A Culture of Discipline

Why You Should Create A Strong Culture Of Discipline

Have you ever worked for an organisation and wondered if it’s the lack of leader and worker discipline that has prevented it from rising to the next level? I have – and I’m not alone in my thoughts. Business expert and author of Good to Great, Jim Collins has stated: “a culture of discipline is not a principle of business; it is a principle of greatness.” After all, great retail companies that grow and continue to succeed are led by self-disciplined leaders who encourage a deeper culture of discipline.

businessman thinking and looking in night city


I’m not talking about dictatorship or forcing behaviours and rules. No one likes a tyrant. It’s about creating processes and systems within your company that keep your workers motivated and focussed on ensuring you build a strong foundation of discipline as a team.

However, the breakthrough point can only be reached when you achieve a seamless culture of disciplined people, disciplined thought, and disciplined action.

Disciplined people

Regardless of how small or large your organisation and your management structure, discipline must start at the top of your retail chain. If there’s a lack of discipline at the head of your team, problems among staff can easily escalate. It’s always up to leaders and CEOs to set the right tone and culture of a business – which is why it’s crucial for you to adopt Level 5 leadership qualities.

Level 5 leaders are humble with huge ambition for their organisation rather than themselves. Not only are great leaders proven to be better at creating a culture of discipline, but they also praise their workers and take personal responsibility when the shit hits the fan.

As a leader, it’s up to you to build discipline in both thought and action by setting clear expectations, reviewing performance, and rewarding disciplined behaviour. You also need to provide those who are unwilling or even unable to help you sustain such a culture of discipline with a one-way ticket off your bus.

Disciplined thought

In my last article, I talked about the Hedgehog Concept – and how retail businesses who are like hedgehogs are able to transform the complexities of a business into simple and profound solutions. The Hedgehog Concept also involves setting a simple business strategy to ensure accelerated growth through three key questions including:

  • What can you be the best at?
  • What drives your economic engine?
  • What are you deeply passionate about?

You need to be honest and disciplined in answering all three questions without being distracted by outside opportunities to find your Hedgehog Concept and stay within the three circles. It takes disciplined thought to understand the three circles and say no to anything that doesn’t fit within them. Without disciplined thought, you won’t create anything great at all.

Disciplined action

To ensure you successfully execute your main business focus and strategy, it’s essential that you take disciplined action. Be sure not to confuse reactive action for proactive action, though, or you’ll end up like many good and average companies that struggle to see long-term growth plans succeed. Start with a ‘to do’ list and a ‘stop doing’ list.

Ask yourself – which actions best support the Hedgehog Concept and which ones don’t? It’s up to you to figure out and strengthen the discipline to do the right things and eliminate anything that falls outside of the Hedgehog Concept’s three intersecting circles.

Essentially, you need to stop:

  • Making rash decisions
  • Trying to expand your business without the right strategy
  • Trying to rival your competitors for the sake of it
  • Hiring people that don’t fit with your disciplined culture
  • Undertaking anything that doesn’t meet your long-term growth plan

You’ll initially need to do some experimenting to build a culture of discipline and responsibility, as well as define specific goals. On-going analysis of your strategy is also key to ensuring your retail business stays on track and you can establish any minor problems before they become too big to rectify.

Ultimately, in order for your business to work, all three concepts must pull in the same direction. But remember – a culture of discipline is not just about action. It’s about building a culture and team of self-disciplined and passionate individuals who engage in disciplined thought and ignore opportunities that fall outside the three circles. Only then can you take disciplined action to ensure the flywheel (your retail business) can really take off.

The Hedgehog Concept

What really is The Hedgehog Concept all about?

That’s a very good question, and one I often get asked. The Hedgehog Concept comes from the book Good to Great, by Jim Collins, and it outlines three questions for organisations to ask themselves.

From understanding what drives your business, what you’re great at and where your passion lies, the Hedgehog Concept should be used to help keep everyone on your business focused and grounded. I also use the same principle to simplify my very challenging and complex work life.


Like the philosopher, Isaiah Berlin, Collins sees the world’s leaders as either hedgehogs or foxes. Hedgehogs only know how to roll up into a spikey ball – and do so without fail time and time again. Foxes try all sorts of tricks to attack hedgehogs, without success – meaning hedgehogs always come out on top. Let’s take a look at the traits of foxes and hedgehogs in more detail.

