One of the most difficult things to do in the Walmart Supplier industry, particularly in Bentonville, is to make sure that you have the right people in the right jobs. If your initial reaction is, “Thanks Captain Obvious,” or some other less polite version involving Sherlock Holmes, I totally get it, but stick with me! When I took on my first role in leadership, I felt bound by the defined roles, titles, and people who sat in those roles. I have since discovered a little creativity, flexibility and a lot of diversity of thought and talent make all the difference in building and developing a successful and happy team. I want to share a couple of realizations that I have experienced from various leadership roles throughout my career that have benefitted me and my teams greatly.
A great lesson I have learned is to be quick to change your organizational structure and peoples’ responsibilities while patient and cautious in terminating their employment. I am not saying there aren’t very clear situations where termination is the best or only option, that struggle is real! However, I have found some of the best success stories are where I have identified a person failing in a role and then created the right role for that person to subsidize their shortfalls. Finding an individual’s talent and exploiting it while supplementing their weaknesses is the ultimate goal…but organizational structure, job titles, role descriptions and hierarchy all stand in the way of fully leveraging your team. If you have good people you know are failing or underperforming in their roles, don’t let termination be the first choice and don’t let them diminish in those roles. Get creative, redefine roles and responsibilities, reorganize the structure and allow your team to complement each other with their individual talents and experiences instead of demanding them to develop or overcome the pieces of their jobs that they don’t do well or just don’t like!
My openness to change and creativity in moving people, structure and responsibilities brought me to another revelation. In my first few hires as a leader, I did what I suspect is fairly typical in the hiring process; I selected the best overall candidate who was the best well rounded. That candidate was someone who was pretty good at everything the team needed, but not necessarily the best or an expert in any singular aspect. I had built a good team of good people that did a good job. Unfortunately, my goals and expectations of performance were to be GREAT! My revelation: I can only be great if I have people that are great at each core function of the job. Easy…just hire unicorns that are great at everything. If you find, like me, that doesn’t exist or you can’t afford them, then the alternative is to hire people that are great at something and then complement them with the rest of the team where they have gaps or weaknesses. I was going to try to avoid it, but I have to do a sport analogy. If you had your choice to build a basketball team, would you select the 5 best overall players even if they were all 7 foot tall centers? No way! You would find the best point guard, the best shooting guard, the best wing, best center and best forward, and they each would play off of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The rules are the same in any industry where you are trying to build the best team possible, but this seems so much less intuitive in our workplace.
The retail/CPG industry has and is currently evolving so quickly that desired skill sets and talents change every day. There is such a range of experience and skills to build a team, but it can get awkward quickly. What happens when an industry veteran manages a group of millennials while reporting to a millennial who reports to an industry veteran who…you get it…and have probably experienced it in some form. This is the beauty of building a team on skill sets and not hierarchy or predefined roles. Everyone on the team brings an expertise, so let them have it! Then let their counterparts cover them elsewhere…and you play this game in a constant cycle as your team, talents, and needs change over time.
While I have adopted this strategy and approach for my team, I am surprised and often reminded at how quickly it can get away from me. I have this position opening…and this is what it requires…and this person is ready for the next thing…so throw him or her in and let’s go. Frankly, it’s the easier option. But I have found significant improvement in retention, team happiness, and business results through the constant exercise of assessing talents, reorganizing and reshaping my team. It definitely isn’t the easier option, but with a little creativity, flexibility, and openness to challenging hierarchical norms, the sustained benefits across your team and your business will blow you away.
*Field Vice President, Walmart – Henkel of America
*Title and company of the author reflect their position at the time article was written.
The opinions expressed here by guest bloggers are their own, not necessarily those of Stout Executive Search.