Don't Over-Think It!

I’ve been learning about retail most of my life and will always strive to learn more from the vocation that I love. However, from my earliest recollections of my grandparents newsagency chain, through to the retail projects I am currently working on and all the retail heroes I have had the privilege to spend time with all over the world, it is the simple rules of retail that just keep being proven and re-proven over and over again to me.

The biggest problem I observe in modern business is that, in the era we live in, human beings consciously and sub-consciously want to make things complicated. Psychologically, we have such a desperate need to manufacture the perception of ‘control’ in our lives that we create more and more layers of complication. We attempt to ‘rationalise’ everything.

We dream up measurement systems – often as proxies for things that can’t really be measured – to prove how clever we are. Countless service providers push more and more apps, systems, programs, ‘research’ and processes as ‘organizational improvement’ initiatives. We structure ourselves into ‘specialist silos’ and run cross-matrix management systems. We educate everyone to be very serious indeed when it comes to the contemplation of any change. We make change so onerous and process oriented that it weighs down the people we need to sustain it with deeper and deeper levels of unproductive compliance.

We cloud everything with political correctness, the illusion of ‘governance’ and the mirage of ‘world’s best practice’.

Much of this is caused because we place people with very little ‘feel’ for retail in positions of leadership. When you lack the deeply embedded judgment that immersive experience brings, you rely on institutionally trained models that deliver predictable conclusions and suggest low risk actions after lengthy consideration.

The reality today is that we have too many pretenders in retail. Incredibly well educated people with beautifully crafted resumes and impeccable credentials earned from carefully managing their personal careers but no deep understanding of what drives customers and retail businesses. With the issues facing retail right now and the needs of contemporary retail businesses for rapid, ongoing change, these are not the people to lead.

As I have written before, retail is a game of ‘Ready. Fire. Aim.’ It is not a game of perfect. It is a game that demands lots of decisions and lots of actions every day because it is extremely fluid. You don’t have the luxury of time, nor the level of resource that tolerates over-thinking anything in retail. And if the people you have populated your business leadership positions with require it then you need to change the people – fast.

Retail is a responsive business that flourishes on the kind of innate judgment that the best retail leaders learned from growing up through the business. If you don’t know what it feels like at the cutting edge in sales, merchandise, supply, operations and the other key areas of the business from first hand experience, you’ll always over-think things. Right now the retail leaders with great judgment and the confidence to act quickly are the ones the market will back and the ones you should too.