’t yet made it to the sales floor?  What if the new merchandise was on the sales floor but was all ticketed with the wrong prices?  What if the street in front of the store had just gone under construction and it was hard for customers to park and shop?  What if a new competitor opened up directly across the street at exactly the same time as the new merchandise hit the store?

It is sometimes easy to draw conclusions from a seemingly thorough analysis of sales reports.  But, sales reports can’t tell us why a particular result is or is not happening.  And until we know the “whys”, there’s not much we can do about it.

Sales reports are very valuable for providing guidance into the questions we should ask and for giving us direction on how to conduct further investigation.  Thorough analysis of sales reports can help narrow our focus.  Answers will only come from on-the-scene inspection and dialog with the front line team.  Armed with good data, our inspection time and our dialog has a better chance of uncovering the real root issues.  Once we uncover the root issues, we can then build action plans which will really work.

Don’t take the easy way out – data in reports doesn’t come close to telling the whole story.  Nothing is better for understanding the business than getting out of the office and onto the front lines.

Words Matter – For Retail Leaders Too!

We have been watching our government devolve into turmoil as politicians, reporters, and others analyze the meaning of words that are said (or tweeted) by those in charge.  Whichever side of the political debate you are on, it’s hard to argue that words have not been responsible for generating passionate feelings, either in support of or in defiance of, our government leaders.  While our words as retail leaders are unlikely to create international incidents of the same scale, they can indeed have similar impact on the smaller worlds over which we have influence.  Some things to think about…

We have responsibility to anticipate the impact of our words on the self esteem of those who work on our teams.  When our words make others feel empowered and motivated, the impact is good.  When our words make others feel defeated and hopeless, the impact is bad.  Giving constructive feedback is part of our job, and doing so in a way which maintains or enhances self-esteem gives us our best chance of leadership success.

We have responsibility to be honest and direct in our communication.  Anything less than direct leaves open the possibility of misinterpretation and confusion.  Anything less than honest leads to wrong conclusions and future problems.  It is very possible to be honest and respectful at the same time.  We should not be less than honest just to avoid hurting the feelings of others, but we should communicate our honest feedback/feelings/decisions with senstivity and respect.

We have responsibility to take care with the jokes we tell.  You have heard the old saying – “There is an element of truth in every joke.”  That’s especially true when the joke comes from the boss.  At least that’s the way members of the team will perceive things.  Sometimes it’s better to hold the tongue rather than be funny and risk sending an unintended message.

We have responsibility to manage the things we do NOT say as well as the things we do say.  Don’t say “hello” to a team member, and they will interpret something from it.  Don’t answer a question raised by a team member, and they will interpret something from it.  Don’t address an obvious situation which should be addressed, and others will interpret something from it.  Team members notice what we don’t say as much as what we do say.

We have responsibility to accept when we are wrong and apologize when appropriate.  As hard as I try to be right and do good things, I very often am wrong.  That includes my own humbling violations of the four responsibilities I just laid out above.  We show leadership strength, not weakness, when we accept and acknowledge the times we are wrong.  Similarly, we show strength when we listen openly and allow our minds to be changed.  Doubling down on wrong-mindedness undermines the respect others have in us as leaders.

So, while we observe the sad state of discourse amongst our political leaders, let’s use it as a way to challenge ourselves to a higher level of performance within the context of “words matter.”  After all, we can’t control how they behave, but we sure can control the way we communicate and the way we impact the parts of the world that we influence.