Sunday, April 26, 2009

Soft Push

I'm not sure if this is a topic or strategy to better lead generation Y but as I work at Starbucks and predominantly manage Gen Y'ers I wanted to write about a process that I call Soft Push.

I've had the fortunate opportunity to be transferred more times than I have fingers. I'm writing today about my strategy and tactics that I employ when I get transferred to a new store. In most cases being transferred or taking over a store does not mean that its a positive move and entails many opportunities that need to be changed in the store.

Soft Push starts off with coming into the store with the mindset of doing exactly as the strategy's name. Softly Pushing. Its coming with the idea that you need build a certain level of rapport if you want to change any process, culture, or systems the store already has in place. Its the balance between building trust and relationship while moving the needle and creating the foundational changes that need to be made to turn a business.

I start off by immediately trying my hardest to get to know every single employee and customer that I can for the first few weeks. And when I mean getting to know them, I truly mean getting to know them, even in their personal hobbies and interests as well as with their perspective on work. That interest in people serves two purposes: 1. it creates interest back and immediate fondness and rapport. 2. it also tells you a lot about the culture, personality and limits of your people.

People always ask me how I "change" stores so successfully so quickly? What systems do I use? what strategies do I have? but it has nothing to do with my systems or process. A system and process is only another tactic; its the people that run the systems and processes that create the end result. You can get from point A to B in a million different ways; its the manager that gets to Point B the fastest and creates sustainability that is successful. In order to be that manager you need to learn to balance between pushing your team to change while making sure you work on the relationship so that they don't despise you. If you remember the movie the "Bronx Tale" when Sonny say's "be strong enough so they respect you, but love them enough so they don't hate you". Although I hate relating successful management to organized crime the philosophy and skills of leadership are the same no matter what your industry. So when people ask me what my strategy is I try and explain Soft Push because the strategy is not tactical its building relationships and indirectly building your team and constantly adapting and fine tuning to ensure that your pushing but softly.

During this rapport building your looking for ways to optimize the work flow. Work the way they work, and try and understand why they do things the way they do it. People at the bottom always have more knowledge about what they do than what we give them credit for and the best ideas come from the people actually doing the job. And then you softly push them to the desired change needed. You find the key people that you know will speak up and have built a good rapport with. Start asking them questions, ie "so . . . why do we have these here and do this? isn't there a better way to do this?" "it really bugs me when I have to go back and forth twice to do the same job, do you know what I mean?" and always finish it off with a "what do you think we can do?" and even if the idea they propose is illogical or worse you support it and foster it. The actual end result is not as important at this phase as the soft push in culture is. Its creating ownership from your team, empowering them to think about efficiency and the bigger picture. These small steps, although slow and sometimes arduous will in actuality lead to a faster and more sustainable turnaround of profits, work environment, and ultimately customer experience in the bigger picture or 6 month view of the business. So when that bad idea from an employee is executed to failure, you make sure to laugh it off and assure the employee the problem can easily be fixed and encourage them to try a different tactic until they land on something better.

Once you have the team agile and accepting of change you can start weeding the bad players out and truly creating the systems and vision for your business. Working on optimizing the layout for work flow efficiency, focusing on sales building, people development you name it.

The tricky part in Soft Pushing is to never get stressed out, when utilizing this strategy especially with Generation Y'ers because the first couple of weeks will be text message mania! with successes and failures, he said she said, this and that. Always stay calm and positive and encourage thought and build rapport while analyzing your people's threshold for ambiguity, patience, intellect, social skills, and creativity. Most people don't care how much you know but how much you care. You can learn more about how to lead your people when you let them tell you what they need to work on. Encourage it and gather as much information because once you have your core team soft push becomes power play (which I'll go over next time).

I will say that this soft push strategy has worked for me and I've fine tuned it to a pretty confident skill level, is it the best way? I don't know. I've seen managers come in and fire and replace the entire staff, I've seen managers try and gain "buy in" and change the store manually, and I've see everything in between. Over the years I've found my method to be the most optimal in saving labor costs, morale, and turning the business around the quickest and effectively. Who knows? Its my blog so I'll say what I want. :) And with my audience being Generation Y workers I utilize their mediums of communication and culture to help them relate to my end goal. Learn your balance. People say you can't be all things to all people, but with proper planning and diligence you can get fairly close and fairly close is all you need for a short amount of time for Generation Y to want to follow your leadership.


  1. Very interesting. I never even heard of the term "soft push" before. Thanks for the information.

  2. I made the term up. It's just what I call the strategy that I use. :P

  3. Wow, that's really interesting stuff man. It makes a lot of sense-- if you gain the trust/relationships of the people you're in charge of they will want to work harder for you.

    I remember when I was in retail, new managers would come in and never really try to get to know us and they would just kind of take over and change everything, and we always hated it. If they would have made this effort in the beginning, we would've supported them all that much more.