Management By Walking Around

Management by Walking Around by David Stukus

In an interview with 60 Minutes years ago, Howard Schultz, the founder and Chairman at the time of Starbucks was discussing the environment that he wanted to create for their stores. He said, “You walk into a retail store, whatever it is, and if there’s a sense of entertainment and excitement and electricity, you wanna be there.” I think Starbucks has done a great job of capturing this type of inviting environment.

The store design and layout are very important, but equally as important is for store, district and regional leadership to have their finger on the pulse of the sales floor. You could have the most beautiful store, but if team members are not engaging their customers, monitoring conditions or just “being present” - the effect is lost and that customer may not be back. One of the best examples of being present is at the Pike Place Fish Market. Most people have heard of this famous market in Seattle, and for years I used the “Fish Philosophy” to boost morale and train teams on the finer points of customer service. The Fish Philosophy focuses on four main tenants - Be Present, Choose Your Attitude, Play, and Make their Day. In its simplest form, this market is nothing more than a stinky fish store. But the team members embraced that philosophy and made the place world famous.

Retail in brick and mortar stores still matters, and in these challenging times it is even more important to focus on sales coaching. In my 25+ years of visiting retail stores in multiple formats throughout the country, the culture of the team, condition of the store and the overall feel of the location more often than not could be tied back to where the manager was spending their time. Companies ask a lot of their managers, but the good ones have found a way to communicate better and improve efficiencies by eliminating redundant and unnecessary “back office” tasks.

There is something known as “Genchi Genbutsu”, which is a Japanese word for “Go See it for Yourself” that is very applicable here. Akio Toyoda, the CEO of Toyota practices this philosophy and says it is a vital part of getting back to basics. As leaders, we need to go see it for ourselves - whether you work for a manufacturing facility, a food processing plant, or a supermarket - this is applicable in any industry. My wife was a Principal of an Elementary School and her Superintendent and great mentor warned her Principals not to be caught in their offices when she visited. You can’t fully understand what your teachers are doing by sitting behind a desk.

Speaking of the supermarket, there is a local grocery chain here in Cleveland that requires all of their key team members from the office to head out to their stores to spend the entire Friday afternoon to observe, recognize and offer support. And a few years ago at my former company, we bought suitcases with our corporate logo on them and gave them to all of the Category Managers, Merchandisers, and Analysts. The mission - to visit all of our 225 stores in 38 states. We even had a large map of our site locations blown up and posted in the hallway so that we could track our progress. I think we came within 7 or 8 stores of achieving our mission (with apologies to my friends in Ogallala, Nebraska - nobody was dying to go there!). The point here is that it is critically important to go and see it for yourself. You can learn a lot from the operators and by doing this, you also build great rapport with your teams.

If retail leaders want to keep bricks and mortar relevant (or leaders of any business for that matter), they need to master the art of Management by Walking Around.