While the merits of Holacracy have been hotly debated (particularly in relation to Zappos’ high-profile pivot to a “peer-to-peer workplace”), most of the interest in management skills for non-managers that we’ve seen lately doesn’t involve this kind of extreme shift to a flat organization. Instead, it centers around the trend towards more highly collaborative and less traditionally manager-directed environments.

In our world of retail leadership and management development, this movement seems to be a reflection and recognition of the fact that people at all levels are spending more of their time collaborating with others, and as a result, more leadership behaviors and skills are needed throughout the ranks—whether it’s individual contributors and project managers in the distribution centers and headquarters offices or high potentials who need to get ready for the next step in leading the stores.

A Cascading Effect: New Retail Competency Requirements

As we talk with retailers about their learning and development strategies, one competency comes up repeatedly as a critical requirement for a growing population of leaders and non-leaders alike: influencing.

While it’s pretty much a given that you need to develop this ability in leaders, with more project work requiring people to collaborate across functions, and an increasing need to build the hi-po bench, the skill of influencing has become essential more broadly across the ranks of the organization.

The reasoning is simple: while you may not be a manager, you need to be able to apply “management” techniques to get things done. Or more accurately, because you’re not someone’s manager, you will likely have to rely even moreon your influencing skills to motivate people, shift power, and get commitment to achieve specific goals.

The need for developing these leadership behaviors isn’t limited to the home office and DCs. As Oracle’s recent report on “The Age of the Individual”points out, 77% of customers want a more individualized experience, but a staggering 93% of retailers are not offering it. While many are calling for retailers to empower their store associates to step up, we have to do more than just give them the power. We have to give them the skills.

Clearly, this is a training issue, and guess what? It’s not just the associates themselves who need more advanced skills as a result of this shift. Store leaders and multi-unit managers will also have to step up and be more efficient, consistent, and effective in how they communicate, coach, and give feedback to their managers and associates.

While the jury is still out on the Zappos experiment, the broader lesson is that, to move the organization forward in today’s complex retail environment, the interpersonal behaviors and skills that have been traditionally considered “management” competencies are no longer limited to those with the title. It’s up to HR, learning and development, and top leadership to equip people with the skills and principles to step up for success in their roles.

Do your multunit managers have the skills and principles to lead from a distance—strategically? Join us for our upcoming webinar in partnership with Training Magazine Network to learn development secrets from the world’s most successful retailers.


About Michael Patrick

Michael held positions in retail management, merchandising, and human resources before joining MOHR Retail’s predecessor in 1986. In 1990 he purchased the retail division of that firm to form today’s MOHR Retail. Michael holds true to his retail roots by delivering learning that changes behavior—providing both immediate and lasting business impact. In addition to facilitating MOHR Retail training programs, he offers executive-level coaching in one-on-one sessions dealing with critical strategic issues such as succession strategies and executive team development. The author of “The New Negotiation Mindset: Guarantee A Bigger Slice,” Michael is a longstanding member of NRF as well as ISA: The Association of Learning Providers. He has a B.A. from San Diego State University, completed Master’s level work at Arizona State University, and lives with his family in New Jersey.