Crack the whip on that retail fetish of yours

Apple has been the poster-child for every best-practice story for many consultants who don’t even know anyone who works for Apple, so I don’t want to add to that pile of verbiage.

But last week I wrote here on Inside Retailing that creating the right culture is the way to create success. But later in the week an interview with Mark Kawano, a former designer at Apple surfaced and he made a few salient comments.

Asked why Apple seemed to be able to be so successful at designing products people really wanted, he revealed that it wasn’t because they had great designers or better tools, he said:

“It's actually the engineering culture, and the way the organization is structured to appreciate and support design. Everybody there is thinking about UX and design, not just the designers. And that’s what makes everything about the product so much better . . . much more than any individual designer or design team.”

Asked about how Apple could constantly come up with those brilliant touches that defined the organisation, he said:

“There wasn’t a formalized library, because most of the time there wasn't that much that was formalized of anything that could be stolen,” Kawano says. “It was more having a small team and knowing what people had worked on, and the culture of being comfortable sharing.”

Which supports my contention that training is rarely the solution.

Many organisations have a fetish for training. It is the ‘go to’ strategy for every intractable problem and even our Governments fall back on training whenever they encounter a social issue. Domestic violence? Solve with more training. Speeding drivers? More driver education. And in business, if the customer service is poor, roll out some customer service training.

This does not mean that having smart people or great resources is not important. It does not mean that the right training is not important.

What it means is that, whatever your particular fetish is - communication, customer service, risk management, visual merchandising or whatever - that it is never that ONE thing.

There are no silver bullets. There is no single thing that you can change, for instance, to solve the problem of harmonising online and in-store prices.

It may be a cliché, but everything really is connected and the art of management relies on your ability to tweak many things in small ways to tune the business perfectly. And the way you know you are doing it right, is if your culture is healthy.

The starting point of making changes, therefore, is that you should consider the type of culture you have and the one you want to create – and to do whatever is necessary to make that happen.

Recently I was talking to a client about his desire to make the staff more accountable. Which of the following options do you think I suggested?

  1. Look at the KPIs and to evaluate how we report on those in the weekly or monthly meeting.
  2. Map out different reporting structures or we could change some policies.
  3. Incentivising the staff when they show accountable behaviour.
  4.  Re-write the job descriptions.
  5. Training

That’s a trick question because the answer is: none of the above.

My suggestion was that one message be repeated often and at every opportunity. Every time a person shows lack of accountability, repeat the message. When a person shows accountable behaviour, repeat the message. When a person comes up with an excuse repeat the message.

And the message is this:

If that attitude can be embedded in the culture, you won’t need more policies and more systems because everyone will know what is acceptable and what is expected. It is not easy to do (that is why CEOs are paid so much money) and the temptation is to take a short-cut and just tell people what to do. (Usually that short-cut will reflect your personal retail fetish.)

If you take the time to build a healthy culture, you will have a healthy business. And that is true for Apple and it is true for independent retailer on the main street of a country town.