Accelerate Frontline Leadership Effectiveness
Every customer service experience begins with the leader

Director Doug Fleener

Keynote speaker
Mangement contrarian
Frontline leadership expert

Doug Fleener, the former director of retail for Bose Corporation, is an engaging and entertaining speaker known for bring fresh thinking and powerful actionable ideas to audiences and clients around the world.

Fleener's quick wit, and passion for people and the impact frontline leaders have on employees, customers, and results, make him not just a crowd pleaser but an incredible motivator. 

Doug's practical expertise has been cited in over 300 newspapers, magazines, and news programs including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Money, Shopping Centers Today, Wired, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, New England News, and MSNBC. 

Retail | Hospitality | Banking | Food and Beverage | Automotive | Financial Services | And all other service-focused industries

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The Outfront Frontline Leadership Blog

By Doug Fleener 23 Aug, 2016

When I was nine or ten years old, someone told me about a great way to sneak in to the movies. At least I thought it was a great idea. I was told that all I had to do was walk backwards into the movie theater when everyone else was leaving.

One day my friends and I decided to try it at the Lincoln Theater. (I grew up in Illinois so everything had Lincoln's name on it.) As soon as the movie was over and the crowd started streaming out, we started walking backwards towards the exit doors.

Okay, so it wasn't such a great idea. We ran in to all kinds of people, got called all kinds of names, and then backed right into the propped-open doors. Either I was not a very smart kid or I was incredibly gullible, but you had to respect my willingness to try new things.

Walking backwards may not be such a great idea, but what does work is to work backwards in designing your sales and experience strategies.

In most companies the executives, buyers, home office team, and/or owners work from their perspective, not the customer's. They first determine what they want to achieve and how they're going to do it. The goal might be increasing sales, traffic, or sell-through of particular products. The solution seems to always be a training, which may or may not be the answer. 

There is a better way.  Start with the customer and work (not walk) backwards to the office.

Let's say you want to increase sell through of green widgets by 15%. What has to happen on the floor to get customers to buy 15% more widgets?

I've learned to start looking for the answer on the sales floor itself, asking frontline employees how they think we can create success. Then I spend time observing both customers and employees to identify other potential opportunities.

Working backwards, identify what you want the customer to think and do that will increase widget sales. Then, what behaviors and actions does the staff need to start, stop, do more or less of to enable the customer to think and do those things?  That's a big piece that is frequently missing in sales and service experience strategies.

From there you do the work you've always done, but do it backwards. Identify what tools and processes need to be adapted, added, or changed. What merchandising and in-store messaging need to happen? Once you've answered those questions you can start to determine the training, communications, and in-house support plan. Continue to work backwards to the marketing strategy.

The difference between the two approaches is that by working backwards, you start where success has to happen: on the floor with the customer and the staff. None of the rest matters if you miss there.

You'll always be more successful if you work backwards. Maybe I was just ahead of my time that day at the Lincoln Theater.

So let me ask, how well are you working backwards to find the right opportunities and solutions to improving your sales and service experience?

Have a great week!

By Doug Fleener 11 Aug, 2016

One of the most important aspects of a frontline leader's job is to develop the leaders that work for them. Here are three suggestions for better developing your frontline leaders:

1. Delegate more than tasks. There are three level that you can delegate: tasks, responsibility, and complete accountability. Too many leaders only delegate tasks to their managers, which gives them no true opportunity to lead.

When you delegate responsibility, you hand it off to the other leaders. She owns it, but you still consider yourself accountable. When you delegate accountability you are no longer involved at all. You should be delegating all three levels.

2. Create a specific individual leadership development plan. Every leader you coach should know exactly what his strengths and areas of opportunity are, and have a very specific development plan for you to help him be even better.

Don't fall into the trap of being too generic, saying things like, "Be a better coach." Be specific. "Work with all associates whose average sale is below x amount, and report back on a weekly basis for four weeks." is the sort of thing you want.

3. Give immediate feedback on her leadership and coaching. This is one of the most overlooked actions a leader can take when coaching a leader. Tell the staff the other leader is in charge for the day, and to only come to you in an emergency. Now spend your time observing how the leader leads and coaches her team.

Give her feedback in the moment so she can apply it immediately. This is a great exercise for all managers, not just those who have been recently promoted.

So let me ask, how are you doing coaching your leaders? Which of these three suggestions can you apply to help your leaders become even better? What specific actions will you take this week help your frontline leaders be more effective?

By Doug Fleener 04 Aug, 2016

With low unemployment and so many companies in need of help, the competition for top candidates is definitely on the rise. I can personally attest to this from consulting with a client who is working overtime to find good people.

Here are some tips and ideas for filling open positions with amazing people.

1. Cast a wider net. I believe in attracting as many candidates as possible. I recommend stop requiring people to have retail or sales experience. I’d rather wade through a bunch of nos to find an unexpected amazing yes, than hope I can attract that one yes that just so happens to be looking to change companies.

2. Compensate your staff for recruiting. Your best recruiters already work for you. I'd rather pay my staff a referral bonus than spend that money on advertising, but there's a good chance I'll have to do both.

3. Advertise where job seekers are looking. I know that sounds completely obvious, but I continue to meet people who are still using classified ads - with no luck. I've had the most success with Craigslist and Indeed, marginal success with Zip Recruiter and LinkedIn, and the least amount of success with Monster (unless it is for a high level position). Your results may vary.

Also, contact all of your local colleges. Especially with kids starting back up. I’m okay if I lose them for the summer. I’ll take an amazing employee for nine months over an average person that I don’t have to replace.

4. It's all in the headline. I've been doing extensive testing of what sort of headlines work best, and I've learned that the least effective headline is what perhaps 95% of retailers do - use the job title as the headline.

The most effective ad headlines focus on the quality of the work environment. Sample headlines I've tested successfully:

* Work Where You're Appreciated and Make a Difference.

* Join Our Amazing Team

* Work With Fabulous People and Products

* We’re the Company You’ve Been Looking For

5. Post on your own social media.  Just make sure you position it as hiring additional or seasonal help. You never want to inadvertently give the impression that your store is understaffed. Again, it's all in the headline.

6. Start with a phone interview. Phone interviews are a quick and easy way to screen your applicants. It also allows me to interview more applicants I've attracted with my wider net. I usually know within 10 minutes if this is someone I want to get to know better. If it is, I schedule an in-person interview. If not, I thank the person for his/her time and wish them the best of luck.

7. Have them work the floor as part of the interview. Anyway can say they’re a “people person.” Show me! I’m not just talking about roleplaying. I have the applicants welcome and engage customers. I always ask managerial applicants to work the floor for a few minutes. I want to see how they handle pressure. I know this has kept me from a couple poor hires.

My most amazing hires were people who were just okay in the interview, and then came alive when working with customers. Not surprising since that’s a situation they’re use to.

So let me ask, what else can you do to find and hire amazing people?

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