''Part of the reason there’s a scarcity of talent is that retailers and manufacturers simply aren’t investing in the ‘best and brightest’ candidates being produced by colleges and universities today,'' Lippman told attendees at a recent American Apparel & Footwear Association conference at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York. ''Additionally, executive training programs—from which many of today’s talented and successful retail leaders have graduated—are not as prevalent now as they were 15 or 20 years ago, when so many more companies focused on developing leaders for the future.''
Lippman pronounced in a recent panel discussion that current retail training programs do not supply sufficient cross-training to produce the caliber of executives that are the true merchants and leaders of the future. In previous times, he said, trainees were more in tune with customers’ needs. They spent more time in stores meeting and learning about customers’ likes and dislikes, and also worked in the merchandising and planning areas. ''Now, executives rely upon demographics, merchandising statistics, and last year’s results to lead their companies,'' asserted Lippman, who also serves as an adjunct professor at FIT, where he teaches a course on retail leadership skills. ''They have seemingly forgotten the essence of the business—consistently touching and understanding customers and acknowledging that without them, nothing happens. But leaders must have a vision for the future that they can communicate to their organization on a regular basis.'' According to Lippman, retailers must seek talented people within their own organizations and do what’s necessary to promote their development. ''The real talent today is working in your own company, but they are not being trained, challenged, recognized, motivated, or mentored to be the best that they can be,'' he stated. He suggested that merchants consider internal candidates who may not have the specific experience necessary to fill a given position, but who are intelligent, in sync with their companies’ beliefs and values, and have potential that could be maximized with the proper training and mentoring.
High caliber candidates can also be found within competitors’ ranks. Many of these individuals may not want to ''jump ship'' if they feel secure, productive, and appreciated for their contribution to their companies’ success. Attracting the ''best'' and the ''brightest'' from other companies can therefore be a daunting task at times. An organization has to hold the promise of a brighter future for the candidate, tailor the responsibilities and authority to the job title, and offer competitive compensation as well as security in the form of bonuses, stock options, grants, and severance agreements. Lippman states, ''When retention is above average, customer satisfaction, productivity, and profitability also tend to be above average.''
Retailers must be clever to retain top-tier talent once it has been recruited. Although compensation can be critical, employees are usually more concerned about the level of fulfillment they get from their jobs. Lippman backs this up by noting the fact that 41% of executives who participated in a recent survey by Robert Half International listed limited career growth as their rationale for seeking other employment opportunities. According to the study, only 15% of those individuals surveyed cited salary and benefits as a reasonable justification for leaving a job. ''Employees also feel that working with an understanding supervisor or manager in a cooperative and trusting work environment is important,'' Lippman observed. ''They care about their work and how it fits into their lives.''
Lippman encourages organizations to ensure that the candidates they select are not only a good match for the job in question, but that they fit into the culture of the company. A new employee should be aware of what is expected of him or her. New personnel must be provided with the materials and equipment necessary to perform their jobs successfully, and be assigned to managers who are concerned about them and their success. Retailers should also surround talented employees with co-workers who have a similar drive for quality and success, as well as provide opportunities for staff members to learn and grow.
''It is up to each company to be more than competitive when it comes to investing in the future of their organization,'' Lippman concluded. ''Being able to attract the best and the brightest is like a magnet: once retailers have these individuals on board, more of the same will follow.''