my store is doing great because I’m breaking all our policies

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I have been the manager of a clothing retailer (think along the lines of Forever 21, H&M, etc.) for two-ish years. Unfortunately, the brand at large is not doing very well. My store, however, has outdone our performance metrics by over 400% and for the past five (!!!) quarters has been recognized as the top location in the United States. I’m really, really proud of what my team and I have been able to accomplish.

There’s a catch, though. I did it by breaking all of the rules. The guidelines I’m meant to be following as a manager are pretty draconian and I just could not bring myself to follow them. I rarely follow disciplinary procedures or officially file infractions, and I don’t hold my team to our attendance policies. I basically created my own standards to replace my employer’s standards. As a result, I’ve had several employees tell me they’ve never felt more respected in a workplace before, and I think that shows in the quality of service we provide to our customers! There’s also littler things like creating displays following the guidelines corporate sends out, only to dismantle them and replace them with ones that will actually appeal to our clientele. I know that this isn’t okay, but I’ve always justified it to myself by telling myself that my job is to manage this store and help it be successful. Upper management has been so checked out that I just got comfortable operating things this way.

Last week I got an email saying that they’re sending some strategy consultants to our location to talk to me, pick my brain, etc., and I don’t know what to do, because I feel like everything I’ve done to make our store a good place to work at and shop at has been directly at odds with the instructions and directions I am supposed to be following.

I could just revert things back to the way they should be, and shrug my shoulders whenever the consultants ask me why my store in particular is performing so well, but it feels bad to be given the opportunity to make a difference and not take it because I’m scared of getting in trouble! What do I do!

Readers, this one is yours! Please weigh in via the comment section.

{ 509 comments… read them below }

  1. DeskApple*

    Ask to sit down with the consultants for a few minutes at the start and possibly even provide for them written lists of what you’ve accomplished, tied exactly to the guideline you changed. This way they’ve got metrics to work with and documented evidence of success.

    Michael Scott would be so proud!

      1. Kevin*

        When I worked under an aggressive sales culture at a bank, the one thing that was abundantly clear is that the powers that be gave a lot of slack and even special treatment to top sales performers. Your sales numbers will give you some armor. I agree with others you should be cautious to figure out if they are in the pocket of executives at your company or open minded. But in the end, I wouldn’t shy away from the truth. If they see a model they can replicate, they likely will and may give you some accolades, hopefully. It may require you to make a leap of faith. Only you can decide if you are willing to do that.

    1. No Yelling on the Bus*

      This happened to my Dad – his location out performed everything else nationwide, they brought him to corporate HQ to give a talk on how they do things. He basically said, I make my own rules and they work. They ended up rolling out a new model for all the locations. I agree that the metrics really can do the talking here.

      1. Miette*

        One other thing to add/remind here: ask these consultants what their goals for the conversation are, because that may give you some perspective on what they’re looking for. Because I do think that satisfied employees are adding significantly to your success, but I understand not wanting to share *all* your non-compliance with certain rules if it’ll get you in trouble.

        1. Filosofickle*

          100% this. What they think the goals are is critical.

          Consulting come in a lot of forms, a few minutes talking to them may reveal a lot about their motivations and what is safe to share. Personally, as an outside consultant I fought hard to make sure leadership heard the real truth even if they don’t like it. Others are there to rubber stamp the exec POV. Know who you’re dealing with.

        2. Aardvark*

          It is also worth considering explicitly asking whether there is a risk of retaliation from corporate if the information you give them is counter to current requirements. This at least will make them aware that you expect to be treated well for sharing your knowledge.

      2. redflagday701*

        This is obviously how it should work—and good on your dad!—but I’m worried that the business world has gotten so stupid, OP is going to end up fired, but only after sitting through very grave lectures from both the consultants and upper management.

      3. Armchair Analyst*

        Right, and understand your costs too, not just revenue
        Is changing the rules costing the company more?
        If not, proceed proudly!
        If so… be prepared to justify the costs and tie them directly to ROI, like “paying for 1.5 hours overtime for 2 employees to re-do the display drive up sales of those clothing items from 30% sold to 80%, so it paid for itself 10x” for example

    2. Thistle Pie*

      I think this is the best advice. They could create a table with one column being the achievement/outcome, another the strategy used to achieve it, and a third column of the guideline changed/ignored if applicable. Focus on the outcomes/metrics like you said! Also, perhaps include feedback from employees or shoppers on “this is why I have stayed in this job for 2 years” or this is why I enjoy shopping at this store.

