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A Leader's Obligation (Good Times Edition)

A client recently spoke to me about their manager’s performance. He was frustrated because the Manager wasn’t consistently following up on things like Clienteling, special event prep, and so on. I asked the owner, “what did the manager say when you spoke to him about your concerns?” The response was, “well, it’s not really that bad. He’s doing a pretty good job otherwise and what am I going to say? We are making our goal every month and I don’t want him to feel bad or mess up a good thing! That’s what we’re after, right? To make the goal?”. While it is true, making goal is the goal, there is future trouble in these types of sentiments.

As leaders we improve things, situations and people. It’s our obligation to make them better. If we aren’t increasing capacity in a person, team, or business, we are not fulfilling our primary responsibility. Therefore, we must prioritize Performance over Popularity, especially when business is great. Good managers use praise and recognition to build commitment, enhance morale, and reinforce desired behaviors. However, to create a culture of continuous improvement we must acknowledge that there is room for growth, even when sales are booming. We must objectively evaluate what we do well versus what we do not to increase consistency, skill or capacity.

Remember what happened when the pandemic began; fear and uncertainty prevailed. When they got their bearings, retailers focused on what could be controlled and met the customer wherever possible. They enacted curbside delivery and aggressive Client outreach. They created virtual presentations and special events and moved to appointment-based selling. Owners saw what needed to be done and moved swiftly to act. It worked.

Today, things are much different. In 35-years, I can’t remember such widespread success. Sales are strong, bank accounts are fat and balance sheets are healthy at nearly every retailer I know, and that is the problem! The business pressures caused by the pandemic led retailers to build plans around the things they could control. Now, we clientele a little less than we did, we aren’t as reliant on appointment-based selling, and we generally don’t have time to do “everything” because we are busy. And sales are great so, what’s the problem?

In January, our company prepared clients for a “bump in the road” sometime around the middle of the year. We suspected that Covid protocols would begin to ease by then and that there would be greater demand on the consumers’ wallets as travel and social distancing restrictions relaxed. As of this writing, we are beginning to see early signs of the pace slowing. Approximately half of our clients have seen their average sale fall more than 20% from its Rolling 12-month high. Traffic remains strong but I expect this will slow also as we move through the year, particularly in December. So, what do we do?

We must make the “return to normal” our enemy without fear, or dramatics. Simply a return to the principles that got us here by asking ourselves “what can we do better or more consistently?” We will continue to celebrate good results, but we will review results to identify potential shortfalls, determine the controllable elements and enact a plan to address them.

The bottom line is this, the past year has been a rollercoaster. If you are like me, I don’t want to relinquish any ground we’ve gained and we must guard ourselves against comfort or complacency. By sharpening our critical eye to find the improvement within our success, we will do just that.

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