Foxes vs. hedgehogs

Firstly, you need to ask yourself if your company is a hedgehog or a fox. For example, a retail enterprise that is like a fox tends to pursue many things at the same time, try to be all things to all people and view the world as a complex place. Conversely, businesses that resemble a hedgehog focus on the one thing they are great at and simplify the world’s complexities into a basic concept to ensure they achieve the desired results.

Which one do you think makes you a great retail business? I really hoped you guessed the hedgehog. It’s ok if you’re a fox, though, as every good retail organisation has the ability to become a great business.

The three circles

By now, you’re probably wondering what differentiates a good hedgehog and a great one. The quick answer – a fully developed Hedgehog Concept. Every company has a strategy – but you should focus your efforts on one thing and doing that one thing well to increase your chances of success.

Let’s take a look at the questions from the three circles of the Hedgehog Concept and see how you can apply them to your retail business.

  1. What can you be the best at?

When it comes to the retail industry, everyone wants their products to be the very best of their kind. The truth is that there’s a huge difference in wanting to be great at something and actually being great at it. Remember, you’re not going to offer things that appeal to every individual – and that’s perfectly fine. It’s about defining the areas that aren’t working well and have little success, as well as understanding what makes your business thrive.

  1. What drives your economic engine?

You have to determine the single denominator such as profit or robust cash flow and pick the one thing that has the most sustainable impact on your economic engine. I’m not talking about quick profit or fast cash here. You need to identify the bread-and-butter of your business and make it as solid and sustainable as possible and keep it that way in the long-term to ensure you stay truly great.

  1. What are you deeply passionate about?

Without passion, you will not last in the retail industry, nor will you make a great retail company. Ask yourself if you would still go to work where you are now if you had already earned all the money you need to live till your dying day. If you answered yes because you think of yourself as the luckiest person in the world to do what you do and believe you have something that’s the best it can possibly be (and greater than your competitors), then you have winning passion.

Your Hedgehog Concept

Once you’ve answered all three questions, you need to turn your attention to where your answers overlap. Two out of three isn’t enough. Perhaps you are passionate about your business and your company is the best in what it does but you aren’t making any money from what you sell. Maybe you make lots of money from delivering great products but feel your passion lies elsewhere. Either way, it’s not worth it.

In the business, all three circles have to intersect if you want to succeed in being great. Take note of the great success of top retailer, Lululemon. Not only are they passionate about fitnesswear and make money at it, but they are also the best they can be in it.

You’ve got to have it all – including something you can be great at, the right fuel to drive your economic engine and passion about your work. Your Hedgehog Concept lies at the intersection of the three circles and fulfils all three principles. It may take some time and research, but I can assure you that greatness is only achieved by being consistent and taking a disciplined,  yet simple approach.


Don’t Ignore the Brutal Facts!

Never ignore the brutal facts surrounding your organisation

How do you usually react when one of your team tells you that they think there’s something wrong with your business? Are you the type of leader with a tendency to react badly to criticism? Or the type who wouldn’t think twice about brushing off your staff member? If you answered yes – then quite frankly, you’re a bloody idiot.


Your employee could be right, and you should want to know about any issues that reflect badly on your company. After all, you aren’t always going to know everything. You need to face the brutal facts, instead of ignoring or brushing off the people who try and help improve your business.

The Harvard Business Review presents a good case study in which the COO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? ignored the advice of his VP of Finance who was cautioning their growth, because the VP was a quiet man and seen as “meek”. As a result, the CEO and COO ignored his warnings, the company expanded too quickly and eventually ran out of cash.

In Good to Great, Jim Collins suggests that successful organisations are built on an open communication culture. I’ve shared the four key ways to confront the facts of your current reality and determine corrective action without being confrontational.

  1. Lead by asking questions

It is impossible to make great decisions and change when you only push your thoughts and ideas on to others. If you want to be respected as a leader, you must encourage open and effective communication by asking probing questions at the right time. Show your team that you care about their opinion and throw questions at them that require careful thought and focus. The aim is to get honest answers that may highlight any obstacles and problems with your company.

That said, nothing positive can come from someone who is unwilling to listen to answers they do not want to hear. Remember, most of your workers will be nervous about speaking up and sharing the brutal facts with you. Regardless of your opinion, you must work collaboratively as a team and concentrate on where you need to be rather than what got you to where you are now.

  1. Create an environment where honesty is valued

Being heard is very different from being confident enough to say what you think. Every person that works for you should be comfortable to share their honest thoughts – which is why you need to encourage healthy debates. I’m not talking about arguments and differences of opinions that will put your team in a bad mood.

