Post Covid Retail – Team Yes, No and Maybe ?
As part of the series of brief interviews to explore retail practices that are essential for growth in s post Covid landscape we spoke to Phil Dorrell on his long held views on cognitive diversity and why it is the choice of all brave and self-assured leaders.
So Phil first of all what is Cognitive Diversity, it sounds a bit complicated ?
It’s a very simple concept to understand as we are all sub-consciously aware of the people who have the same views and background as we do and those who are different. It’s no surprise that we tend to gravitate to those have similar views and values, it’s human nature. We do it even online in social media where we follow people we feel share the same opinions and ignore (or worse) those who think differently. In business we do the same, and this is where the problems can occur. Listening to and understanding more diverse views is vital in modern culture and business. Many of society’s ills come back to a lack of listening and understanding.
So in practice what does that mean for business and especially retail ?
Well we have had a very challenging year and many people will have seen colleagues leave or be furloughed and others may have noticed a distillation in the leadership, they have circled the wagons and kept the favoured team in the camp. As the CEO and HR make hard decisions it is a brave leader who retains the people on the board who have different views, who question the status quo, not out of spite but because their experience and references may be very far away from the leadership teams. Having had this conversation with many retail leaders I know when I ask them about their team the usual response is one of shared experience and togetherness. Very understandable, especially now, yet not likely to push back and offer contrary views. The current post Covid landscape has changed remarkably, and it is now that we need a very broad set of experience and views in navigating through it. Nobody has all the answers, some diverse teams may just have most of them.
Are you suggesting that people need no men rather than yes men ?
If you boil it down to the core, then yes that is correct, although that is a simplification. I am saying that if CEO’s look around the board room to a team of nodding heads, on strategic decisions and how to execute them, you have to question where are the nay-sayers who would challenge and sharpen decision making. It is much easier to work with people who agree with you all the time, the most productive teams are those that allow real challenge at any level and from that gain from the melting pot of experiences and views.
This sounds a nice to have but how many people really do it ?
The picture I have as a feature of this article is of a small Ford pick up truck, many will recognise. Sam Walton actively encouraged people to swim against the stream, something that meant he had a broad set of views to develop his business. Yes he had really trusted family and team members, yet he was always willing to listen to views outside this small group and accept challenge within it. I know the current Wal-Mart team would like to think this still happens. I have seen this in retail boards from Africa to Australia and of course Europe too. The real added benefit in establishing a cognitive diverse team is that you will rely on fewer outside consultants offering unique perspective that sounds like either genius ideas or re-hashed from a textbook. When the leaders feel they have no say or contribution they often call in consultants to take an “objective” view. I am really proud we have insisted on complete objectivity when working with clients, always interesting, often fun, but inevitably everybody wins when contribution is broad and seasoned judgement applied.