      1. Anon with experience*

        And another column for costs if any. They’re possibly just trying to validate that you’re definitely not being fraudulent, and what the secret sauce is. Be prepared to share how you know what your market needs, because they won’t be able to apply whatever you’re doing identically across all stores. If you’re using some kind of framework/data to decide how to I run your store, it will come across much better for you.

      2. Fierce Jindo*

        I really disagree with being so brazen about breaking the rules like this. A spreadsheet of rules broken! No, I’m with the person saying to frame it as being “responsive to the local culture” and play a little bit dumb about the rules

    3. Artemesia*

      Frame it as ‘adapting to local needs’ ‘responding to our clientele’ ‘adjusting to the local labor market’. You are not breaking rules — you are ‘adapting’ corporate policies to your local labor force and clientele’. Pick an example like displays and talk about how ‘because of X clientele, we find that adapting the displays to XYZ draws more customers.What might work at the stores in Kansas City is not working here in Chicago so we adapt by focussing more on this and that item which is very popular locally.’ On personnel maybe soft peddle. For some reason not being a jerk micromanager might be harder to defend than adapting your marketing to the local market.

      1. Timothy (TRiG)*

        So many companies run their British and Irish locations under a single management structure, which means that Irish shops get a bunch of stock with British flags on them, which sell … poorly. “Adapting to local conditions” by not bothering to put them on the shelves might perhaps be advisable.

        1. happybat*

          Oh no… and I thought the British flaggishness of some shops in Scotland was misplaced! That’s so bad.

        2. Moo*

          every time I see a new Mini on the road, I think someone really saved up for that car only to find their break lights are union jacks after the fact!

        3. John*

          I used to work for a northern Virginia location of the Birmingham, Alabama-based bookseller Books-A-Million and sent us SO MANY books about University of Alabama football, often requiring us to display them prominently on endcaps. I’m not sure we ever sold any of them.

      2. Just Another Cog*

        This sounds like a really good way to frame how OP is so successful, in spite of corporate directives. OP you need to update us!

      3. ABK*

        yes this. Use those words, don’t mention breaking rules or being non-compliant. You’re adapting, adjusting, responding, customizing, personalizing, springboarding, etc etc etc.

        1. Spaghetti for Dinner*

          And you’re not breaking corporate rules with employees either…If asked I would say something like having staff that know and can speak to the products we carry in store is very helpful. Treating staff with respect, kindness and humanity goes a long way to keeping staff on which in turn ups sales due to staff knowledge of the product, customer service levels being kept high by staff who feel looked after and cared about by management. Making sure we connect with our staff on a human level really helps them connect with our customers in the same way. I lead by example….:) Toot your own horn while skirting the fact you don’t write up every 45 second late that someone has…you seem like an awesome person, and manager and I think your staff knows it.

  2. juliebulie*

    Sadly, most of my experience with “breaking the rules” results in being told to do it the “right” way. This is why I can’t stand being micromanaged.

    But the fact that you’re outselling all the other stores makes things a little different. It’s possible that you’ll be in trouble, but money speaks louder than words, so there’s a chance that this could turn into something really good for you and the store.

    (This reminds me SO MUCH of a story arc from The Office. But that doesn’t mean it would turn out the same for you!)

    1. juliebulie*

      Upon further reflection…

      I don’t know if you should tell them ALL of your secrets. They might not be open to hearing about a different employee management approach. (Maybe you can tackle that later.) But stuff like how you set up an appealing display, and other stuff about the store itself, and how you treat customers, that’s all making money and that’s how you do it!

      1. Lauren*

        I agree with this. Tell them you don’t follow policies about selling the merchandise, but don’t tell them you don’t follow employee policies.

        1. Happy Temp*

          My first piece of advice would be to absolutely go back to corporate-dictated merchandising displays! At least in the bookstore world, companies pay big money to have their stuff merchandised in a specific way and place. It would be a HUGE problem if a bookstore completely ignored them and did their own! ADD other merchandising displays and explain how THOSE drive sales better, but I would definitely keep up any merchandising/displays that corporate dictates stores to have or else you’re opening the door to painful consequences.

          1. Totally Minnie*

            I doubt that’s true of the kind of fast fashion stores OP gave as comparisons for their store, though.

          2. Amanda*

            although that’s basically a failure, right? Isn’t the whole thing with the new (more successful) model at Barnes & Noble that it’s actually way more effective to have hyper-local displays and merchandising?