Just because you’re a manager, it doesn’t give you licence to boss people around. Your job is to demonstrate control when confronted with the brutal facts and guide your workers in a productive environment where conclusions can be reached – and you can all move on. Nothing shows authority more than motivating your people to engage in debate and dialogue without coercion.

  1. Investigate problems without pointing the finger

When things go wrong, most managers like to assign blame to protect themselves from being seen as a failure. Pointing the finger and embarrassing others is why these people will never become great leaders. No one can expect to honestly learn from blunders and avoid repeating the same mistakes when they are in denial about how they came about in the first place.

In the words of Dale Carnegie – “Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.” Whatever the situation, take responsibility for mistakes, analyse failures, and learn from them to ensure success further on down the road. One of the most effective ways to deal with a problem is to openly discuss with your team and decide, together, what needs to happen next.

  1. Create invaluable mechanisms

The greatest thing about creating an environment that allows colleagues to communicate problems without repercussions is finding out metrics and facts that can’t be ignored. Did you know that 54% of employees feel like they don’t regularly get respect from their employers? When you invite all the members of your organisation to raise a red flag when something is about to go wrong, it makes everyone feel valued and respected – and helps you identify potential stumbling blocks.

It’s crucial for every member of your group to feel like they are part of a team and can contribute to solutions – and never want to give up. When you know what you’re fighting, you can stand up to it and take action. Whatever the truth, you can still retain faith in your ability to succeed and have the edge over your competitors when you embrace a climate that energises people to communicate.

Get the right people on the bus!

Only Hire People Who Fit Your Business and Culture For A Smooth Ride

If you’re a leader of a retail company that’s at a standstill, you should focus your attention on the people around you – and especially those with the right talent. It’s a harsh fact of life that most companies hire individuals without the abilities and strengths to make a great impact on their business strategy. The most important question to ask yourself is “are you struggling with teamwork and results?”


By comparing companies to buses and the leaders to bus drivers, Jim Collins found that those who hire people for experience and qualifications over talent just end up with a bus full of underperforming staff.

In my experience, people truly are your best asset. All great leaders of retail businesses ask: “first who and then what?” Here’s how to ensure you adopt great hiring decisions and retain the right people on your bus for the long-term.

  1. Fill your bus with the right people

As a retail leader, it’s your job to be extremely careful when selecting the right people for your team. Thorough evaluations are key, so make sure you invest plenty of time in interviews, evaluating references and making background checks on each candidate. After all, you don’t want to end up in the same boat as Myer back in 2014 when they discovered that the man they hired as their General Manager of Strategy and Business Development had faked his resume. If you have any doubts about a potential employee, don’t hand them a golden ticket onto your bus.

Unless you’re confident that you’ve found the right people to take your company from good to great performance, let the seats go unfilled. It’s always better to take on extra work if necessary until you have found exceptional talent that can take your bus further on down the successful retail road.

  1. Get the right people in the right seats

Every bus will have key seats that represent the biggest opportunities, and yours is no exception. You can’t just overcrowd your bus with superior talent and wait for the magic to happen. You need to be sure that you give the right people the right seats and only keep them there if they prove they are going to drive your business in the right direction.

If at any time you feel someone isn’t pulling their weight in a key spot on the bus, give them the chance to prove themselves in a back seat. It’s perfectly ok to give them the boot from a prime seat if they are underachieving – or even a one-way ticket off the bus if they don’t appear to be great in any specific role.

  1. Kick the wrong people off the bus

Harsh, but true. At the end of the day, you want a highly successful team and business – without the hassle of babysitting and tightly managing the wrong people. You don’t have to be ruthless in chucking individuals off your bus, though. Try to be rigorous in the decision and implementation to ensure any of those who have left your bus can exit with dignity and still feel positive about your company.

When you eliminate the wrong people and have a bus filled with the right potential, it will become less a question of where you are headed – and more of how far your team can take your business. Plus, you’ll learn not to make the same hiring mistakes in the future.

  1. Maintain the right people on the bus

It’s crucial to give your hand-picked bus crew the opportunity to shine and exercise their talent and skills. The right people need to be self-motivated by an inner drive to produce great results and be part of a great team, which comes only with having the right people aboard. You also need to put your best people on your biggest opportunities, rather than on your biggest problems.

Regardless of where the bus goes, Jim Collins says that those who build and maintain a great company can also build a great life. For this to happen, you must build respect and empower your team by making sure they receive the recognition and rewards they deserve.




