Change management in retail

In this article, EOG Head of Retail Peter Ottervanger, explores the challenging subject of managing change at retail, while retaining high performing staff and continuing to motivate and nurture them.

In today’s new reality, we can see that there is a significant risk of losing the best performing staff members. In this short piece, I want to share some tips and tricks for managing towards the best possible outcomes for changing, maintaining and/or creating a high performing team.

The biggest risk you face as a leader is to lose connection with your staff.  Especially during a crisis, it is essential to engage with your team and make yourself accessible. With so many challenges, and the time needed to spend on the day-to-day concerns of your business, this can be easily forgotten or neglected as a lower priority. In particular, when you are the midst of re-structuring work and dealing with banks or investors or working councils/trade unions and/or other stakeholders, it is essential to get involvement from your staff and be open about what’s going on.

Even when hard choices need to be made, we should never forget the human side – the personal connection that gets to the truth of matters, and allows issues to be resolved, can only genuinely be made by being accessible and transparent. One good way of doing this is by holding (digital) all-town or store(s) meetings at a high frequency. At a minimum, I would recommend running these once each week, but at times these should be even more frequent. Never forget, you are at risk of losing the best people, since the most talented are in the best position to explore their career path somewhere else. You need them to help you to shape the future evolution of your business, leading the company through change. Your stores’ stars will naturally shine in meetings of this nature and they will also thrive on the opportunity to contribute through such platforms.

The fundamental principles of change management can be applied here as well. First of all, be open, honest and talk from your company’s values about the challenges ahead, and the targets and measurements to be made. Your team will already be aware of the challenges, having experienced lower footfall and revenue in store, while seeing the online business sprint ahead.

The biggest risk you face now is losing your best workers first. Below is a high-level summary of the four phases of a change process that may be impacting your staff now, along with some suggestions for dealing with each.

Denial phase

This is the phase where many staff members don’t want to acknowledge the challenges.  This can be characterised by a loss in motivation and team members becoming reactive and getting into a kind of ‘waiting room’ mode. As their leader, you need to be proactive and make sure that this cycle will be shortened. Observation and a deep understanding of human behaviours are essential for recognising early what’s going on in your organisation and therefore being in a position to address it.

Change resistance phase

The second phase, when people hear about the change that is going to happen, is resistance. Here your work as a leader is essential, making yourself available and continuously explaining the ‘why’ behind the proposed changes, and doing all that you can to take your team on a journey with you. A high moral attitude towards implementing change is the building block for the next phase. It will be crucial to be self-confident and receptive to critics, while taking time to properly listen, show understanding and use the right logic and arguments to help take staff to the next phase.

Exploration phase

This is the phase when your team start to think again about the possibilities involved in a new future. The process takes time – you need to respect your team’s perspective and help people to adapt. A set of tools can be used to bring your staff on a journey of exploration – think about open reflections, model the ‘know, feel, say and do’ method, and work on clear and understandable messaging.

Commitment phase – ensure you make it stick

In too many cases, companies fail during the last step, moving ahead and forgetting about their people, risking a fallout that endangers the ability to perform and actually deliver the changes that have been decided.

So, last but not least, it is important to keep investing in your people – especially your most talented people, because whatever the future is, they will be the core capital to unlock success. Training is essential, whether this is digital or face-to-face (F2F). Even with social distancing, it is possible to coach your staff (for example, on change management itself, starting at management level), you can create interaction and build motivation that will bring your vision and purpose to life.

At the EOG, we have expertise in house to deliver support.

For more information, please contact us directly, you can reach me on or +31 642079169.

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