Action learning and retail….the challenge of responding quickly and thinking deeply

With our retail clients at the moment we are hearing about the excitement of working with something tangible and their joy in seeing the products being valued and recognised.

The context for retail is difficult however. Our high streets look very different from what they did even as little as four to five years ago – with lots of empty space and pop up stores indicating the rate of change in the sector.

Action learning in this very dynamic market has particular challenges.  People in retail have to respond to customer needs immediately and measure performance by the instant feedback on the till. Successful retail companies are acutely responsive to customers and a lot of that is about speed.

This can make the pace of action learning seem very alien initially in retail organisations.  Where customers come first and they are right in front of you, there is less time to reflect on core issues and great pressure to come up with an immediate solution that means someone leaves your store happy.

Our retail clients tell us it is precisely the chance to step back and reflect which is of so much value in action learning.  Being asked a challenging question and given the space to consider it, creates the possibility of a more reflective learning experience than is often possible.

The kinds of questions we are hearing are:

• What is the root cause here?
• How does this link to the bigger picture?
• What are the consequences for the rest of the organisation?
• How can we maximise learning across the company?

The value of sharing with colleagues across the organisation builds a better understanding of all the aspects of the business.   Set members build their business knowledge through the exploration of challenges such as the breadth of the supply chain, new product development, manufacturing trials and the impact of the current regulatory environment.

These business content skills are being developed at the same time managers learn how to ask open insightful questions, practise listening deeply to what is being both said and unsaid and gain confidence in their ability to work in groups.  The skill of coaching others to perceive and achieve their own actions in the fast moving retail workplace is proving of real value in this action orientated environment.


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