Developing retail leadership from within

Strong leadership pipelines benefit both retail organizations and the retail professionals that support them.

Retail organizations are busy navigating changing day-to-day operations while trying to also forecast an uncertain future. In a world where change and uncertainty are the norms, having the leadership talent required to successfully adapt and change direction is crucial.

Developing a robust leadership pipeline is a key way for retailers of all sizes to intentionally and mindfully develop leaders from within, delivering benefits in many areas. Developing the pipeline helps prepare employees to rise to the next level of responsibility, and helps the organization identify and retain rising stars. It also helps the organization identify changes in needed skillsets. As an example, for new merchant leaders, retailers may find that the ability to structure a merchandising team that can work effectively with planning, allocation and marketing partners outweighs the ability to identify particular products that will resonate with particular shoppers. Or a renewed focus on ecommerce may drive a need to develop leaders with higher levels of combined technology savvy, merchandising and operations knowledge, and boardroom presence.

At its core, a leadership pipeline has people at every level who are involved in a structured development program and are being groomed to be ready for their next step. For instance, Amazon’s Retail Leadership Development Program rotates its members through two distinct retail business units in two different job functions, ranging from Senior Vendor Manager through Senior Instock Manager, Senior Marketing Manager, Senior Category Merchant Manager and more. That gives the organization team members who are ready to step into more senior roles with a solid understanding of the business in multiple areas. It removes the delay that can come from having to recruit and train someone new.

Most employees, regardless of where they are in an organization, are looking to develop their careers. Offering valuable, relevant professional development opportunities is a way to reward them, while cultivating leaders from within. The organization benefits from building a team of knowledgeable leaders with a deep understanding of business goals, and what it takes to deliver on them.

There are numerous ways to develop leaders within an organization. Mentoring programs allow younger employees to be guided by senior leaders. Those can be combined with functional job training, leadership development workshops, internship opportunities and more. Junior leaders can also be encouraged to work on special projects.

Regardless of the specific structure of the development program, the Harvard Business Review noted that five major characteristics of companies with strong leadership pipelines and strong financial performance are:

  • A focus on company culture; they live it and reinforce it in everything they do. When employees have a deep understanding of what the company is about, they are more likely to make decisions that fit with the organization as a whole.
  • A belief in matrix management and risk-taking. By encouraging collaboration beyond the boundaries of narrowly defined roles, and exposing employees to all areas of the business, the organization ensures they have a deeper understanding of the business as a whole.
  • A belief in learning through exposure. Leaders are developed through interactions and relationships with colleagues, subject matter experts and customers, as well as working in new contexts.
  • They share knowledge, experiences and insights to create a learning culture. Knowing they are part of an inclusive organization that encourages people to speak up, and is willing to listen, empowers employees. It also ensures that any problems that might arise can be addressed quickly.
  • Leadership programs are embedded in the business, and HR itself works with the business as a partner. That can go so far as to rotate HR partners into and out of individual business units so they all have line leadership experience.

As Canada’s leading retail recruiting specialist, we recognize the importance of leadership development within retail organizations. We consistently work with leaders who bring great value to their organizations along with the desire to learn and grow personally, as well as to develop other leaders. These are the kind of leaders who can help build and be a part of a solid leadership pipeline.

We’re happy to share our experience sourcing exceptional retail leaders from across the country. The candidate profiles below represent some of Canada’s top retail leaders. They show the kind of skills and experience that retailers look for when building and maintaining robust leadership pipelines. They may match yours, or you may discover you have transferrable skills. These profiles may give you some ideas regarding where you can add value as Canada’s retail industry navigates today’s challenging business environment.

Vice President of Retail – Toronto

Consumer experience leader, process improver, people developer, and sales and channel expert are just some of the terms we’d use to describe this outstanding operator. Accustomed to a seat at the boardroom table, they’ve held Regional, Director and VP-level roles, and been responsible for up to $400M in top line sales with hundreds of direct reports. Exposure to small, national and large, international corporations, private and public companies, and vertically integrated organizations has given them a broad perspective when it comes to business. They’re mid-career, top of their game and winning awards for promoting a team culture that delivers a superior customer experience and drives profitable sales. This leader has a proven track record for getting results by empowering and inspiring their teams.

Director of Merchandising – General Merchandise – Vancouver

“Maximizing opportunities and making a difference” is this candidate’s motto. This entrepreneurial-minded professional brings 15+ years of buying leadership experience in managing large portfolios and teams for a top national retailer. In-tune to meet customer demands and able to readily identify emerging trends and opportunities, they have first-hand experience with print, social media, loyalty programs & digital targeted marketing. They’re highly effective in building complex buying plans and leading cross-functional teams. They combine that with a passion for talent acquisition, people development and team building. This senior merchant would be an asset for any organization looking for a business leader with a clear vision, one who welcomes change and gets things done.

Manager, Digital and Direct Marketing - Calgary

This stellar candidate has a passion for smart, creative, customer-centric marketing to maximise brand loyalty. They’re a seasoned CRM, loyalty and digital marketing professional with over 15 years of loyalty program and communications experience. In agency roles, they’ve developed hundreds of cohesive communications programs for Fortune 500 brands. In retail roles, they’ve developed and launched rewards programs and mobile shopping apps, designed numerous experiential programs to augment member advocacy, and implemented hundreds of innovative direct marketing campaigns that drove traffic, sales and loyalty. They’re a trusted marketing quarterback with the proven ability to effectively motivate and galvanize cross-functional teams to reach common goals. An idea generator, they’re valued for both analytical skills and creative thinking. These two key characteristics have allowed them to develop a strong track record for success in digital and direct marketing.

To learn more on this and other retail trends and insights you can check out our blog.

Written by Patricia Viscount and Rob Fisher