          3. Phryne*

            I think the difference is that bookstores sell other people’s products and so deals made with publishers about certain promotions have to be honoured. Fast fashion shops like H&M only sell their own brand stuff, so there are not likely to be deals like that involved.

        1. Brain the Brian*

          Tell the strategy consultants about the strategic merchandising displays that you’ve set up. If they do talk with employees and learn about how differently you’ve been managing them, you can always say that you hadn’t thought to mention that to a sales strategy team because it’s so tangential to sales.

          1. BethRA*

            The problem with calling that “tangential to sales” is that it makes it more likely they’ll tell OP to go back to following the rules. Which they may do anyway, but if it gets through to someone that OP is succeeding BECAUSE of their approach and not in spite of it, I think there’s a better chance of that not happening.

        2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Great question. I’d probably strongly consider bringing the staff in on the plan, at least in broad strokes. They’ve got to know already that the LW isn’t following all the policies to the letter. Sharing some of the details about some stuff could be bad for the LW and for all the staff. They don’t benefit if the company cracks down on these things or the LW gets replaced by someone stricter.

        3. ecnaseener*

          I feel like that’s the easiest part — the employees love LW’s management, so if they say “hey everyone, if corporate asks, i totally follow all the policies about write-ups wink wink” the employees will go with it.

        4. LTR, FTP*

          I don’t see many employees (in any sector) piping up to higher management “oh my boss never disciplines us!”

          1. Brunelleschi*

            A guileless neophyte might pipe up about how nice it is that their boss is chill about lateness, though. It is worth giving the crew a heads up that the lack of writeups is not business as usual and to lay low.

            1. Ama*

              Yeah I currently manage someone who is just an open book, and our senior management also has some ridiculously strict policies that I try to bend when I can but I always just caution her with a reminder that senior staff has to think the reason I granted something was X (something within our policy) rather than the actual reason. She won’t say anything if I remind her but if I don’t say “Person A needs to not know this” sometimes she just says things without thinking.

              1. WhyIsEverythingBananas*

                This is also critical for people on the team who might not be neurotypical. I’m not dx anything neurodiverse, but I’m that open-book person…and I’m 32 and 6 years into a professional career! I do NOT do well with subtleties of who can and can’t know what pieces unless you tell me specifically “hey this thing? please don’t mention it to x person because y” (I need the ‘because’ or I start to feel extremely anxious). So clearly stating expectations around communication, whether dealing with brand-new workers in their first job, or even more senior folks, is inclusive and provides for accessibility!

                1. Properlike*

                  Same. Very neurodivergent, very rule follower, but happy not to follow a rule if you tell me why.

      2. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

        I was actually going to suggest the opposite. Talk about how changing the employee policies have improved morale, etc.

        Be a little more cautious with things that involve not following branding and display requirements. Some of those might actually be tied into legal contracts with suppliers.

        1. Eagle*

          That’s what I was thinking too. Focus on positive happy employees who feel respected and how you achieve that.

          As for the branding, maybe show the corporate style next to the one that appeals to your local customers and tell the consultants that you think one might sell better than the other? Remind them that different areas and demographics style differently and a one size fits all doesn’t always work.

          If you have any sort of employment contract or other concrete directives, you might want to have a lawyer advise you as to how much trouble you could get into by ignoring all of it.

          Ultimately, you just don’t know enough about the consultants to know if they will throw you under the bus and you don’t know enough about how corporate will take knowing the truth.

          1. Lime green Pacer*

            Last summer, I saw a woman’s clothing store with a display advertisting their awesome 4th of July sale. In Canada.

            1. WhyIsEverythingBananas*

              Hooray, a random day of the week! Let’s celebrate :P
              I mean, to be fair, a lot of sales feel like that. See: Bay Days.

                1. Troyliss*

                  Also, Canada doesn’t have an Independence Day. King Charles III is our official head of state, and up until the late 20th Century July 1st was known as Dominion Day. We downplay that these days and call it Canada Day

            2. ElTrotsky*

              Maybe they were doing it for Canada Day too and didn’t want to spend money to print a bunch of signage changing the date by a couple of days lol

            3. Phryne*

              Well, black Friday sales are pretty much a fixture here in the Netherlands now, in spite of, you know, not celebrating thanksgiving in any shape or form. Oh, they also generally last two weeks and the ‘deals’ are pretty run of the mill end-of-season sales and not particularly spectacular.

