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High Performance Retail
What Does Great Performance Look Like?

by Rick Sidorowicz


Retailing is fascinating! There is an incredible pace, pulse, energy and challenge on the front lines where the strategy of an enterprise and all of its machinery and processes 'show up' live and 'unplugged' in real time for customers. It's 'show time' all the time - the ultimate test and the moment of truth will always be your customers' experience of your enterprise at the point of sale.

The principles of high performance retail are the principles of high performance business - and the 'point of sale' can encompass bricks and mortar, e-commerce, personal selling, b2b, mail order - anywhere your enterprise shows up for your customers. The point of sale is the 'face' of your business - the stage for your great performance.

There is no doubt that products, facilities, infrastructure, processes, planning, training and all of the machinery are critical to success, competitiveness, effectiveness and profitability. However the critical moment is always at the front line - with your customers and their experience of you.

High performance retail is all about bringing your strategy to life. It is operations - it is execution - it is 'making it so' and making it 'real.' It is, for most businesses, one of the most challenging areas of their enterprise but also one of the greatest sources of opportunity for significant growth and profit.

This series on high performance retail will highlight proven best practices for breakthroughs in performance on the front lines. By breakthroughs in performance I am referring to significant and sustainable increases in sales and bottom line profits, accompanied by aligned, positive and committed people, and exceptionally satisfied and loyal customers. The purpose is to be 'the best' and create a unique competitive advantage that lasts in the hearts and minds of your associates and your customers.

The basic principles and the context for high performance

There are several simple principles, values and conceptual models that give shape and substance to a high performing enterprise. Just as your enterprise 'shows up' in a moment of truth on the front line, it is your deeply held principles, values and conceptual models that 'show up' for your organization every day. These principles and values are not something that we strive for, or expect only of others, or prescribe, or demand, or list in a mission statement that we boldly proclaim to the world. The principles and values are … who we are. They are communicated in what we do and how we do it. They are always perceived very accurately by our people and our customers - you can't fake it. Although we usually judge ourselves by our intentions, our people and our customers always judge us by our actions. Therefore the starting point for the adventure of high performance always begins with a good look in the mirror - perhaps the most useful and cost effective of any management tool available.

Here are several principles, values and conceptual models that shape high performance:

The absolute importance of your customer's experience of your organization on the front line at the point of sale.

Are your front most associates revered as heroes and champions of your enterprise or are they faceless and nameless manhours? Unleash heroes and champions.

An upwards spiral or circle of success:

In it's simplicity - happy workers (through their actions) create happy customers (who through their actions) create sales and profits (which result in recognition and rewards for workers) creating happier workers who create happier customers and so on. This employee -customer profit model was adopted by Sears. It has also been referred to as "the customer comes second" to highlight the importance of valuing those who serve on the front lines first.

The belief that honesty, trust, integrity, ethical behaviour, authenticity, dignity and respect are entirely compatible with a ruthless commitment to achieving results and the relentless pursuit of victory.

There is no soft stuff or hard stuff in terms of a commitment to ethics and people or numbers and the bottom line. There is only the right stuff - in terms of people, numbers and superior results.

The triangle of high performance in retail

With a priority of the product and merchandising, supported by an obsession with customer service and an empowered front line.

  Merchandise Driven  
Customer Obsessed   Empowered Associates

My experience with this model was with Conrad LeDrew in specialty retailing, where we relentlessly communicated the priorities and the balanced set of requirements for victory to everyone, and achieved breakthroughs in performance. Merchandise driven includes product knowledge, execution of merchandising standards, selling at the first price, visual presentation and merchandising flexibility. Customer obsession (yes obsession!) includes service, clientele development, service recovery, the wow factor and selling skills. And empowered front line associates encompasses ownership, initiative, personal performance management and high performing teams. It is an easily understood and very powerful model of high performance retail.

A fundamental belief in "internalization" and being "at cause."

This is the heart of a powerful 'can do' attitude of high performance. And it comes with a corresponding absolute disdain for externalization - identifying all of the reasons that rationalize why something cannot be done. A few examples:

Externalization: "We can't make forecast - traffic is way down - we need more advertising."

