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By Wendy Lambourne, director, Legitimate Leadership.

Fashion retail is a notoriously demanding industry as more and more brands compete for an ever-shrinking consumer purse. Converting ‘window shoppers’ into customers who fill their baskets rather than buy a single item, and come back again and again, is what it is all about.

Two well-known South African fashion brands embraced the Legitimate Leadership principles and practices to effect a step-change in the calibre of their leaders at three levels in their operations. Their focus on enabling those in the front line in their stores countrywide has impacted positively, not only on turnover but on all of their performance indicators. The intervention showed conclusively that you don’t have to trade off between people and results. You can have both.

  1. INTRODUCING THE FRAMEWORK – FROM ‘GETTING THE RESULTS ACHIEVED THROUGH OTHERS’ TO ‘CARING FOR AND GROWING PEOPLE’

A three-day breakaway is traditionally held every year by the business for its top 50+ people. On this occasion, the agenda was split between business strategy and leadership.

Legitimate Leadership facilitated a highly interactive session which engaged participants in a debate regarding what accounts for individual, team and organisational excellence.

Participants were introduced to this unique perspective on leadership and gained the key insight that leadership is not about what leaders can ‘get’ out of their people but rather what they can ‘give’ to their people to enable their above-and-beyond contribution and make them the best that they can be. The operations director for one of the brands led the way in demonstrating the ‘mind shift’ made by most of those present when, at the end of the session, he deleted his 30-slide presentation on the year’s targets and instead showed a single slide. It read: “Everyone has a contribution to make. How can I help you make your contribution?” He received a standing ovation for his commitment to serving down the line. The next 18 months was about translating this into action.

  1. INITIAL LEADERSHIP ASSESSMENT – TO WHAT DEGREE ARE WE ALIGNED TO THE LEGITIMATE LEADERSHIP CRITERIA?

The initial leadership assessment (via leadership profiles) diagnosed the current state of leadership against the criteria for leadership excellence, thus holding up a mirror to leaders, and acting as a catalyst for change.

It provided a baseline measure, both individually and collectively, of the current degree of alignment against the criteria of Care, Means, Ability and Accountability as well as a reading of what was happening with respect to leadership ‘on the ground’.

The overall picture was of an intensely results-driven environment, where people were the resources to achieve the results. More specifically the leadership audit revealed the following reality.

    • Managers were not seen to care about the welfare of their people.
    • People respected their managers but did not feel respected by them.
    • Despite managers being in the field most days in the month, their people did not feel that they spent sufficient time with them.
    • Store managers were not empowered to run their stores.
    • The obsession with measurement meant that store managers were forced to report three times a day on the numbers.
    • There was little coaching, guidance or support.

The 1.5-hour one-on-one feedback sessions on their profiles gave each leader clarity on the shifts in behaviour and leadership practice that they needed to make. The overall results also informed the choice of Application Modules and Review Sessions to be run on a drip-feed basis over the next six-month period.

 

  1. APPLICATION MODULES AND APPLICATION REVIEW SESSIONS – EFFECTING CRITICAL CHANGES IN LEADERSHIP BEHAVIOUR AND PRACTICE

Application Modules deepen leaders’ understanding of the framework and provide the tools and skills to translate the model into practice. Between each workshop leaders are tasked with applying what they have learned in the workplace – they share their experience with their colleagues in a structured review session before engaging with another aspect of the framework. In this process of ongoing insight, practice and feedback they gain both competence and confidence in this way of leading.

The primary insights and behavioural shifts over the six months are outlined below.

LEGITIMATE LEADERSHIP APPLICATION MODULE, PRACTICE AND REVIEW PROCESS

Application Module Primary Insights and Mindset Shifts Behavioural Shifts and Changes in Leadership Practice
1.   Earning Trust Through Care, Time And Attention – ‘take care of your people and they will take care of your business’.
  •  People trust people who care about them.
  • Care is definitely not a ‘soft’ and ‘fluffy’ thing.
  • You can’t care for someone if you don’t know what makes them ‘tick’.
  • Care and growth are face-to-face activities – they happen in one-on-one and team meetings and when ‘watching the game’.
  • There should be equal time given to all direct reports but what the leader needs to ‘give’ will differ according to individuals’ needs.
  • Seeing and getting to know the human being behind the human resource.
  • Spending time with the middle and small stores – not just the big or high-turnover stores.
  • Giving people undivided attention by closing the laptop and switching off the phone when in the store.
  • Making the focus the people not the KPIs.
  • Demonstrating appropriate care (tough love).
  • Having one-on-ones where the direct report sets the agenda not his/her manager.

2.  Increasing Impact By Clarifying Contribution  –       ‘there is no such thing as a confused, productive employee’.
  • Clarifying contribution is an enabler of contribution.
  • People should be held accountable for their contribution – what they have control over.
  •  Those in leadership positions should be held accountable primarily for the care and growth of direct reports.
  • Defining contribution for the next reporting period gives clarity, focus, enables proactivity and promotes business and individual growth.
  • Communicating and helping direct reports to understand the business results; teaching the store managers how to analyse their numbers.
  • Clarifying and agreeing the unique value add of each level in the hierarchy.
  • Collaboratively agreeing quality deliverables for all direct reports.
  • Holding leaders accountable, not for the KPIs, not for the state of the store or even for the performance of their staff in stores. Rather, holding them accountable for the calibre of their direct reports (e.g. accountable not for fixing a problem with merchandising but for enabling those in the stores to effectively manage the visuals in the store).

