Leadership Development is Evolving with Modern Times

Joachim Nisgaard, Group Senior Director, and Head of Talent Management & Learning, at Salling Group

Generally, a leader is differentiated by the way he applies his personality, communication as well as social skills to manage people and business decisions. In a low margin industry such as retail, a leadership approach—be it effective or ineffective—can significantly impact both the employees and customers further affecting the ROI. A retail manager must find a sweet spot between task direction and people management. While an excessively task-oriented retail manager puts very little effort into the people side of leadership causing employees to burnout, an overly relationship-oriented manager can fall short when employees feel little pressure to perform. In both cases, the retail store suffers in areas such as productivity, efficiency, and revenue. Thus, retail managers must acquire skills to leverage task direction and people management as per requirement.

The Succession of Leadership 

Every organisation no matter how big or small must have a framework for building the next generation of leaders by creating a leadership pipeline model. If an organisation doesn’t have a strong pipeline of leaders, it might have to rely on hiring external candidates to fill the leadership roles. In the retail space, leadership succession models are imperative to identify capable leaders within the organisation and assess their competencies as managing a physical store with several teams is a demanding position. We, at Salling Group, have spent a lot of resources in developing a robust pipeline of leaders proficient in handling our complex retail operations as we expand. 

What Makes a Good Leader?

Good leadership depends on the predefined expectation from a role a manager has taken. For instance, a retail manager is leading a team of 800 people in a hypermarket. Within this team, the manager has to efficiently communicate the roles and responsibilities of all the sub-teams and their respective leaders. Similarly, if a manager is running a small store, his predefined duties would be entirely different. Thus, good leadership varies depending on what tasks and responsibilities are expected from a leader and how well he can perform them. We believe that effective leadership comprises one-third strategy, one-third tactics, and one-third operational efficiency. At the same time, a good leader must also be adept in zooming in to pinpoint the flaws in the strategy or tactics and should be skilled in zooming out to see the bigger picture of operations—depending on the situation.  

For us, being in the retail space, we ensure that the leadership training we provide to our up and coming leaders has all the three aspects. We also instil in our future leaders that a task must not be perceived as a ‘job that has to get done.’ Instead, it must be performed with utmost sincerity.  

Thriving in the Pandemic 

I believe that one of the most important aspects of leadership is adapting to the situation. When the pandemic struck Denmark, we very quickly adapted to the situation. We communicated with our HR management team on a daily basis to support our thousands of leaders who were transitioning to higher management roles. In our meetings with the HR team, we spent a considerable amount of time understanding the situation and then translating it into a specific roadmap to manoeuvre in these circumstances for our company, our current leaders, as well as the ones in training. I manage my own team and we had daily virtual meetups discussing a strategy to navigate through different projects. We only focused on what was really important and shunned non-essential things. I believe in such a crisis, communication is the biggest strength of an effective leader.  

For the employees and leaders in transition, we offered them guidance to help them connect emotionally with their team while working remotely. We ensured that the employees were physically and mentally fit while working from home. For instance, we collaborated with top Olympic athletes in Denmark who provided different sorts of resources and inspiration for our employees to stay physically fit. Salling Group also partnered with sports psychologists to support its employees’ mental health and assist them in navigating in different situations. 

Our leaders were very tolerant and understanding of the fact that the employees were facing different dilemmas such as balancing work and life and at the same time homeschooling their kids. In simple words, our overall approach to the crisis was to be very flexible, understanding, and supporting of our employees. As good leaders do, we adapted to the situation.    

The Salling Group Approach

At Salling Group, we believe that it is absolutely crucial to nurture up and coming leaders when they are in the midst of the leadership transition program. Generally, organisations focus on leadership development prior to a manager moving to a new role. However, in my experience, I have learned that it is paramount to support managers whilst they are in transition from one role to another. 

With us, it usually takes a manager three to nine months to transition into a new role because we not only provide theoretical knowledge but also scenario-based training to strengthen the competencies and work values that are required to move into a new leadership role. We strongly believe that while moving into new leadership roles, an employee has to learn and unlearn some aspects of managing people. Our approach is to help the employees during the transition and support them with a 100-day plan.   

A Word of Advice 

Organisations must focus on two things: good leadership depends on what a manager leads and the support while transitioning between roles. In some instances, organisations believe that leading a team of 30 members is similar to leading a team of 200 people. It’s pertinent for organisations to realise that as employees move up in leadership roles they must learn and simultaneously unlearn a few aspects of leadership.   

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