retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

A number of years ago, a retail executive I knew posed an interesting thought. At his company (like most), store and department managers’ performance were graded on simple and important measures such as sales, profits, and staff turnover.

All were and are important measures, but he said, they also missed something incredibly important. As he put it, many of those measures were the result of issues that no manager could actually control or influence.

Two stores could be generating the same sales and margins, for example, but perhaps their managers should be judged differently - especially if one is in a tough competitive situation and the other is not. The store manager in the latter case could be seen as underperforming, while n the former case, the manager could be a star. Context can matter as much as numbers, maybe more.

Incredibly, two recent sports stories made me think about the difficulty of measuring those intangibles. The first was Jacob deGrom being named the best pitcher in the National League for the second consecutive year despite barely winning more than half his games in either year.

However, as we diehard New York Mets fans know, deGrom’s brilliance is usually undermined by his teammates. The reason he doesn’t win more often is his team seems to forget to score any runs on the days he pitches or, worse yet, they find new and creative ways to lose despite his sterling performances.. Luckily for deGrom, baseball in recent years has come to embrace new statistics that more accurately measure the impact of an individual player on any game. By those measures, deGrom is almost without peer.

Sadly, business hasn’t found similar measures, but the deGrom model reminds us that old measures might not accurately portray any situation.

The second story involved Alex Smith, a competent, but unspectacular quarterback for the Washington professional football team (whose name and play are both offensive.) A year ago, Smith suffered a gruesome leg injury that ended his season and possibly his career. While Smith wasn’t seen as a superstar, his team now talks about how his competence and calm demeanor helped paper over countless deficiencies glaringly obvious in his absence.

To make it simple: the team had won six of its first nine games last year with Smith. This year the team has won just one of it’s first 10 games. Clearly Smith made a difference.

His case is a reminder that at times great performers show their mettle in how they improve the entire team, not just with their own performance. There’s no guarantee the team would be better with Smith, but clearly it is significantly worse.

It’s a reminder that we need to evaluate people in more sophisticated and nuanced ways because their impact might occur in many ways that don’t show up on the top or bottom lines. But they are incredibly valuable all the same. Maybe most valuable.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.

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