The closing of Target in Canada within a couple of years of the iconic US retailer expanding its business in an attempt to become multi-national in an attempt to complete and grow against its main competitor (small company based out of Arkansas) is sad.
Sad because over 17,000 people lost their jobs and need to start over.
Sad because the brand of a true ironic American company has taken a big bruising.
Sad because, if the expansion was executed correctly, it would have changed, and probably improved, the retail landscape for Canadian consumers, not to mention the impact it could have had internationally.
And most importantly, sad because it didn’t have to turn out this way.
I have waited to share my thoughts on this news so it could allow me to think about how to comment on this property, while taking in the commentary and opinions of others.
There are those that come out and blame the logistical failure that led to empty shelves.
A number of people pointed to pricing differences between the US and Canada that had Canadian consumers scratching their heads at the perception that Target Canada’s pricing was inconsistent and unfair.
Pundits point to the poorly chosen locations that Target chose after the demise of Zellers in Canada, as well as the strategy of opening too many stores at once while not learning this new and culturally different market.
In the end, while these may be reasons (excuses) for a series of failures, the failures of execution stem from the failure of leadership. And this goes all the way to the top, and every leadership level on the way there.
Imagine the scene in the boardroom at Target a few years back. Imagine executive management making a very slick presentation to the Board as to the Who, What, Where, Why, When and How of expanding into Canada. Imagine that everyone was giddy with expectations of success, profits and accolades. The strategy was set. All was needed was the execution of the strategy.
When I picture the final approval at the table, my childhood memory is of Captain James T. Kirk saying those famous words “Make it So, Number One”.
Obviously, “making it so” is a lot easier said than done. Target’s Canadian adventure is one more highly publicized misadventure for MBA case studies of the near future.
Leadership Talent is where this fell apart. All the actions or inactions, reasons or excuses, come from the fact that the right people were not hired or promoted to make this grand scheme work.
I continue to see, time and time again, situations where companies do not bring on board the best possible leadership talent to execute. Execution not only means following the original strategic plan, but making sure that the plan continues to evolve as the situation evolves. The mistakes we know about, as well as the mistakes we will never hear about, all contributed to the demise of this $4 billion dollar adventure for Target shareholders.
I also continue to see, time and time again, choices being made in executive hiring that are emotional, personal and illogical. Vested interests lead to decisions being taken without proper assessment of the true needs compared to the knowledge, skills and abilities of the best candidates for these mission critical roles.
The bright side of the Target foray into Canada is the impact that Target culture has had on a generation of Canadian employees. I enjoyed reading and hearing about the warm, motivating, employee excellence and recognition culture that permeated the organization. I believe that employers and employees across Canada will benefit from the introduction of these ideas into businesses across Canada for years to come.
But to paraphrase Peter Drucker:
Culture may eat strategy for breakfast, but Leadership talent ensures that there is food on the table.
Samuel Dergel is a Principal with Dergel Executive Search. He is an executive search consultant, executive coach, blogger, speaker, trainer and author.
This blog originally appeared in Samuel’s CFO Blog
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