On life…and learning

Archive for April 2012

Learn, Execute, Replicate…

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Working in Indian retail industry for the last 6 years, I have hired and managed talent at all levels. However, it is the employees working at stores who constitute the largest and rather challenging group, when it comes to managing career/promotion/growth expectations. I won’t say they are to be blamed entirely for believing & expecting to get promoted almost every year; the nascent Indian retail industry itself created this myth of more-than-regular promotions. Added to this, the lack of talent in retail trade led to prevalent poaching and headhunting, even at store-levels, by new entrant-organizations who offered higher roles (often, in form of disguised, fancy designations!), without bothering about the candidate’s tenure in the earlier organizations. Thus, everyone continues to believe in the myths of self-perceived ‘high-performance’ and ‘time-period’ merited to be considered for a promotion, making life difficult for organizations all across.

While there isn’t any dearth of literature and models available on performance and potential elements while considering anyone for promotion, it is the expectations of an employee that needs to be addressed, breaking the falsehood about one’s imminent readiness to grow into a higher role. Talent & People managers need to simplify the process, without stressing on complicated talent-grids and performance-models, thereby setting the anticipations of every new employee joining the organization.

As far as performance factor is concerned, in my view, there are 3 distinctive stages for any store level employee in retail trade that measure performance & success, before trending on the path of a role-elevation:

Learn The Job: This period starts from the date of joining (DOJ), and can last up to 3 to 6 months. This is where an employee learns the basics tenets and fundamental practices of her job, gains the know-how imperative to perform the role and settles oneself strongly onto the path of delivering desired results.

Ironically, this is where many retail organizations fail in establishing the outlook of an incoming employee about the unlearning, learning and building the basics in a timed and organized manner. The store associates gets trained in a jiffy, moved to store-roles with half-baked processes’ knowledge and are made to believe that the jobs in retail are ‘very simple’ and they will learn everything ‘on-the-job’. While I appreciate this is a trade that shows daily results and pressure on performance is way too high from the day one, running a store successfully is a matter of disciplined and structured approach towards one’s role. Learning the job impeccably is the bedrock principle of doing a flawless job in execution. Thus, once trained and hand-held properly, an employee with moderate to high learning agility would need to spend at least 6 months learning the intricacies of such jobs in the retail sector.

Execute The Job: This period starts after the learning phase, and can last up to 15 to 24 months at the first location/store/role assigned. This is the period where an employee starts implementing the learning and executing the job. An important factor here would be to keep her role/store unchanged for 15-24 months, to ensure consistency of execution. For a star performer, this period could be 15-18 month and 24 months for an average performer, before she is considered for a role-change or a change of store in same/other role, at the same work-level. This safeguards that she learns hands-on, makes mistakes & improves and at the same time, also reaps benefits of sustained & deeper understanding of the nuances of the job.

Ironically, here too, the retail companies in India struggle; I regularly meet and interview store-employees who have worked at 3-6 different stores within a span of an year and start looking at another job, considering themselves to be a pro! Well, while industry’s high attrition may be a reason behind companies deciding to move ‘old’ and ‘trained’ (read: 3-9 months vintage) employees to open positions at other roles/stores, they fail to put much thought to the abilities of execution such employees possess and whether such faculties have stood the test of time in the current role. In my view, a well-meaning Talent & People manager would surely warrant every employee spends 15-24 months in a role/store, before considering any transfers or role-changes.

Replicate Own Performance: This period starts after the phase of successful execution in first role/store, and can last up to 12 to 24 months at the subsequent store/role assigned; with every subsequent role/store being held for a period not less than 12 months. This is the period that would test the potency of capabilities, skills and maturity, which an employee is expected to have attained in earlier two phases.

A very crucial phase this is; every moderate to high performer has to demonstrate she can successfully replicate earlier performance in a sustained manner afresh on a clean slate, where everything could be different and thus, would pose challenging demands upon application of the acquired learning and experience. It would assess an employee in new culture, new geography, new customers, amidst new colleagues, et al. Performing a new role and delivering to expectations it demands with same or even higher level of performance would be indeed a true appraisal.

Out of the comfort-zone, this period would also check whether the employee cracks down amidst new challenges and pressures, or withstands the test of performing on a rather unfamiliar terrain. Here, the real trial of one’s learning and experience would take place; which would boost the confidence and maturity, if handled well. If one lives up to the expectations of the performance in their own and organization’s eyes, it would enhance the readiness-quotient for a higher role. Simultaneously, this period would also throw ample light on potential one possess, thereby removing the danger of the application of the ‘Peter’s Principle’, should one gets promoted.

Above three phases, when completed successfully, spell into ‘good performance’ for any store-level employee. While I am sure these phases can be easily applicable to any professional in any trade, they are highly relevant in this dynamic, people-driven industry. In my experience in the retail trade, many store-level employees who have done better than others, have demonstrated sustained performance levels and grown to higher roles, were the ones who went through the similar regime. While I am not saying that all 3 phases are cast in stone and organizations need to be rigid about them before considering elevations for one and all, till there is a mad rush of everyone assuming to get promoted every other year if not every year, I would strongly recommend all supervisors, Talent & HR managers to create and foster career-frameworks and communicate the same to every newly hired as well as existing talent, leading them towards a sustained and rewarding career, mutually benefitting every organization and the trade as a whole.

Indian retail sector is in its infancy – yet to witness the real boom. Thus, organizations have a responsibility of creating retail leaders in a structured and sustainable manner, thereby building the talent pipeline of professionals who, in next 5-15 years, would shape the future of this new, promising industry.


Photo-credit 1: southlakepres.org

Photo-credit 2: Infed.com

Photo-credit 3: wakeupkitd.blogspot.in

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the organization he is associated with.

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