Tag Archives: Brutal facts

Setting the path for Greatness

Have you ever thought about the stories behind the great retail businesses you see? Many people think great organisations are often overnight successes with outstanding facilities and teams to make it happen. I can assure you that very few great retail businesses get to where they are now without persistence. Their transformations come from persistently and consistently building their retail empires for many years.

Ambitions concept with businessman climbing stairs


With so many Australian retail companies clueless to the fact that fads and gimmicks rarely work to jump-start their success, it’s no wonder they fail miserably in business. If you aren’t prepared to put in the time and effort it takes to go from good to great, then you’ll just end up in a cul-de-sac.

Don’t be a doom loop fool

Author on the subject of company growth, Jim Collins discovered during research that good to great transformations never happen in one fell swoop. So why are an alarming number of retail companies taking all kinds of detours in the hope of reaching their desired destination? It makes no sense to me. However, there are a few things that you need to look at.

The doom loop is a concept created by Collins that involves reaction without understanding, new direction, no build-up of momentum, and disappointing results that lead back to reaction without understanding. Think of it as a vicious cycle. You frequently attempt to launch new promotions with great fanfare to motivate your team and fail to produce sustained results because of the underlying problems. Waste of time, right? You bet your last dollar it is – and there’s your doom loop.

When you combine superficial solutions (such as promotions) with no understanding of your underlying issues, the doom loop occurs. Often, short-term solutions that have a temporary impact just end up making the primary problem worse. Don’t be a doom loop fool.

Be a persistent flywheel

Collins uses the metaphor of a flywheel to represent great companies that have momentum. A flywheel requires many small pushes to get it running in the beginning, and with every push, it gradually increases in speed. The breakthrough moment is when the speed begins to work for the organisation. No significant push can be identified as the one big push that makes a good company launch into greatness. Instead, it takes daily persistence and discipline.

The flywheel will only continue to move when your retail company:

  • Recruits the right people to help keep pushing
  • Engages in Level 5 Leadership
  • Understands your Hedgehog Concept
  • Stays focused on a disciplined culture
  • Faces the brutal facts
  • Provokes thought and action
  • Refuses to stop the momentum from building slowly

It’s all about every member of your organisation wanting to be on a winning team while contributing to producing sustainable results that keep them motivated and excited because their hard efforts pay off. When your co-workers see that you have a plan developed from understanding, they’re more likely to want to be involved and help you achieve great things over time.

Companies that fall into the doom loop try and skip all the key steps to achieving the breakthrough moment and jump in blind. All quick fixes result in is a forward and backward movement that can’t deliver and last. Ultimately, you need the right people on your bus to begin with and the discipline to follow the flywheel approach to set a path for greatness – and stay on the right track.

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.

Retail Concepts Using “Good to Great”

Here is a simple take away cheat sheet that I use when presenting the six concepts of “Good to Great” by Jim Collins and how they relate to the Retail Industry. It is not meant to be a deep dive into the book (some of my upcoming blogs will dig deeper into each concept), but rather a quick reference on the six concepts and a few important points.

Remember the Fly Wheel Effect – all of the concepts work together to achieve the results – there is no miracle moment – it is an evolution. We implemented these concepts at OrotonGroup prior to the major turnaround in the business 10 years ago.


Level 5 Leadership

Personal humility and professional will. They channel ambition into the organisation, not the self. Not a high flyer or larger than life. They look in the mirror when something goes wrong and look out the window when giving credit. Comfortable that they may not get credit for success. Many Australian Retailers achieve Level 4, but few achieve level 5.

First who, then what!

Get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus. Begin with who, rather than what and the transformation will be easier. Great vision without great people is irrelevant. When you need to make a change, make it quickly. Retailers need to have the correct structure with the right people. Nepotism has created issues within several Australian retailers. Only hire friends or relatives if you can separate business with personal.

Confront the Brutal facts (The Stockdale Paradox)

Admiral James Stockdale survived 7 years in a Viet Cong POW camp by hanging onto two contrary beliefs – His Life couldn’t be worse at the moment (the brutal fact) and his life would someday be better than ever (unwavering faith). Be brutally honest about your current situation, but never give up. There are several retail examples in the past few years that demonstrate what happens when you wait too long to confront the brutal facts.

Hedgehog Concept

You need to be the best at your clearly defined niche. You cannot be all things to all people. The intersection between – what you are passionate about, what drives your economic engine and what you can be best at. A Fox knows a little about many things. A Fox is complex. A hedgehog knows only one thing very well. A hedgehog is simple. Department stores struggle with this whereas specialty stores often find this niche and thrive.

Culture of Discipline

Companies build rules to manage a small % of the wrong people which in turns frustrates the right people. A great organisation is high in entrepreneurship and high in discipline (a blend of magic and science). Get everyone going in the same direction with the same goals – communicate.

Technology Accelerators

Technology is not a fix to problems. It helps you achieve a great strategy, but it isn’t a strategy in itself. Use technology to truly differentiate yourself with competitors if warranted. Get the basics right with technology, but don’t get caught up in the hype. Aussie retailers love the concept of technology, but few do it well. If you choose to spend on new technology, make sure that you use it completely – if you collect data – analyse it and adapt your behaviour.