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A view of the industry through the eyes of independent and chain retailers.

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A Miracle in Retail

What a hockey coach can teach you about building a great team.

by Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender (April 20, 2009)

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 lose.

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 overshadowed.

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 mine."

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 your team.

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 store.

Reinforce Efforts.

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 questions:

"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 asking for?"

"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 this joint?"

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 victories.

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, click HERE.

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 feel important.

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 2006.

You'll find thousands of strategies, tactics, tips, and techniques to help you grow your business on their Retail Adventures™ blog: http://www.kizerandbender.blogspot.com. 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 right-hand column.).




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