A Tale about Big Brother, Disconnected Leadership and The Little Black Dress that Never Got Off The Rail

I was in London… the world was my oyster as I walked into a chic London store all set to buy myself a gorgeous little something from a French label I love. So why did I come away after five minutes with nothing other than a sense of irritation?

Because someone, in their leadership team, had decided to apply a level of training to ensure consistency of approach… or something like that.

As a result of this decision I had zero chance of just browsing in my own little world because every minute one of the staff approached with an interruption… was there something special I was looking for? how is my day so far? these colours are lovely and would suit you, this is our new collection, is there anything we can help you with? and so on.

Ok, I said, thanks and what I’d love is to just browse on my own and when I need help I’ll let you know.

Non, c’est impossible!

So why not?

I asked one of the hovering assistants. It’s what we’ve been trained to do, he said with a gallic shrug. Really? Even if you can see the customer doesn’t want to be pestered?

Well yes, he replied, it’s how our performance is measured. Our manager monitors our approaches to our customers.

I left and as I was exiting another customer was doing the same. It’s a nightmare in there, she said, all that polite pressure.

This experience made me think about how leaders at the top of the organisation can get it so wrong. Build a relationship with your customer, be helpful, demonstrate your helpfulness, make the first (second and third) approaches. Let’s aim for consistency across all of our stores. But the flip side of that was don’t apply your own sense of what a customer might need, don’t feel empowered to make decisions, don’t stray off the path we have set for you.

The worst of all is that the leadership team clearly think that they alone are the most important people, the key personnel. But they are not. In this case the key people are also the ones in the stores, the ones relating to the customer and they are the people who are wielding a level of influence over sales that their leadership team will never have.

Key people are not always obvious nor do they always reside at the top of the structure. We would all do well to remember that.