When you send a district manager or buyer through a retail training workshop, it’s an investment of time, money, and effort — and that’s not even taking into account the fact that they’ll be away from their daily responsibilities. It’s also a down payment on the results and impact you expect to see when they return. They should be able to create results from day one.

And they will, to a degree. But the training itself is only the beginning of the development journey. There’s too much going on in retail to expect that new behaviors and skills will instantly “stick” and that new tools and strategies will be applied without ongoing support, reinforcement, and follow-up.

In the case of your district, regional, and other retail managers who lead from a distance, they’re tasked with a complex, multi-faceted job. It requires agility, adaptability, and many of the key qualities that define both great management and great leadership. Multiunit managers in retail have to leverage the potential of their store management teams and stay focused on the goals that are most important to the organization. But they also have both time and distance working against them as they pursue goals related to improving consistency and productivity.

For your retail buyers, the market has changed dramatically in the past few years. This volatility is affecting the vendors, altering the negotiation playing field, and presenting new questions and new obstacles at every turn.

Because of these realities, reinforcement tools like online microlearning and gamification technology are an essential part of the development process. They help build and sustain habits in the moment and in the context of day-to-day issues and scenarios. But the path to sustainable impact and return on training investment starts well before the workshop has ended. In our experience, the retail buyers and multiunit managers who perform the best — and whose stores and store managers perform the best as a result — have something extra. They have involved, supportive, and committed senior leadership.

The Role of Senior Leaders in Retail Management Development

Put simply, the senior leader’s role is to ensure that what was trained actually gets used. While it’s helpful if the leader gets engaged in the team’s development after they’ve completed the training, the biggest impact comes when they’re involved right from the get-go.

Let’s take a closer look at what retail executives should be doing to make sure they’re getting a full return on their training investment:

  1. Articulate, in their own words, why the training is important: Even with the most experienced retail facilitators delivering training and customizing the program to the company’s specific issues and goals, nothing’s more impactful than leaders standing up and saying, “This is important to the business, and it’s important to me.” It’s also a powerful way to demonstrate their commitment to developing and growing their team — a key factor in retaining high performers and keeping them engaged.
  2. Link the training to company initiatives and how it contributes to the business: Retail training has to make a tangible impact on the business, and senior leaders are important for setting the business orientation of the program. They should be able to explain how the skills, tools, and strategies, when effectively applied, will help both the participant and the business achieve specific goals.
  3. Model the behaviors, skills, and strategies: Retail managers and professionals look to their leaders for cues about how to behave and interact. If executives are all talk and no walk, the training is very unlikely to stick. That’s why role-modeling is one of the most important things a senior leader can do to sustain learning over the long term.
  4. Coach and reinforce the DMs’ leadership effectiveness: There are plenty of formal and informal opportunities to reinforce and strengthen a manager’s use of the skills and strategies they learned in training. Smart senior leaders make sure they have a solid structure for giving feedback and a discussion plan in place so that these opportunities don’t fall through the cracks or get pushed aside when things get busy.
  5. Participate in complementary development: Just because they’re experienced leaders doesn’t mean there isn’t more to learn. By picking up a few proven techniques, tools, and strategies for coaching, following up, and reinforcing key concepts, they’ll be able to move quickly to impact, making this process more efficient and effective for themselves as well as their team. It’s also vital that senior leaders understand what their teams are learning so that they’ll be able to effectively coach to and model those standards.

So, what’s in it for the leader? For starters, it’s insurance that their teams will apply what they’ve learned and keep building their skills so that the initial investment continues to pay off many times over. Put another way, it means the training will deliver real business impact that they can measure.

But they might also even learn a thing or two about the business and their team in the process.

At a recent Retail Negotiation Series program we facilitated for a client’s buyers and senior merchants, the company’s group vice presidents and executive vice presidents stayed for the entire two-day workshop. And they didn’t just audit the program; they participated and gave feedback. It was an eye-opening experience for these leaders, and not just because of the skills and strategies their people were being taught. As one VP told us: “I’m learning so much about them — as much as they’re learning about negotiation. It’s important for me to hear the kinds of questions they’re bringing up. That’s giving me insights I wouldn’t otherwise have.”

> Need help building a strategy to incorporate senior leadership into your learning and development plans? Get in touch. We can help!


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.