The Complete Guide to Aligning Retail Teams

How to connect your frontline store employees to HQ - and everyone in-between.

August 16, 2022

A retail team is like a crew on a boat. In order for the boat to move forward, every different person – from the Store Associate on up to the Regional VP – needs to focus on the same goal. 

Misalignment happens when people receive conflicting communication, which creates competing priorities. If everyone is pulling in a different direction, they’re pulling the organization apart. 

The business – or in this case, the boat – can’t reach its desired destination. 

So, how do you get every crew member on that retail boat to follow the same set of instructions? 

You make sure the right communication gets to the right people.

When everyone knows their part, everyone knows the timing, and expectations are clear. When an organization is aligned like this, everything works more efficiently … and it’s smooth sailing ahead.

Jump ahead:

In short: it’s because retail hierarchies are so complex.

In a typical retail organization, we can’t rely on the traditional “one-to-one” communication flow. Instead, we have to facilitate a “one-to-many-to-many” communication flow. This is a whole lot more complicated.

To illustrate, think about the communication flow necessary to execute a typical store marketing event. It usually looks something like this:

  • First, Headquarters decides what the marketing event should look like, when it should occur, and the actions stores should take to properly execute. Then this information flows down to…

  • … the next level in the organization: what we typically call Field Leaders. These are the District Managers and Regional Directors who oversee large groups of stores. This layer of the organization must interpret what headquarters sent down, decide what’s priority based on their particular market/location needs, and then cascade that information down to the next level…

  • … made up of Store Managers. These managers, who oversee an individual store, must interpret Upper Field’s direction and adapt for their own location and finally rally the last level in the

  • … which are the Frontline Associates – those closest to the customer.

If you communicate everything verbally in this case, it results in a highly protracted game of telephone. Virtually everything is lost in the cascade. By the time the actual instructions get to frontline employees, headquarters teams find them virtually unrecognizable. 

Obviously this is no way to run a multi-billion dollar business. 

On top of this game of telephone is the fact that there are always, always exceptions to this (deceptively simple) hierarchy. 

Maybe somebody’s on a stretch assignment and overseeing two stores, maybe a DM is covering for a maternity leave, maybe there are different types of stores – Outlets, for instance – that roll up into their own reporting structure.

Additionally, many orgs have peripheral teams – like Loss Prevention and Visual Merchandising – that support store groups but with a completely different hierarchy, all their own. An LP Manager, for instance, might support two and a half districts. Or you could have a Visual Merchandising Manager who oversees three flagship stores that span three separate districts.

How can I get everybody on the same page, quickly?

Here’s the secret to getting everybody in your field organization aligned:

Every time you send a message, the people in the org who oversee the people you target it to should receive it too. 

For example: Let’s say you target a message to a single store​. That specific store’s district leader, regional leader, and zone leader should also see the message (and only those leaders). 

There are three reasons why this approach is so effective:

  1. Accountability. What’s a great way to ensure an employee reads their messages? Make sure their boss reads those messages too. If a store is getting direction from HQ but their direct boss (the District Manager) has no way of knowing what that direction says, how can they hold that store accountable?

  2. Visibility. Information becomes a bottleneck when only a select few have access to it. Giving every person in the hierarchy access to a message means you can skip the verbal cascade. Information gets through the ranks faster.

  3. Consistency. If everybody in the hierarchy sees the same message – from a store associate all the way up to a Regional VP – there’s little to no risk of presenting different tiers of the org with conflicting information. This mitigates confusion and spin.

Common pitfalls to avoid

Sending the same message to everybody in your field hierarchy sounds simple enough. But very few retailers actually do it. Instead, many approximate this best practice. 

Do any of the following scenarios sound familiar?

  • You send (and target) communication to stores in a task management system, but your DMs and above don’t access that system on a regular basis. In fact, they might not even know how to log in.

  • You summarize the messages you send to stores into a cohesive one-a-week update, and send that resource to your field leaders to attempt to keep them in the loop.

  • When a message is only applicable to a select group of stores, you attach a “store list” and instruct your field leaders to check that list to determine whether or not the message “applies to them.”

In each of these cases, you’re attempting to send the same message to everybody in your hierarchy, but you’re not really doing it. 

In the scenarios above, you’re managing multiple message channels (because your DMs don’t use the same tool as your stores), you’re maintaining separate versions of the same message (because your DMs need different context), and you’re putting the responsibility back on your upper field teams to sift through communication to determine what applies to them (because your communication tool lacks targeting capabilities). 

In short: a typical retailer’s communication tech stack simply isn’t built for the complexity of the retail hierarchy. 

How Zipline solves the problem.

Zipline is the exception to this rule. That’s because in Zipline, if you send a message to a group of stores, everyone that oversees those stores and HQ will also get a copy. This happens automatically – no need to hand-select from a distribution list.

Everybody shares the same context so there’s not a bunch of mismatched messaging or conflicting information. Team members aren’t forced to rely on word of mouth updates or notes when schedules overlap and can instead refer back to the original message source for guidance. With Zipline’s single-source-of-truth approach, inboxes stay lighter and teams have a shared understanding of what’s expected and what success looks like.

Ready to unleash the full potential of an empowered, aligned, and agile frontline workforce? Zipline’s Store Enablement Assessment measures the effectiveness of your people strategies, communication process, and technology platforms. Take the 10-minute assessment and see how your stores score today.

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