Why you need a cranky old bastard on your board

There are too many boards with soft inexperienced directors. You know who I’m talking about – the ones who are more concerned with keeping people happy than making the hard decisions; the ones who avoid confrontation; the ones who think they always know best (when they don’t); the ones who think that if they ignore a problem, it’ll go away.

Cropped shot of an unhappy senior boss standing next to the table in the office


The simple fact is that many retail failures can be avoided if you have tough, experienced leaders asking the hard questions. You need to solve problems together as a team, and that means embracing confrontation.

Look, I understand that no one likes conflict but you’re no longer children, so it should be easy to remain civil during a conversation and avoid this. Confrontation and conflict are two very different things, and board meetings need to be a bit confrontational in order to be productive.

That said, you need to tread carefully to make confrontation work for you and your business. Here’s how you can do it.

Choose the right time to ask questions

Bad timing can prevent effective confrontation and communication. When emotions are high, people have a tendency to act without thinking. Negative feelings may provoke anger, and that isn’t what you’re trying to achieve. Choose a time when you can prevent interruptions and a private place where everyone can state their opinions freely. Lead others by asking open-ended and probing questions.

Stick to the facts

I don’t care what John in sales or Lucy in marketing told you on the grapevine. Stick only to the things you know are true. State facts. I’ve witnessed too many incidents where co-workers have gone at one another like bulls in a china shop as a result of hearsay. Always ensure your board focus on real issues from the start and have evidence to substantiate what you’re stating.

Tell your board what you want

Be upfront and honest from the word go. Don’t beat around the bush, or you’ll provoke angst and waste time. Whether you’re looking for a change, commitment, or whatever, tell your board and allow time to let emotion settle. When declaring what you want, it’s also crucial that you state what you are going to do to make it happen. You’ll often find others want the exact same outcome as you.

Remain cool and confident

We all feel a bit touchy when told something we don’t want to hear, but it isn’t an excuse to act like a child. You’re allowed to have emotions, but you need to remain in control of them, regardless of what the other person says. Out-of-control reactions and outbursts will fuel negative emotions, as well as add to your own. Go into your board meetings with a positive attitude and keep your cool.

Listen, listen and listen

Most people like to be heard, especially senior level executives and management. While it’s essential to know what you want and put your point across, you must also be prepared to listen to different viewpoints. Someone may even suggest or state something that you weren’t previously aware of and that may or may not change your opinion or desired outcome. Never argue. Confront and listen.

Cash is King and Inventory is Cash

As a retailer, inventory is the most important asset on your balance sheet. Not only is it a major part of the value of your assets, but also the driving force behind generating revenue and profits. And yet, many retailers do not have a basic understanding of balance sheets and inventory, and why merchandise planning matters.

Pen, business items, and business documents with numbers and charts. Concept of workplace of the businessman.


Inventory, or merchandise planning, can seem complex. Ask a handful of retailers what makes a successful merchandise planner, and you’ll be given a handful of different answers. Planning sales and inventory to successfully control your cash and increase profitability is crucial if you want to survive in today’s economy.

Through my experience in working with troubled retail businesses (I was the outside consultant that discovered the inventory problem at Dick Smith), I have always increased the focus on merchandise planning. The person in charge of inventory controls the business. When this function is not controlled, the business can spiral out of control quickly.

Merchandise planners vs. buyers

While both a merchandise planner and buyer work together to keep a business running, their roles are separate. The Buyer decides what to buy and the Merchandise Planner decides how much to buy. These roles need to work closely together, but must not report to the same managers, a mistake some retailers make.

Merchandise planning is the science of Retail (see Science vs Magic). It relies on data analytics and is all about facts. They set and control the OTB. The best Merchandise Planners are highly analytical and often come from accounting or IT backgrounds.

Merchandise Planners:

  • Set and control the OTB (Open to Buy)
  • Forecast future demand (based on history)
  • Develop product hierarchies
  • Should report to the CFO/COO or someone with responsibility over inventory levels and cash flow
  • Manages obsolete stock and end of life markdowns


  • Is the magic and vision
  • Need to push the envelope and think outside the box
  • Identify trends and targeted demographics
  • Understand other markets and how they relate to their market
  • Should report into a Sales and Marketing function

Why are merchandise planners so important?

Ultimately, Merchandise Planners control the purse strings in the business by controlling the inventory. They set the strategy to enable your company to buy the right amount of goods at the right time and at the right price to deliver sales and margin targets.

