What are retailers missing about building a workplace culture?

Apr 20, 2018

Knowledge@Wharton staff

Presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article published with permission from Knowledge@Wharton, the online research and business analysis journal of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

One of the big challenges in the business world today is developing a collaborative and productive workplace culture that can boost performance. Organizations are beginning to discover that interpersonal relationships are key to a harmonious office where employees feel good about each other and their work.

Todd Davis, chief people officer for FranklinCovey and the author of “Get Better: Fifteen Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work,” recently shared some insights on the Knowledge@Wharton show on SiriusXM on creating a kinder, gentler office where conflict-resolution is constructive and peaceful.

“I have found that there is certainly the notion that we’ve got to have the right people on the buses, the right talent,” said Mr. Davis. “But it’s the nature of the relationships between those people that really creates a team’s or an organization’s or a company’s competitive advantage.”

Often spending more time with co-workers than their families, employees can face mental health issues due to poor co-worker relationships. But such relationships can also impede progress.

In his book, Mr. Davis, for example, describes the “pinball syndrome,” in which employees brainstorm and work intensely together, but it doesn’t feed results. He said, “I recommend on a weekly basis to outline and say, ‘Wait a minute, where am I really spending my time? And am I spending it on things that are important or simply things that are urgent. Have I confused urgency with importance? Am I trying to be everything to everybody, and in the end accomplishing nothing?’”

Some employees see things in different ways and it takes an extra step to consider another’s perspective. Said Mr. Davis, “When I stop and take time to consider the other’s perspective and think about their world, their goals and their struggles, boy does it get us on playing ground where we can really start to solve problems or take advantage of opportunities together.”

For human resource departments, his advice is become intricately involved in the business, including attending sales meetings, marketing events and other “front line” activities. “Be completely involved in what your business is all about,” he said.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What advice would you have for improving relationships and fostering better collaboration in corporate offices and on store selling floors? What are some essential steps to resolving workplace conflicts?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"People know when their company values and respects them, and when it doesn’t — workplace culture can’t be faked."
"Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Culture isn’t a top down strategy."
"While these are all good, I would suggest you start with training on how to talk to each other first."

Join the Discussion!

9 Comments on "What are retailers missing about building a workplace culture?"

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Bob Phibbs

While these are all good, I would suggest you start with training on how to talk to each other first. In an always-on, click-and-send culture, most people’s communication skills have atrophied so there is no level playing field. Teach, train and encourage using your own voice first and you’ll get better collaboration. That and not looking down your noses at those who work in the store from the C-Suite.

Ralph Jacobson

Wherever you work in the retailer, you must demand a sense throughout the organization that permeates the sentiment that, “If you aren’t helping a shopper directly, you should be helping someone who is.” And this is best demonstrated by leadership setting the example. Store management walking the sales floor constantly.

David Katz

Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Culture isn’t a top down strategy. It must bubble up over time. What gets rewarded? What is discussed around the water cooler? What is deemed a success, useful, leading to career advancement? It’s not what management says at Town Hall or in “mission statements…” It’s what they recognize, repeat and reward.

A powerful tool for collaboration, speed and efficiency, culture is company’s greatest asset, until the day it isn’t. When the business environment changes, culture can anchor a company in historical positions when dramatic pivots are required. For example, legacy cultures are paralyzed by disruption, whereas start-up cultures thrive on disruption.

Sterling Hawkins

100%. It’s not just what gets done; it’s who is doing it that matters and how they’re showing up. The best strategy in the world doesn’t turn into maximum results without a culture that supports that kind of performance. Busy doesn’t equal productive. Refocusing on what really matters and aligning culture around it can make all the difference.

Jeff Hall

Building a culture of collaboration and high performing individuals starts with employees feeling valued, trusted and respected. Senior leadership and managers alike need to consistently model and nurture these key workplace attributes through both their personal interactions and communications.

Start by working to support leaders with the training, tools and capacity-building experiences to help them succeed in creating a genuine environment conducive to collaboration and positive interpersonal communication. From there, enhanced productivity and better business outcomes can be realized. People know when their company values and respects them, and when it doesn’t — workplace culture can’t be faked.

Doug Garnett

This is all fine. Yet nearly every retailer follows ISO9001 and imposes measurements on store personnel performance which are used more to punish than to reward — and which appear absurd to store associates who know they are punished for corporate policies, not their own choices.

Retailers need to fix this and do it now. And they need to do this by being honest with themselves about the dysfunctional world they’ve created. Unfortunately, it makes complete sense within HQ politics and is important for political survival. True courage is required to recognize this and take steps to fix things … to find ways to work with store personnel that reward the important things and stop punishing store personnel for what’s not their responsibility.

Lisa Goller

Really like Ralph and Jeff’s input. While the retail sector is known for high turnover rates, communication and collaboration can strengthen employees’ sense of belonging, purpose and loyalty.

To gain an advantage, retail companies can “smash the silos” by educating workers and giving them a holistic view of the business (buyers, product developers, sales, merchandisers). Everyone needs to understand how their role (and others’) serves the consumer.

When people know they matter and feel valued, they’re more engaged and willing to do their best work.

William Hogben

One “bad” employee has more impact than 10 good ones, so focus on identifying and fixing those problems before you worry about the rest. You can’t screen new hires perfectly, and people change as their lives change, so you’re always going to have some team-members that do more harm than good. If you have petty tyrants in manager positions, or people who are consistently negative, or folks who deliberately bring down the people around them (whether they can help it or not) you need to intervene, and if they don’t turn around, you need to isolate or remove them. The phrase “a few bad apples” ends with “spoils the bunch” after all, and it’s absolutely true in the workplace.

Mike Osorio

In addition to today’s comments, I’d add the necessity to make organizational health, defined by the culture, an ongoing imperative. This starts with the CEO, making it his/her priority, engaging HR to facilitate the creation of healthy, trusting relationships from top to bottom and cutting through functional silos. Then, ensuring all leaders are modeling the agreed behaviors, building trust, and providing honest & loving feedback when people stray. And … never deciding the work is done. Culture, the heartbeat of organizational health, must be regularly re-examined, strengthened, and made to evolve to serve the evolving retail environment — the changing customer, technologies, and products.

"People know when their company values and respects them, and when it doesn’t — workplace culture can’t be faked."
"Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Culture isn’t a top down strategy."
"While these are all good, I would suggest you start with training on how to talk to each other first."

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