Motivating People Requires Empathy.

Everything about the way a modern retail business approaches its people is fundamentally flawed. We see them as a ‘cost centre’. We call them ‘human resources’. We process manage them. We formalise ‘reviews’. We cover the ‘risks’ associated with them. Could we possibly get more transactional or patronising? Is it any wonder that most people put up with their ‘jobs’ as a means to an end rather than something they love?

I’ll admit my bias right up front. I love great retail experiences – both delivering them and experiencing them. There is no greater feeling of satisfaction than being immersed in the joy of human beings when something just works for them. Ninety-nine per cent of those experiences are about human connection on a physiological level. It takes great people to deliver them and the right environment to magnify their impact.

The dialogue with our people must change if we are to deliver the kind of customer experiences that have the power to pull retail out of the downward spiral into the monochromatic world of ‘cheapest’. They are not resources; they are our people, our team. And the most important members of a retail team are the ones who face the customer every day. They are not a cost to be screwed down so that management and shareholders can make more money at their expense.

A retailer with less staff who perform better will beat a retailer with an army of unmotivated people on any battlefield you care to name. If there is one great initiative Alan Joyce brought in at Qantas it is sharing profits with ALL employees – the people who actually created it in the first place. And negotiating fair base remuneration and conditions that allow people the peace of mind to be able to contribute their best rather than worrying about their families livelihood.

Formal reviews need to be annexed to the history books of yet another bad idea that is more about protecting middle management’s butts than it is about the kind of dialogue that produces win-win outcomes. Good managers know their people like a family member. They know their ambitions, how to motivate them as an individual and what their strengths and weaknesses are every day not once a quarter. And just like any parent, you know each of your ‘kids’ are different and require different methods to get the most out of them and to ensure they grow and prosper to meet their goals in life. Not only does retail not need to be purely transactional, it cannot survive being purely transactional. What emerges from that evolutionary pond is a ‘supply to order’ world that is best served through efficient warehouses and fast distribution from a catalogue of options.

Retail is a human, multi-sensory, physiological experience where the time spent doing it is as much of the reward as what is in the bag and because of that, the profit margin is higher. Human centric means people. People come in all sorts of packages with all sorts of personalities and as a result, different forms of motivation. Build a human centric business and take the time to really know your people. Involve them. Trust them. Let them all share in the team outcome – rather than pitting them against one another – and you’ll build a business that can not only withstand the economic pressures of multi-platform retail but prosper in a connected world that uses technology to enhance the physical rather than be a cheap, shallow replacement for it.

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