When Must is Always, Should is Most of the Time, and Never is Out of the Question

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One thing that fascinates me when working with retail chains is seeing the different levels of performance that spring from the same retail strategy.  Each store in the chain has the same products, merchandising, marketing, and approach to engaging the customer, so why do some grow their sales year after year while others struggle to equal last year’s numbers?  Why do some stores almost always score nearly perfect mystery shop and customer experience scores while in others the only consistency is inconsistency?

At this point I’m sure you’re thinking to yourself that the answer to both questions is pretty obvious.  It’s people.  More specifically, it’s leadership.

And you’re right, but it’s much more than that.

I’ve come to understand that when we say that the only difference between high-performing stores and other stores is leadership we are almost implying that the difference is good managers and bad managers.  We assume that high performing stores have strong managers who are great leaders, average stores must be run by average store managers who are okay leaders, and low-performing stores are run by poor managers who are bad leaders.

That’s sometimes true – but not always.

We have to be cautious when making assumptions.  I’ve worked with some pretty darn good managers who were running some average or low-performing stores.  I’ve also worked with some pretty mediocre managers who ran some high-performing stores.

So what’s the difference?  Although location, traffic, and customer demographics do make a difference, ultimately it does come down to the store management team and their leadership.  But in our analysis it comes down to something much more specific than just “management” and “leadership.”

The difference is in the consistency of execution of the company standards.

When we analyze store performance metrics like sales, conversion, units per transactions, and average daily sales, and then overlay associate performance metrics like mystery shops, customer experience measurements, and our own observations, we see that the real difference is the store executives and management team’s focus on ensuring a consistent experience with every single customer as defined by the company’s strategy.

More simply put, in high-performing stores something the company says must be done, is always done.  If every customer is to be greeted within a certain time frame then every single customer – or darn close – is greeted.  If the company strategy is to show additional products away from the counter, that’s what happens.  This doesn’t happen in the average or low-performing stores, where must translates to “sometimes” or “occasionally.”

In high-performing stores, when the company dictates something should be done, it happens most of the time.  In many top stores should is just another way of saying must.  And of course if something is never to happen, it rarely, if ever, does.

Why, then, don’t all managers hold their staff accountable to the same standards? It’s a good question and something we’ve looked hard at.  What we have discovered is that the staff is held accountable but they are held accountable to the manager’s expectation, not the company’s.   And therein lies the difference between high-performing stores and the rest of the pack.

High-performing stores achieve consistent execution because the manager’s expectation is the same as the company’s retail strategy.

Doesn’t this mean that the store manager is a bad manager and a poor leader?  Not necessarily. Often the manager doesn’t even know that his/her standards have changed. The manager doesn’t see that must is no longer always, should doesn’t happen most of the time, and never actually happens.  Once he/she becomes aware, the situation can be corrected.

A person becomes a poor manager and leader when he/she knows that his/her expectation of the staff is different from the company strategy.  Good managers are out front with their team executing the company’s retail strategy.

So let me ask, in your store/s does must mean always, does should happen most of the time, and is something that should never be done, out of the question to your team?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Doug Fleener
As the former director of retail for Bose Corporation and an independent retailer himself, Doug has the unique experience and ability to help companies of all sizes. Doug is a retail and customer experience consultant, keynote speaker and a recognized expert worldwide.

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