3.  Elevating Performance By Assessing, Enabling And Reviewing Contribution – ‘it is fine for a manager to have the same people as a year ago but not the have the same people the same’.
  • The measure of success of ‘watching the game’ is that the leader has a better understanding of what to GIVE the person to enable his/her contribution and growth.
  • When the standard has not been met, find out why.
  • Good leadership is about increasing the number of exemplary contributors and decreasing the number of poor contributors.
  • Leadership and employee action should match the contribution made.
  • Stopping store visits to examine only business performance and replacing them with store / area / regional manager visits with the focus on enabling and growing people.
  • Asking managers to talk about their direct reports, not to talk about their KPIs.
  • Finding out why people are failing and how to help them – rather than slapping them with a written warning for a poor audit.
  • Stopping rescuing people and rather enabling them.
  • Holding one-on-ones and team meetings where the focus is on progressing the person rather than progressing the work.
  • ‘Watching the game’ more and auditing less.

4.  Cultivating Accountability by Handing Over Controls –‘ the purpose of empowerment is to grow people’.
  • The more managers trust their people the more they are trusted.
  • Empowerment means letting them decide and living with their decisions – not your decisions.
  • The level of control which is exercised must be commensurate with the level of maturity of the person being empowered.
  • Empowerment implies the incremental suspension of control in order to enable.
  • Taking our hands off and starting to trust our people.
  • Deliberately identifying and pushing decision-making authority down the line.
  • Stopping doing our people’s jobs for them.
  • Following the 5 Steps To Empowerment when handing over accountability.

5.  Delivering A Step Change By Holding People Accountable – ‘when the leaves on the tree turn yellow don’t paint them green, water the roots’.
  • You only engage people’s will to contribute when you hold them accountable for their contribution.
  • When you do not hold people accountable you have no option but to institute a control.
  • People should be censured for carelessness and disciplined for deliberate malevolence.
  • Praise ‘careful’; reward ‘the extra mile’.
  • Finding the right balance between positive and negative accountability.
  • Seeing what is ‘right’ not only what is ‘wrong’.
  • Holding people accountable rather than imposing a control on everyone.
  • Removing people who are not capable from their roles.
  1. REPEAT LEADERSHIP ASSESSMENT – ARE WE MORE ALIGNED TO THE CRITERIA FOR LEGITIMATE POWER?

A second assessment via repeat Leadership Profiles was done at the end of the process to assess what shifts in leadership behaviour and practice had been made. The results were stunning; the highlights of the repeat assessment are shown below.

 

REPEAT AUDIT HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The overall score had shifted by 0.5, which is significant especially given people’s raised expectations of their leaders’ alignment against the criteria.
  • There was a positive shift in all four categories (Care, Means, Ability, Accountability), with the biggest improvement being in Care.
  • 115 people felt that their manager’s leadership had improved in the last six months while 28 felt that their leader had stayed the same or got worse.
  • 14 out of 24 leaders had a higher score than 2017, with a further person remaining the same.
  • 60% of leaders were now seen as highly aligned to the Legitimate Leadership criteria, with a further 30% being viewed as relatively well aligned.

 

RESULTS ACHIEVED:

Direct reports’ perceptions of the significant shift in their managers’ intent, supported by tangible changes in their leadership practice, were endorsed in a series of interviews with a selection of leaders who participated in the process. Their response to three questions are given below.

 

HOW ARE YOU DIFFERENT AS A LEADER? (CHANGE IN ME):

  • It was about do, do, do because I know. Now I let them do the thinking.
  • It is not about me any more. I have suspended my agenda for theirs.
  • I am focusing on people, not the result. I am ‘fixing’ the people and leaving them to ‘fix’ the results.
  • I have got to know what makes my people ‘tick’ and have bonded with them on a deeper level.
  • I am focused on enabling my people’s contribution, not on obsessing about the results.

 

HOW ARE YOUR PEOPLE DIFFERENT? (CHANGE IN OTHERS):

  • They feel that they are empowered to run their own business.
  • They are taking more accountability for their regions / areas / stores.
  • They are operating at a different level.
  • They are taking initiative / finding new and better ways of doing things.
  • They trust and are trusted more.

WHAT HAS CHANGED IN TERMS OF OUTCOME? (CHANGE IN RESULTS):

  • You can literally see the vibe and energy in the stores.
  • People feel more valued, cared for and empowered.
  • The new store was ready for opening in advance of the due date compared to people staying up all night and still opening boxes as customers walked through the door.
  • Store new account openings soared in a particular store.
  • A regional manager retained the top performer position despite competition from colleagues.

The above is a testimony to the leaders who widened not only an openness to a new way of leading but who put in the hard yards to turn their learnings into action.

As with all Legitimate Leadership interventions, the chain of causation was once again confirmed – namely, that only when leaders change do their people change. Then, and only then, are the results different.