It all starts from the top down

By Gordon Hecht, YSN Contributor

Earlier this week I read a quote from my favorite Canadian retail blogger, Donald Cooper. He stated that in business, “We all get the team that we deserve.”

Here’s some of what it takes to build a dream team. Whether you accomplish it or not is largely up to you.

The Leaders

The players on your retail team will reflect how you act, react, and proact to the environment around you. Forward-thinking leaders sharing a dream and a plan create a visionary team and the future leaders of the business. These types of leaders build their businesses and their players at the same time.

Angry leaders who flare up at every bump in the road will create angry players or worse — frightened players who are unwilling to challenge their leader with new solutions.

Leaders who listen create a team that is willing to share the ground-level issues that prevent the organization from market domination.

Absent leaders who aren’t on site at the retail store create players who also are willing to check out early or loathe the boss while they toil the retail schedule.

Communicative leaders share information about how the business is progressing. Some even share the financial knowledge of how to run a business. They create players who are entrepreneurs.

Egotistical leaders who hog the credit for every victory and spread the blame for every failure create players who stop delivering the kind of legendary customer service that makes the business remarkable and creates raving fans.

You can choose the players on your team, and you can change those players as often as you like. But their actions and the way they treat your paid-for-in-advance buying public and each other will depend on the style of your leadership.

The Managers

Several years ago, I asked my everlovin’ bride if she knew the difference between leaders and managers. Her explanation was simple and brilliant: “Leaders lead and managers manage.”

It seems that in many businesses, crisis management is the job du jour. I’ll agree that the last two years have thrown every kind of roadblock our way and we’ve had to dig ourselves out of a lot of holes.

The problem is that while we’re managing the digging out of yesterday’s problems, we are ignoring tomorrow’s opportunities.

Back in the day, IBM had a one-word poster in its offices. The word was “THINK.” But in these days of chowing down a Grubhub lunch in front of a laptop, and where the coffee break is a lost ritual, many leaders are not allowing their managers time to think about such things as how we could operate better, trim costs, attract more shoppers and team players, and exceed customer expectations.

In fact, if you saw a store or department manager sitting in a chair staring at the ceiling and asked, “What are you doing?” and she answered, “I’m thinking,” you’d probably think your manager was losing her grip.

Make time to schedule time out of the four walls of your store. No, not to work at home, but to take lunch in a restaurant (no cellphones please) or shop a competitor, or just walk in the mall or a park to see how people are interacting. 

The Players

Chances are good that every team member who has worked in your business since 2019 is a loyal employee. They’ve had 730 reasons to quit over the last two years, which equates to one a day. Be sure to thank them. Many enjoy certificates of appreciation, especially the little green ones with pictures of presidents on them.

But you may also have some bad players, or others that got too comfortable during the 24-month pity party. A key rule of management is “Poor performance that is not addressed becomes company policy.” That could include tardiness, substandard work appearance, poor telephone etiquette, or a sloppy sales presentation. On the operational side, it can include trash in the truck cabs or boxes, or unsafe behavior in the distribution center. And any department can have employees who are miserable and make everyone around them miserable too. 

Sure, it’s difficult to hire these days, but your bad player will end up driving your good players to another team. Be bold and address the situation as non-negotiable on the spot. Correct it or clean it out.

That’s leadership your team will respect and appreciate.

Gordon Hecht is a business growth and development consultant to the retail home furnishings industry and a regular contributor to YSN. You can reach him at