Back in 2004 when we launched our original Retail Multiunit Management (RMM) program, the retail environment was a little different, to say the least. Shopping malls still ruled. Amazon wasn’t yet the juggernaut it is today. The idea of shopping as a “customer experience” was still fairly new. And by and large, salespeople had more information about their products, pricing, and availability than the average shopper did.
Things have certainly changed—the way people shop, what they expect from the experience, and, in turn, how retail operates.
These changes have been building upon each other over the years, and along the way, we’ve been conducting extensive research with major retailers on a wide range of topics. One important area of study for us has been the unique challenges of leading multiple locations from a distance and, more specifically, the competencies and skills critical to being effective in that role.
RMM’s original iteration was an outgrowth of that very type of research. Since then, we’ve continued to keep our eyes and ears open to the changes that technology, online buying, and social media have had on retailers, both in terms of how they interface with customers as well as how their managers manage. This research has influenced our thinking about leadership skill-building approaches, individual clients and their results, and even the training industry as a whole. (Note: Download the latest research report here.)
A New Era in Retail Management: Stepping Up to New Realities
This year we launched an updated version of the RMM program to incorporate what we’ve learned from our latest round of research. Here are a few of the key insights that came out of those studies in terms of the critical multiunit management competencies for today’s retail environment:
- Seeing Around Corners: Being able to anticipate and plan for the unexpected has never been more vital—for the manager’s success as well as the business’s. We found that superior multiunit managers look for themes and patterns, read and respond to cues they see and hear, and then pull it all together while planning so that they can better predict and prepare for the week or season ahead.
- Making Smart Use of Technology: Technology has enhanced the way multiunit managers can communicate, but they need to use it strategically to get the most benefit. This includes being aware of others’ communication styles and seeking out and becoming proficient in more varied and creative technology modes than they may have relied on in the past.
- Balancing Consistency and Innovation: Consistency and brand standards are important, but multiunit managers also have to recognize when it’s OK to give up some control in favor of new ideas and input from their store managers. Asking for input is a good first step. Paying attention to how you respond is critical.
- Flexing Leadership Roles: We call it “dual-purpose coaching,” this ability to pay attention to both the performance and the passions of the person being coached. At different stages in their careers, store managers will need something different from their multiunit managers in order to not only meet performance goals but stay inspired and engaged at work. Strong multiunit managers know how to flex their leadership to meet those different needs.
- Building Relationships to Get Things Done: Retail multiunit managers now have more authority and responsibility to make decisions and get things done. But the job also requires the ability to communicate and build strong relationships within the supply chain. This is especially important with those who don’t report to you but impact your ability to achieve your regional or district-level goals.
- Becoming a Trusted Advisor: The best multiunit managers in our study acted as a trusted advisor who provided opportunities for their managers to look beyond their own situation, drawing them out of their day-to-day narrow worlds into something larger.
And finally, the research reinforced this simple truth: Moving from single-store leadership to leading a region or district group of stores is the single biggest career change a manager can make. Many of the overarching best practices we saw in our research require a new mindset as well as skills that expand beyond traditional management training. The situations tend to be more nuanced and have short- and long-term impact, depending on how the multiunit manager chooses to lead.
Since we launched RMM in 2004, more than 7,000 retail multiunit managers (DMs, RMs, etc.) have participated in the program. Taking into account the insights and learnings from our latest study, along with ongoing dialogue with leaders in the field, this updated edition opens up a new chapter in how to fine-tune the skills and information this group needs to adapt to an ever-changing world.
Make no mistake, it’s vitally important: Leadership at this level was a deciding factor on all key metrics retailers in our study use to evaluate success, including sales, turnover, profitability and customer satisfaction.
Are your multiunit managers truly prepared for this big step?