Internalization: "Our conversion rate is about 10% versus the industry average of 15%. That means by improving our selling skills we could pick up a 50% increase in sales with the same traffic!"

Externalization: "We're totally snowed in. The day will be a write off. How can we do $20K today?"

Internalization: "Hey - There's no doubt that anyone who comes out in today's storm will want to buy. All we need is 20 customers!"

Externalization is the scourge of high performance retail. In Jim Clemmer's words it creates the "victimitis virus" and it is a debilitating virus that spreads rapidly if not eliminated. Any time we can find a rational and logical reason to justify failure we will continue to fail. Internalization is a tenet of high performance and there is absolutely no doubt that all people want to feel and be powerful. Internalization can unleash tremendous power and initiative.

We care.

Two very powerful and empowering words. We care about our people - their wants, needs, desires, families, careers, health, satisfaction, concerns and well being. We care about our customers - their shopping experience, their satisfaction, their concerns, their wants and unfulfilled needs. We care about each other - and we are a team entrusted with the responsibility to lead an enterprise. We care about performance and results - and will take decisive action to achieve the goals we set for this enterprise. 'Caring' is mindfulness and thoughtfulness in action. It is definitely not soft and 'mushy' stuff. It's absolutely hard-nosed, ruthless and relentless about what really matters for your bottom line. It's attention to detail in execution. It's doing the right things for the right reasons - and it is very powerful in action.


The pride of your associates is a measure of health and a source of competitive advantage. It is a key measure of how your enterprise 'shows up' for your people. Pride is what engages more than the hands and 'going through the motions.' Pride is all about head, heart and guts - and commitment - and that is exactly what you need, on the front lines and throughout your organization, to excel. Are we doing something important and meaningful? Am I valued as a member of this organization? Am I significant? Do I value being associated with this enterprise? Do I care? Do I want to be here? The assertion is: when pride goes up - performance and results go up - another self reinforcing upwards spiral of high performance.

On a mission.

There are two key elements of being 'on a mission' from God or otherwise. The first is 'alignment' - I fully understand the expectations, I accept my role in the fulfillment of the objectives, I want to be here and I will act to perform my role to the best of my abilities. There is no option available for resistance, or sabotage, or complacency. And alignment always starts at the top and must move decisively out to everyone in the enterprise. The second element is 'intensity' - we have a mission and a keen sense of urgency - and failure is not an option. The bias is for an immediate and significant impact on performance and results. There is no room for complacency, apathy, ambivalence, cruise control or preservation of the past. We are on a mission - to be the best and nothing will stand in our way.

A high powered approach to almost everything.

James Belasco and Jerre Stead have synthesized a very simple and profoundly effective model to energize and re-vitalize people and teams to unleash tremendous creativity, talent and performance. It's a simple and high powered approach to almost any issue you could face any day. It embodies all of the above high performance principles, values and concepts - and the best thing is … it works! Five simple steps to high performance with a few added lyrics. 1. Surface issues - tell the truth, the whole truth. 2. Engage people - extend your hand and invite others to the solution. 3. Prioritize and allocate resources - take action. 4. Unleash ownership - and the creativity and talent of your people. 5. Energize learning - failure is not an option, it is learning - refocus and stretch to be the best.

Be the leader.

A powerful concept. High performance is not about management and control. It's not about trying to prove you are the leader or creating a deference to authority. And it's not about obedience. It is however about vision and followership and alignment and yes even about compliance. It is also about challenging, and coaching and inspiring confidence. It is about being the leader - being the boss. And the best leaders always lead on the front lines. The best leaders say, "come follow me!" High performance leadership is also all about leading, following or getting out of the way, but it always takes us back to the best management tool for another look in the mirror. Why would anyone want to be led by you? Who are you and what do you stand for? What do you want to create and what kind of legacy will you leave? Just be the leader.

The above simple principles, values and conceptual models provide a basic framework from which we can shape the high performing enterprise.

High performance retail - what an adventure!


The Author


Rick Sidorowicz is the Publisher and Editor of The CEO Refresher and
the Minister of Culture of High Performance Retail.

Many more articles in High Performance Retail in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2001 by Rick Sidorowicz. All rights reserved.

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