A view of the industry through the
eyes of independent and chain retailers.
A Miracle in Retail
What a hockey coach can teach you
about building a great team.
by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (April 20,
We've been spending a lot of time at hockey games lately since
Georganne's son decided to take up the sport. He's pretty good –
and he still has all of his teeth.
It's impossible for us to spend any amount of time at a hockey
rink without talking about Herb Brooks and the amazing job he did
coaching the 1980 U.S. hockey team to victory.
How could any American forget "The Miracle on Ice" when
the U.S. Olympic hockey team defeated the team from the Soviet Union
4-3 in the semi-final? Those same 20 kids from different colleges
went on to defeat the team from Finland 4- 2 to win the gold medal.
That single mind-blowing event galvanized our country. We screamed
and we cheered and we applauded until our hands hurt. No one
predicted the U.S. would beat the Russian team – The Big Red
Machine – men who may have been listed on the Olympic roster as
students, but were in fact, professionals who were widely accepted
as the world's best. Everyone on the planet thought the U.S. would
They thought wrong. Those who wrote off the U.S. hockey team had
horribly underestimated the power of the American spirit and the
coaching skills of Herb Brooks. It's been 29 years and we're still
blown away by the fact that Brooks was able to build that phenomenal
team from a group of young men who had never met each other, let
alone played hockey together.
How did do it? His leadership and motivational skills created the
culture that led his team to victory.
In your store, you set the culture. You face competitive threats
every day; your talent as a leader lies in how you handle them, how
you prepare your team, and most importantly, what principles and
beliefs you instill in them. Team building is an everyday activity.
It's not something you can talk about at an occasional meeting or at
review time. You have to live it every single day. And you can't
just throw a bunch of people together and call them a team. Team
building takes vision, dedication, and hard work.
Forget About MVPs.
Even in team settings, we tend to fall in love with one person
– the Most Valuable Player – whose individual talent gets all of
the attention. And while it's necessary to recognize talent, it's
also important to make sure that the rest of the team isn't
At the 1980 medal ceremony, team captain Mike Eruzione stood
alone on the gold medal pedestal during The Star Spangled Banner.
But as soon as it was finished, the entire team joined him. Somehow,
all 20 guys managed to fit on that pedestal built for one.
These guys thought of themselves first and foremost as a team. Do
you think of your people as a team? They won't if you don't. Make a
point to reward team performance as well as individual achievements.
And let them shine! If you watched the broadcast of the game against
the Russians, then you may remember what Herb Brooks did immediately
after the victory – he waved to his team and then headed for the
locker room. "This is their night," he said, "not
Set Team Goals.
If you're going to build a strong team, then you have to let your
people be a part of the planning process because it's impossible to
dictate goals. If you've ever worked in a place where goals were
handed down from the top, then you already know that. If you've
already gone through a formal goal-setting process, and you have
your goals written on paper (if they aren't on paper, they're not
goals; they're dreams), then schedule a meeting to share them with
If you don't have formal goals, then it's time to hold a
brain-storming session with your team, and come up with a set of
goals together. This will work to your advantage - when you make
your associates an active part of goal setting, they'll better
understand how critical their role is to the overall success of the
Once you've got your associates thinking as a team, it's time to
put their talents to work. Create a "Team of Outlaws" who
are charged with asking fellow associates the following key
"How can we do ______________ better?"
"What do you need to do your job better?
"What are you hearing on the sales floor? What are customers
"Tell us your victory stories."
"Tell us a disaster story and how you fixed it."
And our personal favorite, "What would you do if you owned
Challenge your Outlaws to come up with solutions to the problems
and opportunities they uncover. Post their findings, ideas and
suggestions on the lunchroom bulletin board, and discuss their
progress at each store meeting.
Motivate Your Team.
If you think running a business is tough, try spending all of
your time on the front lines, eyeball to eyeball with customers.
Making sure customers are well cared for is a stressful job, so make
sure your team is taken care of as well. Take time to celebrate the
You may already have an associate-of-the-month program that
recognizes good individual effort; we bet you even choose the
winner. Why not turn it into a team event? Let associates nominate
their peers and vote on who wins the monthly honor. At the end of
the year let the associates choose the Associate of the Year from
the 12 monthly winners. If you have smaller teams in your store
(perhaps each department is a team) then why not have a Team of the
Month along with a Team of the Year? To read our Retail
Adventures™ blog for a list of rewards for a job well done,
A Few More Things.
1. Instead of relying on yearly performance evaluations,
consider evaluating your team members each month. Your team will
have a clearer vision of how they are doing, and you will be able to
reward, change, and encourage new behaviors as needed. Everyone will
be on the same page in the same book – all year long.
2. You will be better equipped to promote from within if you
have team members update their resumes each year. Ask them to list
their accomplishments, classes, and seminars attended, as well as
their personal goals. We asked a client to try this and she was
delighted to find that the office manager she'd been searching for
was already on her team – a part-time cashier had just received
her Associates degree in accounting. You'll never know who you have
on your team until you ask!
3. If you're brave enough, turn the tables and ask your team
to evaluate you. The 360 Degree Assessment allows each associate to
do a performance evaluation on you. Tell them it's perfectly okay to
be objective and say what's on their minds. In order to grow as a
leader, every coach needs to learn how their team perceives them,
and that includes hearing the bad along with the good.
4. Give everyone business cards that are printed with their
name and title. If a team member isn't worth the 20 bucks it takes
to print 500 business cards, then he/she shouldn't be working in
your store. Remember, they won't feel important unless you make them
Herb Brooks passed away on August 11, 2003, but his legacy of
leadership will live forever. In his farewell, Mike Eruzione drew
upon the virtues his former coach left him some 20 years ago.
"As a coach," he said, "Herb encouraged his players
to believe in themselves, to use their gifts, to pursue their
passions, and to live without regret."
Our retail world is never static, so it's not likely that your
team members will be with you forever. Some will move away, some
will retire, and others will try their hand at a new career. A few
will leave to sample the greener grass at one of your competitors.
As your team grows and changes over the years, the real question is:
how will they remember you?
(Note: Professional speakers, authors, and consultants,
Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender are nationally recognized experts
on customer diversity, marketing & promotion, and everything
that affects and interacts with consumers in the retail environment.
Each year Kizer & Bender speak to thousands through their
"Retail Adventures in the REAL World™" keynotes and
seminars. Their unique consumer insights are widely featured in the
media, including the ABC National News special report, "How
Stores Hook You." Their book, Champagne Strategies on a Beer
Budget!, has helped thousands of retailers improve their bottom
line, and their "Retail Adventures™" Blog is
visited by tens of thousands of readers each month. In 2004 they
were named two of the "Most Influential People in Retail
Today," and their popular magazine column, "Georganne
& Rich on the Road," won the American Society of Business
Publication Editors (ASBPE) Award of Excellence in 2004 and again in
You'll find thousands of strategies, tactics, tips, and
techniques to help you grow your business on their Retail Adventures™
They mean it when they say to call if you want to talk about your
store. They know how tough it is right now, and they're happy to
brainstorm ideas with you – they want you to succeed! To read
previous articles by Rich and Georganne, click on the titles in the