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June 27, 2013

A Retail Giant's Top 5 Management Pointers

Posted by Sanjay Dalwani (View Profile | View All Posts) at 1:32 PM

No Noise at Selfridges [Source:Selfridges http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_BHskOcY7k]

The man who changed the face of shopping, Harry Gordon Selfridge, lived more than a century ago. His department store in London, with its dazzling window displays and helpful sales associates, made shopping - for the first time in history - less chore and more fun. His store continues to be a beloved part of the British retail scene.

There was another side to the American-born Selfridge. He is also known as a bit of a management guru. Thanks to the books he wrote about leadership and the history of the retail industry, we can continue to enjoy his wit and wisdom. Make no mistake: Selfridge's ideas are timeless and just as relevant today as they were in the early 20th century.

One of the reasons Selfridge built such a successful retail empire is that he was very much in touch with his customers and employees. He was a self-made man, so he knew what it took to build a business from the ground up. Doing so took a lot of innovation. It also took being an effective and responsive manager. Here are the best of his pointers:

1.The boss depends upon authority, the leader on goodwill. Despite his immense wealth, influence, and familiarity with members of the British aristocracy, Selfridge was known to walk the floor of his department store and chat with janitors, doormen, and stockroom workers. He enjoyed reminding them that with hard work they, too, could build a business like he had done. Such words of encouragement created a loyal and driven pool of employees.

2.People will sit up and take notice of you if you will sit up and take notice of what makes them sit up and take notice. This is a very Edwardian way of urging leaders to more aware of their company and the marketplace. How many executives are so aloof from those "in the trenches" that they miss out on the main issues affecting them and the market? Selfridge was never afraid to ask for criticism and commentary from all of his employees. Doing so made him very aware of what was happening in all parts of the company.

3.The boss fixes the blame for the breakdown; the leader fixes the breakdown. Instead of dwelling on whom to blame for a problem, an effective business leader fixes the management chain (all while acknowledging that he or she is an integral part of it rather than floating above it) so that the same problem won't happen again.

4.The boss knows how it is done; the leader shows how. In any organization, people respond to a leader who isn't afraid of taking up the reins. Part of taking up that mantle of leadership is to teach along the way. As employees learn more and become more experienced, the company's investment in them becomes more valuable.

5.The customer is always right. This is certainly the most famous saying attributed to Selfridge and also the most interesting in light of the rise of social media. Customers are more powerful than ever because like wildfire they can spread their opinions about a product on the Internet. It's great if your product gets rave reviews and quite another if a complaint goes viral. Companies have to be responsive to consumers like they've never been before. Does becoming more powerful, however, make them more right?

A friend of mine - a retired advertising executive - told me that when he pitched a book about his management philosophy to a publisher, the company's response was somewhat sobering. They told him that more than 2,500 books on leadership and creating effective organizations were published each year. What kind of management perspective, they asked, could he bring to the table that would make his book the breakout hit of the year? The more he thought about it, my friend realized that most of his pointers were old standbys that had come down through the decades as no-nonsense approaches to leadership. He decided not to write the book after all and instead concentrated on mentoring young executives.

I imagine his choice would have made Harry Gordon Selfridge, the originator of some of the best management pointers, quite happy indeed.


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Teamwork is essential to success.

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