Talbots is a women's clothing and apparel company based in Hingham, Mass., that operates more than 500 stores across the nation and employs more than 9,000 people.
At one time, I was heading up the merchandising function at Talbots, and there was a relatively new group of executives. There was a misalignment around our direction and goals, so there was a huge lack of clarity and vision, which created a situation where my team was fragmented.
There just wasn't a unified vision of where to take the company, and that manifested itself in how I was managing my team and how I was managing my part of the business. I was trying to go with the flow while trying to figure out how I could create my own perspective or get my own objectives through, but that misalignment had ripple effects through the organization and the business. Teams started working counter to each other without really knowing it. We weren't all rowing in the same direction.
The customer experienced it with us, too—anything from customer service to brand, to the direction of what the stores would look like. Customers were confused. They were saying, “This doesn't look like my brand,” because we were changing what the brand was day by day. We would photograph things for the catalogue and we would use the imagery to put in the windows, yet the product wasn't in the stores. The customer was only able to buy it online, so she would see something in the window or in the catalog, she'd come into the store and she'd be very confused that it wasn't available to her.
People need to know why they're coming to work every single day and what you're trying to achieve.
I think that it starts with leadership and having clear objectives and goals and then letting them manifest themselves every single day. You have to always adjust for business, obviously, but I would say that my learning was that this holds at all levels—this isn't just about a CEO, it's about any leader of any team. Make sure that you are clear about what you're trying to achieve and that you have alignment and buy-in from your team members so that they have clear priorities and they know what they're doing. People need to know why they're coming to work every single day and what you're trying to achieve.
How you get there can change a little bit, but ultimately, “this is what we're trying to achieve” is so critical as a leader—to just crystallize that and have that perspective with your your team.
How do you manifest those goals all the way through the organization and with clarity? When you're leading a team or an organization, you have to be clear about, “these are the filters, these are the guard rails where we don't go.”
Simplify what your goals are. So if we're targeting a 45- to 65-year-old customer, we don't want to fit a model that is right for a 25-year-old customer. Be really clear about who you're targeting and what you ultimately want to achieve, instead of having an executive team that says, “We just want more!” Well, "more" looks different to every team.
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Photo courtesy of Talbots.