I’m pretty sure most if not all our readers have heard this line on many occasions during their careers. Whether you are a loss prevention professional at the store, district, region, or corporate level, you have likely been on the receiving end of this phrase.
As a recipient of this phrase over the years, I was fairly certain on some occasions that the issues and decisions being made had in fact been determined based on individuals’ personal opinions and experiences and often with limited exposure to my team’s winning formula. Even more troubling was when successful performance was not a key element in the decisions. As I heard on some occasions, “Claude, this is not about your team’s failure to perform to the established objectives; this is strictly a business decision.” Oh, okay then. In particular, a negative situation where not all perspectives had been solicited—which I realized was not always a requirement when tough business decisions had to be made—just made accepting the news and the subsequent outcome that much less palpable for me to digest.
I will never forget one experience I had in my early years as a vice president of LP and safety. During a weekly executive store operations meeting, I was advised of a decision that required me to eliminate approximately fifty district-level LP and safety manager positions—one-third of my field district staff—within the next thirty days. As is often the case at the corporate level, I was not aware of or briefed on this decision prior to this weekly staff meeting. As anyone can imagine, I was less than enthusiastic, joyful, and supportive when all eyes turned toward me to gauge my response. As I sat in shock and thought about the personal impact this was going to have on these highly productive, committed, loyal employees, the next topic of conversation quickly turned to how many vehicles would be given out at our upcoming national sales meeting. One of the suggestions was to increase the number of vehicles. I, without much forethought, blurted out, “Maybe we give away a few less vehicles instead of reducing my field staff by 33 percent.”
Later that evening, I received a heads-up call from one of the executives who had been in the meeting, who happened to be a huge supporter of my team. This executive understood my frustration and took the time to explain to me the importance of always remaining composed during such moments. He then informed me just how upset the lead executive was at my response and advised me to call the lead executive and apologize before more time elapsed to avoid any further consequences. I took his advice and contacted the lead executive. Do you want to guess what line was bestowed upon me? You guessed it—“Claude, it’s never personal; it’s business.”
Recognizing Your Supporters and Understanding Your Adversaries
Years later, I was told in confidence how close I actually came to being a former employee—one of my many encounters with near death, so to speak. The moral of this story: even if you suspect that it is indeed personal, don’t go there like I did. Stay calm, internalize your feelings, and keep in mind there is much at stake, both short term and long term. Everyone at every level—store, field, and corporate—will have supporters and detractors. And it is critical that we learn how and when to leverage the supporters while coming to terms with what we must do to change the attitudes and perspectives of our detractors. I have absolutely no doubt that all people from all walks of life sometimes simply cannot forget, forgive, or let go of encounters that may have occurred years earlier. As a result, they will continually paint you and your team with the same negative brush, whether you are present or absent in the conversation. This of course becomes detrimental for you and your team as it relates to driving the department’s performance objectives.
I also believe my personal growth over the years evolved well past what I will call the “justification syndrome.” Let’s be honest and keep it real here for a moment. At some point throughout our careers, we have all felt the burden of being viewed as strictly a sales support group and possibly by some companies as merely a necessary evil, where we constantly felt the pressure to deliver strong business results in order to justify the need to keep us around. I’ve even heard of some companies that use as harsh a term as “sales prevention” when describing their AP/LP departments. I mean, no one has ever second-guessed the necessity of having a merchandising department, IT, legal, finance, or store operations. Heck, even the need to staff an internal audit team is never in question. But LP/AP has always fallen deep in the batting order for many companies—that is until they establish themselves and are fully integrated with the entire enterprise strategy along with consistently delivering strong and favorable results.
I believe there were times where my level of sensitivity might have been a bit elevated. This sensitivity was a result of working extremely hard to establish my team’s credibility and value to the organization while also fully aware of the low-value perspective held by some key individuals, again at every level I ever worked from store managers, assistant managers, district managers, and corporate personnel.
The Right Attitude and Approach
The most effective way to turn a detractor into a potential supporter is first to change our attitudes and behaviors.
The great Earl Nightingale said that people give us back reflections of our own attitudes. So if we desire a positive business relationship, it must begin with us! There were many instances where I encountered a pre-conceived negative perception of what benefits the company derived from the loss prevention and safety team and how our efforts contributed to the success of the company. I learned some tough lessons over the years. The most important one was that every morning, I had to make a conscious decision either to awake with a grateful, appreciative heart and mindset with high expectations for progress and success or to allow a negative thought or encounter to influence and dominate my day.
I learned that when presenting to a large group of cross-functional teams, remain focused and deliver the message to the 85 to 90 percent of the room that believe in and support LP programs, rather than trying to target the 10 to 15 percent of the detractors who are amazingly consistent in trying to identify defects or obstacles.
My next article will be a continuation on the all-important topic of building strong cross-functional business partnerships at all levels. If you have a personal story you would like to share about an occasion where you reacted impulsively when confronted with a difficult situation and what you learned from your experience, please feel free to share. I may include it in an upcoming segment.