              1. Lenora Rose*

                The difference is that the 4th of July is a Very Patriotic Holiday in the US… where Canada’s similar (but not as over the top) day is 3 days earlier. It’s not the same as Black Friday, which has also crept over to our side of the border but doesn’t involve the heavy waving of US flags. 4th of July Sales means we’d be being Very Patriotic… to another country entirely.

          2. Can't get the hang of Thursdays*

            2018, I was a manager in a retail store that sold a single specialty item. I bucked some of the policies they wanted to roll out like collecting email addresses of frequent shoppers so we could send special invites when we had sales. the problem was that the store is in a high tourist area, and most of our shoppers were from out of state. Long story short, I chaffed against the rule and tried to push back against policies that didn’t make sense for my location, the store was underperforming, (again 2018), and I ended up being fired. So, unfortunately, my advice is to tread very carefully!

            1. Lenora Rose*

              I think the fact that this store isn’t underperforming but is in fact leading is a bit of a shield, though; even if the underperformance was completely unrelated to the pushback against policies.

        2. juliebulie*

          Hmm. I hadn’t thought of that – possible contractual agreements with suppliers. Although it should still be helpful to be able to prove that your store sells more of Brand when you do it your way.

        3. Filicophyta*

          Yes. Many years ago I worked in a completely different retail field. We had guides and diagrams of where products should be. I only learned about it because a junior employee put something in the wrong place and it looked fine so I didn’t correct it. But my manager saw and told me that the brands pay the store (an international chain) a lot for placement.

          1. WeirdChemist*

            Yeah, when I worked in my college’s campus bookstore, all of the brands were VERY strict about exactly where there stuff was in the store, that the Nike section was a certain distance from the Adidas section, etc. We almost got fined because a customer threw a branded shirt in the clearance section when it wasn’t on clearance!

        4. MsSolo (UK)*

          Yes, I think a lot of the opposing advice is coming from people who haven’t worked retail, but suppliers often pay large amounts for specific placement. It depends how far from the corporate displays LW has been straying. If it’s arranging Brand A products on shelves instead of in a massive pile so it’s easy to see your size and grab it, that’s probably safe. If Brand A paid for end cap and LW has been putting Brand B on the end caps because Brand A isn’t popular locally, Brand A could make a lot of financial trouble for the company.

          1. M*

            True, though both the names LW gives as examples don’t have out-of-home-brand lines they carry. Unless they’re not good guiding examples, that’s unlikely to be the issue here.

          2. goddessoftransitory*

            This is HUGE in the candy industry. The Big Three (Nestle, Mars and Hersheys) shell out big bucks to have their candy placed front and center in stores, and if stores want to carry those brands, they’d BETTER be in the right place.

            1. MigraineMonth*

              I’m assuming it’s the same for cereal, because it’s so hard to find the generic bran flakes. There are so many prominently-placed choices I’ll go down the entire aisle and back again before I find it.

              1. WhyIsEverythingBananas*

                Placement is massive in grocery – I’ve read a few books on the American grocery industry and it’s wild.

                1. Wired Wolf*

                  I work in grocery–my company is as of late trying to get more ‘local’/smaller brands, but shelf placement can be a problem; especially since my store is one of the smallest and the local items that I see at bigger stores are never allocated because “not enough shelf space” (nonsense say I).

                  While we can’t do anything about shelf space, I’ve been quietly talking up smaller brands to my customers (and providing samples if I can get my paws on them) and hopefully they can have some leverage that we don’t.

          3. Nina*

            I’ve done mystery shops for big brands before now. For them it’s $20 per store to make sure their product is displayed the way it’s meant to be, so they do it a lot. I feel like if this was the situation, LW would have been ‘caught’ before now.

        5. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

          This was what I was thinking, too. I think they’d be less concerned about managers making managerial decisions than managers making branding and advertising decisions.

        6. Festively Dressed Earl*

          That’s true in food retailers and in department stores that sell lots of competing brands, but not so much in a fast-fashion chain of the sort LW describes. You get planners telling you to put this or that merchandise on the mannequins or on prominent displays based on national trends, but that often doesn’t make sense for your location. Think “leather and sherpa are so hot this spring!” when your store is in Hawaii, or “yakskin bikinis are this season’s must have!” in Alaska. Smart retailers will take that into account, but not all of them.

        7. Katherine*

          Yeah, I’d frame it as, “I find that one-size-fits-all disciplinary policies create problems with morale, so I’ve been using my own discretion when it comes to minor infractions. My employees tell me they feel respected, and they work better as a result.

