What Every Leader Can Learn from Sears’ Pending Liquidation

Did you hear about Sears? CNBC just reported Sears could force liquidation within 24 hours.

A litany of issues has inflicted pain, if not utter destruction, on the once dominate retailer. Consider the:

  • Advent of eCommerce
  • Powerhouse that is Amazon
  • 2008 recession’s impact on expendable incomes
  • Three-headed dragon of globalization, digitization, and regulation
  • List goes on and on…

Each of these issues provides both valid and convenient excuses for poor performance.

I say valid because these are “real” issues that have changed the retail landscape and made competition arguably more intense than ever.

I say convenient as the ability to reasonably place the blame on external factors causes some to fail to own the choices they made – or failed to make.

I don’t know for certain, but I would imagine that as things were spiraling downward at Sears, people were failing to discuss, fix, or even acknowledge the realities of the situation.

Allow me to use this article to challenge you and your organization about some of the issues you may be facing, or worse yet, ignoring.

You are no doubt familiar with the expression, “ignoring the elephant in the room.” It refers to a big issue that no one in the organization talks about, but everyone knows exists.

Some elephants are thrust upon an organization by external forces (e.g., economy, regulatory issues, etc.); however, many are the direct result of allowing baby elephants to mature in front of everyone’s eyes.

  • Perhaps it’s a project that is doomed, but so much energy and political cache has been invested in the effort that no one is willing to scrap it – so, good money is thrown after bad.
  • Maybe it’s an unhealthy or unprofitable customer relationship that was so difficult to acquire in the first place that termination is unspeakable.
  • Possibly a manager who treats everyone poorly, but delivers results – he needs to go before a lawsuit arrives; however, we choose to ignore the bad behavior in hopes that it will stop on its own.

Here are four things for you to consider about the baby elephants in your midst:

1. Little Things Become Big Things:

A few years ago New York City authorities put sizeable effort behind graffiti removal and stopping subway riders from jumping turnstiles. Many credit the decision to focus on small infractions as key to the precipitous decline citywide of more serious crimes. Small things matter – sweeping them under the rug typically leads to a bigger mess that will need to be cleaned up by someone.

2. You’re Not Too Busy, It’s Your Job. Many leaders spend their days rushing from meeting to meeting or digging through a virtual email pile. These activities may be important, and certainly keep one busy, but they also cause distraction from more critical issues. Consider the restaurant manager who walks past trash on the floor because he has paperwork to attend to or the production supervisor who sees a minor safety issue but says nothing because she is racing to a meeting. They may rationalize their lack of action or be so preoccupied that they failed to notice the problems – either way, they are feeding baby elephants.

3. Know What Right Looks Like. A leader can’t address a baby elephant if he or she doesn’t know what right looks like. Leaders must invest time in learning standard procedures. They need to understand how jobs should be done or how something works. Stepping out of the comfort zone might be required, but we learn nothing when we are comfortable.

4. Learn How to Give Feedback. Another reason that people ignore baby elephants is because they aren’t comfortable giving feedback to employees much less peers or supervisors. An organization will spend significant money installing a performance management system yet fail to invest time teaching people how to give open, candid feedback. Sure, a talent management system s important, but it doesn’t outweigh the ability to directly address issues.

Are you caring and feeding for a baby elephant?

Have you even stopped to consider if any are wandering around the office?

Take time to address them now before one grows into a 13-foot tall, 15,000 pound pachyderm that no one can ignore.


Photo by Evan Wise on Unsplash