Tag Archives: senior positions

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.




Do Australian retailers practice great leadership?

Written by Mike Holtzer for Inside Retail

Do Australian retailers practice great leadership? By ‘great leadership’, I’m referring to the concepts from one of my favourite books, Good To Great by US business consultant and lecturer, Jim Collins. Collins describes a level five leader as, “Self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy – these leaders are a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will”.


This says a lot in a few words, but using this definition of a great leader, I don’t believe there are currently many great leaders in retail in Australia.

In addition to the various other stages of taking a good company and making it great, Collins defines what level five leadership is and why it is so important. He uses detailed in-depth analysis of companies that transformed from ‘good’ to ‘great’ over a 15-year period. The list of companies analysed is very impressive.

A level five leader never lets their ego get in the way of successfully transforming a business. They put the long-term success of the business ahead of their own achievement. A proper leader makes decisions that benefit the long-term transformation of the company, instead of short-term decisions that have a short-lived benefit and the glory that goes with it. This can be an issue with Australian retail leaders that is sometimes exacerbated by private equity firms and public companies.

The mirror/window notion is a key concept for level five leaders. They look in the mirror, at themselves, when something goes wrong and blame themselves. When things go right, they look out the window and credit other people for the success. They do not crave the attention and the celebrity status of success.

Often times, people outside the company or industry don’t even know their names. Think of the most successful companies and see if their leaders are front and centre, or if they put the company front and centre. Look at some of the troubled or failed retailers and see if there was finger pointing at who was at fault.

The willingness to set up a proper succession plan and understanding when the business would be better served by a successor is an important aspect of a great leader. The best ones don’t care that they get credit for the success; whereas lesser leaders actually take pride in the fact that the company would fall apart without them.

Level four leaders are effective leaders who push towards a clear and convincing vision, but they lack the humility needed to achieve true greatness. Their egos get in the way of transforming a business. They typically have short-term success and even some great transformation triumphs, but fail to transform companies in the long run. Think Al Dunlap (Scott Paper) and Lee Iacocca (Chrysler). Collins’ Good To Great outlines many examples of these types of leaders.

There are five levels of leader in all. A level five leader is a combination of all of the levels. With stoic resolve, they do whatever it takes to make a company great. As an apt description, a level five leader is referred to as a ‘plough horse’ and a level four leader a ‘show pony’.

It is no small irony that the determination and motivation that gets people into positions of authority often conflicts with the modesty that is required to be a great leader. Many business owners and boards mistakenly believe that they need a CEO who is larger than life.

You will find a potential level five leader where you find extraordinary results and no person is singled out taking all of the glory. As former US President, Harry S. Truman, put it, “You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit”.

A level five leader has a blend of personal humility and professional will, where they channel ambition into the organisation, not the self. They are not high flyers or larger than life. They look in the mirror when something goes wrong and look out the window when giving credit.

Now, based on this definition, do we have great leaders in retail in Australia?


What to do / How to do it

Consultants come in all shapes, sizes, expertise and prices. Most will tell you what you need to do; few will tell you how to do it.

From time to time businesses need the help or the perspective of someone from outside the organisation. On a specific project you may decide to use a consultant from a broader background who works with clients from different industries.

These people can offer you an outside perspective of your business and how it compares to other businesses in other industries. They bring in knowledge from a broad range of backgrounds, industries and perspectives. Bringing in knowledge and expertise from outside your industry can be useful in differentiating your business and creating competitive advantage.

However, if you want someone who can help drive real change and improvement then you need someone who has a substantial background in your industry with a thorough understanding of the relevant business processes.

  • These consultants might not wear blue suits, white shirts and red ties.
  • They probably won’t give you a big glossy report which you can show off to the board and other executives.
  • They will not give you template based, out-of-the box solutions. After all, every company in the real world is unique and as its own way of doing things.
  • They will, however, tell you the truth.

These guys have worked in and held senior positions in the industry you are in. They have decided to go out on their own to become a consultant. So typically they are independent or work in smaller specialist firms.

They are hands on doers, who get things done. They offer greater value for money.

Consultants from the large firms are typically from within the consulting industry, not your industry. They lack hands on real life experience.

These consultants have their place. They can give credibility to a project that you are pitching up the chain. You will get beautiful reports with graphs and pictures. You will get a large amount of junior consultants that they can throw at a project.

They can help you to a certain extent on what you need to do. They will not help you on how to do it.

To elaborate on the “What to do / How to do it” comment above let’s look at the retail industry.

Examples of What to do:

  • Reduce your inventory to help the balance sheet
  • Put a new POS / ERP system in
  • Expand internationally
  • Sell a division
  • Put in better controls

Examples of How to do it: (using example one above)

  • Create a proper product hierarchy that allows merchandise planners to control OTB and product mix
  • Implement xxx merchandise planning system
  • Open an outlet
  • Sell obsolete / slow moving stock to xxx
  • Reduce the price of slow moving stock earlier in the season
  • Ensure you are getting up to date relevant information as soon as possible
  • Reduce your skus
  • Evaluate your range

Each of these items needs to be specific to your business. Anybody can tell you “you need to reduce your inventory”, few will be able to give you specific areas of how to reduce your inventory.

The consultant you employ not only needs to be able to cater for the unique needs of your business they need to understand the risk factors associated with particular actions. A consultant with a general background will not have a sound appreciation of where things can and do go wrong, because they do not have the industry background and experience.