Retailers rarely question the value of spending time and money on developing leaders in their field organizations. Regionals, DMs, store managers, and even assistants in stores receive formal and informal development and resources to help them hone their leadership ability and skills.
But when we conducted national research with a number of retailers, we found that, while many support supervisors in DCs and/or home offices received technical and functional training and even higher-level outside certifications that helped them in their positions, leadership and communication training were not as frequently available to them. Over the years, we’ve also seen another issue: What little is provided in the way of leadership development isn’t retail-specific, and it’s not designed to address the unique realities faced by leaders working within a retail organization, whether they’re in the store or not.
The support area supervisors—from buyers to those in planning and allocation, accounts payable, tax audit, store planning, advertising, web and IT support, legal, and/or purchasing, to name a few—are critical behind-the-scenes players on the retail team. Many of these supervisors not only play the role of boss to their teams but are often seen as essential business partners the rest of the organization depends on. Merchant and support managers are responsible for making sure their team is productive and motivated on a daily basis, but at the same time, in order to get things done, they frequently need to spend part of the day requesting cooperation from internal business partners in other departments (e.g., distribution, finance, advertising, operations) and in the store organization (e.g., store management, DMs, Regional LP). Their requests can range from wanting to change a priority to flexing a policy requirement to asking for the partner’s support or endorsement of a new way of doing something.
From an interpersonal standpoint, these kinds of conversations can often be among the most challenging. They’re dealing with people who may be their peers or even more senior-level managers, which means they have to rely more on their influencing skills to get agreement. And it’s not easy to get everyone on board when others are busy trying to accomplish their own multiple priorities and sometimes-competing goals.
The ability of your store support supervisors to communicate cross-functionally, influence, negotiate, and navigate politically charged situations is directly related to the effectiveness of the leadership development they’ve been given. When planning talent development for your company, don’t forget those who are behind the scenes and the essential leadership role they play in helping plan and execute all those programs that differentiate you from your competition.
> Check out our Store Support Leadership offerings to learn more about the critical skills and strategies your behind-the-scenes leaders need, and then get in touch to discuss next steps for your organization.