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When The Good Is The Bad & The Ugly In Disguise

I had an interesting conversation with a retailer last week. It went something like this.

“I’ve got a ‘gun’ sales-person in my store. They are so good at selling they create three times the sales of the next best person. No-one else in the store really likes them – a bit jealous I think. But we’ve got such a high staff churn rate (over 50%) that it doesn’t really matter. She is very hard to manage – always looking for recognition and new rewards. If I could find more of her and keep them, I’d have the best business in the world. Any tips on how to manage her better?”

My advice was simple.

Fire her today.

Perhaps a little explanation is in order. There are some fundamentals in retail that we ignore at our peril. One – it’s a team game. Two – no employee should ever be allowed to hold a retail business to ransom. Three – retail businesses are built on incremental growth not crisis management.

Jack Welch – former CEO of GE – developed a rather famous grid based on the simple philosophy that the number one thing you look for in an employee is values alignment. That is, they believe in the same things that you do. At the very basic level, they live by the doctrine of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. They were brought up to value people and to be focussed on helping and supporting everyone around them and that their real success is directly attributable to how much they help those around them to feel fulfilled.

You can’t change a person’s values. Values are deeply embedded from life experiences; their parents; their school; their peer group and social circumstances. You cannot overpower a lifetime of conditioning. Competency can always be taught to anyone who shows passion, interest and motivation. Capability can always be put in place and support given. But values can’t be changed. Welch labelled a person who is highly effective but low on values alignment a “corporate terrorist” who he said “Once identified should be shot immediately”.

Team wins in retail. You’ve heard it said before, a great team will beat a team full of stars everyday of the week. Team is more productive. Team is scalable. Team moves away from crisis and into incremental growth. Team produces demonstrably lower staff churn and builds better and deeper expertise over time.

Teams need discipline, self-awareness, expertise and skills. They need support, enablers and reward. They need a vision and a motivating force beyond personal reward. But most of all they need a sense of personal maturity that allows them to work together to achieve a common goal. Every player on a true team knows that unless the team goal is achieved, they can’t achieve their own goals.

Retail is no place for grand-standing prima-donnas.