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A long-serving senior area manager of a large consumer retail group in South Africa was given the exciting task of opening the biggest store so far within her brand/division. She says this was a great opportunity particularly because at the same time the group was going through a Legitimate Leadership application exercise and “care and growth” training.

She had done many store openings before but, particularly because of applying the insights she was gaining from the training, this opening was the most successful ever.

She ascribes the success particularly to changes she made in recruiting as well as in being “useful by being useless” – by watching the game more than previously, rather than doing it herself.

Of course a large retail group has its own guidelines for opening new stores. But she had to come up with a tailored plan for this one.

Her plan particularly centred around recruitment – including having the right people recruited, inducted and on-boarded, with all HR and training processes done timeously.

“Then also there was the process of building relationships with all stakeholders to ensure all opening deadlines were met – for instance, merchants ensuring the right stock had to be in place at the right time.

“But most of all, the right people had to be in place.”

In contrast to previous recruitments before store openings, here the manager particularly emphasized clarifying the roles and contributions each person would have to make in the new store, and his/her responsibilities.

It was important to place people who were good at their particular functions (called “superstars” in Legitimate Leadership).

Most of the new managers were recruited from smaller stores within the group; but many of the other people (for instance, stylists) were fresh out of high school or university. For the latter, she knew she had to set “a very good foundation”.

“From the inception, and in many subsequent meetings, we made it clear to everyone what they had to achieve and what was expected of them.

“Also very important in recruitment was to enlist people who had potential for advancement to new roles in the future, perhaps beyond this store.”

Once the plan was in place, regular meetings were held. They were held against the background of new insights gained from the Legitimate Leadership training – “including that other people do many things better than I do – that it was not all about me but also about everyone else”.

“Also, that it is about preparation and clarification and then stepping back to be not the player but the observer and the listener – to be not caught in the task.

“So it was that by being useless I was also useful,” she says.

Also, in line with the leadership training, her own line manager was watching her “playing the game” – observing, giving her feedback and encouraging her, rather than playing it for her.

As a result of this watching the game, there was more identifying of gaps and targeted coaching and training.

She summarises the difference in this store opening as “preparation and planning, getting the right people, preparing them, and then watching the game”.

In the event, the store opening was a great success. Turnover and new accounts opened in the first reporting period far exceeded the store plan.

“The results are not the most important thing but when you do the right things from the beginning then you get the most desirable results.”

Compared to her previous store openings, the manager now visits this store more regularly to watch the game and assess how improvements have gone and what further improvements can be made.