How to get a notoriously siloed industry to speak bluntly

It takes a lot of trust to have an open dialogue among fiercely competitive leaders. Here’s how: York University, Toronto - ON, Canada

Interview with Jim Danahy: Application of Solution Focus in a Kitchen Table Roundtable

Jim, you recently organized a roundtable for the RAC as part of your Centre for Retail Leadership (CRL) featuring three senior marketing leaders from large retailers like Home Depot, Loblaws and Canadian Tire. Can we have your views on the session facilitation using a Solution Focused version of Rick Wolfe’s Kitchen Table model.

Thinking of the dynamic dialogue (among a great panel including yourself) that took place at the table, what pleased you most about the conversation?

Center for Retail Leadership, in the Schulich Executive Education Centre, Schulich School of Business at York University

In a notoriously siloed, secretive and competitive industry, three of its most influential leaders avoided the temptation to spew platitudes and chose instead to speak bluntly on some very thorny industry topics and identify a few specific ways they can elevate their profession together. It was the real deal.

Can you point to one or two aspects of the Solution Focus facilitation approach that added value to what the audience experienced?

They spoke about current relevant issues and gave examples of ways each will immediately make things better both within their organizations and in better future industry collaborations.

At the Kitchen Table we come to share news, ideas, have a laugh and to disagree. We want the panel to engage in rambunctious interaction with each other. How does that set it apart from the traditional panel moderation approach?

It prevents scripted messages and brings out candour.

If I were a prospective participant at the Centre for Retail Leadership, what would I have enjoyed most when the main themes of the panel were offered to the audience for discussion?

No one was stuck ‘on message.’ You heard uncommonly candid opinions from senior executives. You should take comfort that the people ‘on the bridge of the ship of retail’ appreciate their own leadership responsibilities, and that recruiting, training and rewards systems must change dramatically to get retail results – starting today.

If I were a panel member how would I have benefitted from the dialogue?

We’re not alone and there is much we can do, and have committed to do, as an industry to advance our profession. Some panelists made specific new plans for staff interactions later the same day. Not bad for 90 minutes over eggs and coffee.

What three things please you most about your work in making the Centre for Retail Leadership happen?

All three things revolve around a real hunger to build professionalism in our industry. 1) As a 3rd generation member of “the accidental profession,” I was especially encouraged to see some of the country’s biggest retailers were first to bring their senior and high potential executives in to the Centre for Retail Leadership to help them tackle specific objectives 2) Mid-sized retailers and major consumer products vendors are now reaching out to us to help them build retail best practices 3) Individual retail professionals have begun to ask for open enrolment programs to build their careers with retail-specific skills and leadership courses.

the Center for Retail Leadership, in the Schulich Executive Education Centre, Schulich School of Business at York University

About Jim: A third generation retailer, Jim Danahy is director of the Center for Retail Leadership, in the Schulich Executive Education Centre, Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto. He is also CEO of CustomerLAB, a retail productivity firm serving retailers across North America since 1994.