It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like… Really?

Actually it’s a little late. October 1 marks the start of Christmas for many retailers. And having spent 31 years as a retailer, my spirit is attuned to that rhythm.

In fact, since I was in national store operations for almost all of those years, October seems really late to me. You see, in order for stores to ramp up to the big holiday launch in October that is so annoying to us as consumers, retailers start planning months in advance. In order buy – or manufacture – their holiday goods, they have to place their orders no later than June (and even that is late in some industries), which means planning where in the stores they’ll display those items for maximum sales, what complementary items will accompany them, and how they’ll advertise and market them. Oh, there’s some last minute responding to “sleeper” products or even products you weren’t expecting at all. But mostly corporate offices are planning far in advance.

Once the plans are semi-final, they have to be communicated to the store employees. Store managers need to know the timing of the big holiday reset so they can schedule the store employees to actually make it happen – which in some retailers means “banking” payroll from the weeks leading up to that date by under-staffing the store, so they have enough hours to implement the change without exceeding their payroll budget – and they need to consider how to introduce the company marketing push to their teams in a way that it is remembered. Why is it so important to offer the annual plush animal at Macy’s or the holiday-scented soft-soap at the body store? Is the cosmetic store pushing spray on eye shadow services for all those holiday parties? Or the clothing boutique offering a gift-with-purchase? The employees need to understand all of these things in order to offer them to you in a way that makes you want to bite. They also need to understand exactly how each display must be set up (and maintained) to look and sell the best.

And there are other, operational things that store managers need to do. They need to project their scheduling needs for the holiday: look at how many transactions they rang up by hour or quarter hour for each day in the holiday season last year, increase or decrease it based on their recent sales trends and how they think they’ll do this holiday; those numbers (did you know retail managers were so good at math? thank goodness A.I. does so much of this for them now) determine how many employees they’ll need throughout the store. They need to do this now so they can figure out how much holiday help to hire, which has to be done earlier every year because a) the best candidates will get snapped up by other retailers in the mall or the neighborhood so you want to get them first and b) you have to allow time to train them on whatever procedures they need to know and about all the merchandise that is in the store.

Oh, and managers need to think about all sorts of unimaginable preparation steps; special holiday safety and security practices have to be dusted off and reintroduced each year; if they have a stock room, it has to be reorganized in preparation for the glut of holiday merchandise that gets pushed into stores before the shipping industry gets bogged down with all those packages your sending to relatives; cash registers and other equipment need to be tuned up, and all those extra cash registers have to be dragged out of storage and updated; speaking of which, they need to figure out how to keep the lines moving when all the registers they can fit are manned and ringing as fast as they can those last few days after the internet stops shipping; and nowadays, they need to plan how to keep up with the buy-on-line-pick-up-in-store orders when the store is packed with customers, to say nothing of staffing the phone lines. Just to name a few of the things that go into holiday planning.

And the national store operations department is often the coordinator of all this information. For over 20 years, my team owned the holiday preparation checklist and communicated the merchant’s plans to the stores, all this in addition to the everyday work we did the rest of the year, and the last-minute push of oh-god-gotta-get-this-in-stores-before-the-no-new-programs-because-it’s-holidays-freeze projects that everyone procrastinates on throughout the summer then rushes out in August/September because otherwise they have to wait until January. Since the store managers had to start the checklist no later than Labor Day (and even that was late, they told me every year), we were often working late throughout August, and you could hear Christmas music coming out of my office as early as mid-July. (Another occupational hazard: we were working so far ahead on the calendar that by October, I was planning out January, and accidentally dating my memos with the following year.)

Where was I going with all this? Oh yes. Change Management.

I was going to share the change management toboggan ride that we all go through when we’re experiencing change. We start out at the top of the first hill (wee-ha, look at this hill, this is going to be great!) then shoot downhill into the “pit of despair” as we begin to realize that we’re actually going to have to work (oh no, look how tall that next hill is, how will I ever climb up) followed by a slog up that darn hill (two steps forward… oh no, I’m slipping! one step at a… slipping!), ending with mastery (wow, look at the view. I don’t know why I thought that was so hard). Your change agent is the person who helps you realize how much fun you’re going to have on that first hill, cheers you on when you’re at the bottom looking up, lends a hand as you’re climbing the next hill, and shakes your hand at the top of the final climb.

Here’s one of my favorite examples. Don’t ask me where it comes from because I can’t remember. It may look familiar.

Holiday Change Management Model

Think of this the next time you’re leading a change effort – and ask yourself, what kind of support are you providing your team in each of these phases?

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