As anyone who's worked at store-level in a retail environment can tell you, there's always a multitude of "do's and don'ts" flowing down from above. I first became aware of the "top down management philosophy" as a department manager for a supermarket company in Chicago. Of course, back then I didn't know it was a "top down philosophy," I just thought of it as the way all businesses worked.
In those days, and within my company, not only was there absolutely no communication, suggestions, or opinions moving up the channel ... it was actually discouraged. In fact, it was rumored, although it's never been proven, that at a regional meeting, two different managers actually suggested some changes they thought might improve the overall operation, and by the next weekend both had disappeared never to be heard of again! Yeah, it was a tough company.
After a few years watching and experiencing this waterfall effect, it became quite clear to me that I either had to find a way to climb up through this continuous deluge or I would eventually get beaten down from its over abundance. Besides, I thought if I could just get another one or two rungs up that ladder, I'd find a place where the sun shown brighter, the birds sang sweeter, and I'd be among smarter, more focused individuals dedicated to honest, forthright company values. Yeah, you guessed it, I was really young and very naive at the time ... but just over ten years later, I was the corporate vice president of one of the larger supermarket companies in the country.
Later on in my career, after leaving the corporate world and going into business for myself, I spent several years conducting leadership and management classes for many of the top executives in Texas. The more I immersed myself into these programs and the more I learned about these leadership and management principles, the more disappointed I became that I didn't have this kind of knowledge while working at store level.
As I think back, if I'd understood some of these basic concepts I firmly believe I could have accomplished so much more and helped my employees and companies be even more successful. Of course in retail, leadership and management training was usually only conducted at the company executive level and we adhered to the normal "top down" or "trickle down" theory for those personnel below. Truthfully though, at that time, the trickle down philosophy probably made the most sense. Why you ask?
First, these programs were extremely expensive ... and implementing a program such as this across hundreds of store-level managers, would have been cost prohibitive for almost every operator. Second, it was also extremely difficult time-wise to bring all of these managers together on any consistent basis to attend this kind of training exercise. And third, the long-term commitment needed to maintain the necessary level of follow-through again made implementation across so many store-level managers nearly impossible.
So the two problems operators had to contend with were: first, with the "trickle down" theory ... very little ever trickled down, especially to store level ... there were just too many layers in the normal retail structure to allow this to take place. It just didn't happen.
And second, the two positions that have had the greatest impact on a retail operation's success or failure are the department manager and the store manager. These managers are responsible for hiring, training and overseeing their work force, ... these managers are responsible for making sure the operational and merchandising programs are effectively executed ... and these managers are responsible for ensuring the company's customer service standards are met.
Make no mistake, no matter what retail segment (convenience store, fast-food, supermarket, restaurant, shoe stores, mercantile operators, etc.), these managers are in the key positions. And that's why, not only can they personally benefit the most from this leadership and management training, but they also offer the greatest potential return because they can immediately use it to effect sales and profits.
So here are the two truths we're left with ... because of the cost issues, very little training occurs at store-level. In fact, once we get past a little product knowledge and how to run a cash register plus a few operational pointers based on each retailer's specific area, that's about it. But on the flip side ... and here's the dilemma, these are the exact personnel that can benefit the most from this type of training, AND offer the greatest potential return because they can immediately use it to effect their sales and profits. So as a retail industry, what can we do?
This is one of the biggest opportunities I've witnessed over the last twenty years, and I believe we're sitting on the precipice of what will become a totally new way of training and educating not only store-level personnel, but large groups of people in general. It all comes down to
... because of the advances in today's technology-based communication systems, (social media, email, internet, etc.) we have the ability to train and educate from the bottom up. Almost everyone, including the stores themselves, are linked into free-flowing information systems be it the internet, social media, data retrieval concepts and on and on.
In the traditional top-down training, we work with a select few at the top and attempt to make major changes in their philosophies, their enthusiasm, and their skill base. But even if we accomplish those goals very little usually changes company-wise because there's been little or no "trickle down" effect at store level ... and that's where things are measured. But today, with a click of the SEND button, we can reach, and talk with, almost anyone in the world ... and the benefits can be astounding! So here's why, this "bottom up" philosophy offers such a
great opportunity ...
It's Cost Effective
Systems are available today that allow us to reach and interact with all of our people. I'm not talking about some e-learning course that is nothing more than a book, which instead of sitting in a library waiting for someone to check it out and use it, it's an e-book that sits in some e-library waiting for someone to activate it and use it. No, I'm talking about aggressive, pro-active on-going systems where educational pieces can be sent directly to each person, with all the necessary monitoring, tabulation and interface needed to engage and motivate them.
A Small Improvement Across A Large Base of People Can Result In A Huge Overall Result
When working with a "bottom-up strategy" we would reach a much larger group of people ... a good way to view it is to consider a pyramid, with a few executives at the top and the large store-level population at the bottom or base of the pyramid. With a bottom-up strategy, we would be educating and instilling our programs across a large number of people at the bottom. And now here's the most interesting point, ... we don't have to make major changes in these people to create great company results ... no, in fact because we're dealing with such a large number of people, if we can just make one little improvement, one little operational adjustment across a majority of them, we can create astounding results for the company. And that in itself, is what makes this philosophy so exciting.
The 20-60-20 Rule Applies --
One comment I frequently hear about training from the bottom up is "... many store people don't want to be trained and no matter what we do that's just the way it is ... so why waste the time and money." And yes, I agree some people just aren't willing to accept any kind of training ... and I would agree there are probably a higher percentage of them at the bottom store-level positions than at other levels, but based on our research, I think the 20-60-20 rule applies here.
Let's say twenty percent of a store-level workforce is at the lower level of the spectrum and for whatever reason ie. lack of desire, ability, attitude, etc., they are not willing to engage in any type of training program to improve themselves or the operation. Let's then continue this thinking and assume there's another twenty percent of the workforce that's at the top of the spectrum, These people are out to succeed, move up the ladder, improve and get better, and they are determined to do so whether or not we offer any kind of training or education. And lastly, in the middle between these two groupings we have the remaining 60% of the store-level workforce. Some of these people are close to the Top 20% group while others are closer to the Lower 20%, but these people are influenceable, undecided and are continually being swayed one way or the other based on what they see and what they experience.