If buyers control everything you will end up with higher sales, but have bad stock turns and obsolescence issues. If Merchandise Planners control everything, you will end up with perfect inventory, but no sales. The mix has to be right to succeed.

See also:

Science vs Magic

The Buying Pyramid

Merchandise Planning vs Buying

Why It’s Important to Ask the Right Questions

The problem with many business leaders is not that they don’t know the answer; it’s that they don’t know the problem. When solving a problem, you need to listen to everyone and ask the probing (and often uncomfortable) questions. You’ll know when you’ve hit on a hot topic by the reactions.


The best leaders are curious and are never ones to accept things just the way they are. You may think you ask a lot of questions, but when I ask executives how they know which ones to ask, they look back at me with a blank face. If this sounds like you, then it’s time to change – fast.

How well do you ask questions?

It’s a major part of your job that requires guts and skill. Most of us fall into bad habits from time to time, but excellent leaders are always asking what can be done differently and better. You also need to find the best time to ask probing questions to ensure frank and constructive responses from your team. Knowing how to ask questions that generate thought, focus and action will make a real difference to your success.

Seek out problems

“We keep looking for change in the wrong places, asking the wrong questions, and making the wrong assumptions.” Jim Collins is right. Rather than assume you know the answers and wait for problems to come to you, seek them out for yourself. Change is impossible if you are a rubbish questioner that doesn’t pay careful attention to a candid culture. A vital lesson I learned early on in my career was to seek out problems by asking the right questions. It’s that simple.

Listen and learn

Just because you have experience and a fancy title, it doesn’t mean that you know everything. It especially doesn’t mean that your only job is to boss people around and tell them what to do. When you go about asking questions, you must also genuinely listen to your workers. You’ll find questions thrown back at you. After learning a thing or two, you may even change your mind as to how you answer them.

Practice makes perfect

Always practice asking questions about yourself, projects, plans, and your company. Build relationships and ask what you could do better, how to improve a project and why your organisation does things in a certain way. Having the ability to ask questions that do not trigger a defensive response is a valuable management skill. Think about how you frame your questions in a way that can not only help to improve your success but also your workers’ motivation.

Why You Need to Challenge the Status Quo

Too often I hear “this is the way we have always done it.” I don’t care how you always did it; I want to do it better. In fact, I’ve actually told people that I will fire them if I hear them use those words.

Think differently - Being different, taking risky, move for success in life -The graphic of rocket also represents the concept of courage, enterprise, confidence, belief, fearless, daring,


If you’re only focused on your current success, then you’re foolish. You need to challenge the status quo, rather than stay stranded in your comfort zone. Because that’s what you’ll end up being – stranded.

Always strive for innovation

You never want to become irrelevant in the greater marketplace. Ok, so some traditional best practices may be proven to have positive effects on businesses, but you should always strive for something better. While you may argue that you don’t have the funds to experiment, I can assure you that you don’t need a super-sized budget.

Once you’ve challenged your current state of affairs, progress will depend on you as a leader. Remember, this is an opportunity to change things for the better.

Challenge all the time

“The key to change is first to understand what not to change and then to feel free to change everything else.” Jim Collins certainly knows what he’s talking about. Accept ‘challenge innovation’ and ask questions that require some level of thought to challenge your team’s mind-set. Create questions that spark energy and curiosity, and a safe space where they want to contribute.

Be careful not to sound too critical. Don’t ask “why aren’t we producing this in half the time?” Use motivational speech, such as “what if we could do this in half the time?” and “how do you think we can beat our competitors?” Motivate your people.

Have an open mind

Every brave leader with the guts to take bold risks and challenge the status quo can make a real difference. You need to be passionate about constantly learning and growing, as well as doing the unorthodox thing. With an open mind, you can entice new improvements and inspire those around you to think bigger and do better.

Don’t be afraid to try all sorts of new things and think outside of that bloody box. When something seems obvious, try something different. If you don’t, I guarantee someone else will.

Reward and exploit

Our world is increasingly competitive, and you must constantly adapt, nurture, grow and move forward. Many workers can get comfortable (and stagnant) and be resistant to change. That’s why it’s essential to create an environment where your team feels comfortable with sharing their ideas and have the freedom to express what they believe is and is not working well. I’ve lost count of the leaders I’ve met who don’t take the time to get feedback from co-workers.

Status Quo Roles Chart

From www.forbes.com

Ensure great ideas are rewarded while trusting and supporting them to take the next step. You also need to walk the walk (not just talk the talk) by committing to any change with help from your empowered team.