      3. Over Analyst*

        I was kind of thinking the opposite way. Say you use a little leeway in applying employee management but don’t tell about not following displays! A lot of places like this are VERY specific in their look but not punishing Amy for a call out when she was sick shouldn’t be as much of a problem as long as the store was still able to maintain its hours and provide good service.

      4. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Yes, this makes sense. Test the waters with whatever you think are the things that are least likely to freak corporate out and see how it goes. If they react well, it’s worth considering sharing more. If you get to a point where you’ve built up some trust and goodwill with corporate, you could tell them you think it would be a good thing to try [thing you’re already doing].

      5. Jake*

        I’ve had a pretty good career so far by assuming that my bosses are operating in good faith. As such, I’d be 100% transparent for two completely different reasons:

        1. ALL of these changes are contributing to the success of the store, and sharing that knowledge is good for you and them. For you it shows competence, for them it at the very least gives them ideas for implementation elsewhere.

        2. This one is far more important. If you get backlash for this… you know that you need to find another job. While this would normally be scary, it shouldn’t be in this instance because you clearly are very good at your job, and would be in high demand! Nothing is going to look better on a resume than “I managed the top store of (insert national brand) in the country, outperforming (insert metric) by 400%.” Then following that up with a cover letter explaining how you did it and what made that job fun… Hell, I’d hire you to work for my construction company!

        It can be scary, but in either case, by being fully transparent, you will have a good outcome. When you are this good at your job, there is very little reason to not be transparent.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Retail is sorta its own thing, though. In my experience in retail, corporate rarely cares what local management or staff think. It’s certainly possible that the bad situation the company is in overall might make them ready to hear what the LW has to say without getting defensive. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

              1. Jake*

                the job market is a workers market right now. People that are great at their job won’t have an issue given enough time. It’s not like they’re gonna straight out fire her. She’d have time to find something else.

                1. Just so Tired*

                  Still. People work for income and swithcing jobs can be a big deal. Not being listened to is not enough of a reason for some people, depending on their circumstances.

                2. Jake*

                  I’m certainly not saying she should leave if she’s not listened to. I’m saying if they discipline her for her actions, then she should leave.

                  I agree whole heartedly that there’s no way it’s worth switching jobs just if they come in and decide they don’t want to change the rules, but that’s very different than them coming in and chastising her for not following the rules.

                3. Jake*

                  I did use the phrase not listening in an earlier response, and that was not good word choice.

                  Better word choice would’ve been, if they chastise you for achieving exceptional results while not following all of the rules, then why would you stay?

                  you make a great point now that I’ve reread my comment.

                4. Minerva*

                  Have you been job searching lately? Because I have, and my experience has been that it is very much NOT “a workers market” and it’s extremely difficult to find a new job.

                5. Jake*


                  No, but we’ve been hiring 75% of the candidates we interview for 2 years because we get so few applicants.

                  Almost every hire is poaching from competitors.

                  Also hiring people in at 50+٪ what we were 2 years ago.

                6. Lenora Rose*

                  I think retail specifically *might* still be in a worker’s market, but in a significantly large number of industries, the worker’s marker petered out a while ago.

            1. Starbuck*

              Money, stability. My retail friends who have worked their way up in corporate stores would all love to leave for less stressful and micromanagey office jobs, but it’s so hard to make that transfer.

              If they left, they’d be faced with either having to start again at another store (the most likely job they’d be able to get) or facing a potentially very long and frustrating job search for admin type roles that may amount to nothing. If you’re a long term retail person who’s gone up a few ranks in the store hierarchy (but not a salaried & overworked manager) the pay and benefits can be pretty decent.

                1. No Longer Looking*

                  Eh, depends on where they try to go. Retail really IS its own world, to the point that 1) other retail environments will also not appreciate a store manager who thinks for themselves, and 2) non-retail hiring managers are more likely than not to discount retail (or fast food) as mostly irrelevant “work” experience. That isn’t a fair opinion, but it is in my experience a fairly common opinion.

                2. Troubadour*

                  Leaving on your own terms means you can wait until you have another paycheck lined up before you stop getting this paycheck. Not everyone has a safety net in their bank account, and health insurance (I presume, not being from the US) makes any gap between jobs even more potentially risky.

          1. dot*

            Yeah but in this situation corporate is coming here specifically to find out what local management is doing to be so successful?

            1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

              Sure, but there’s a difference between doing what you can within the rules and deciding to ignore some of the rules. Some companies will take this as insubordination and won’t really listen with an open mind after that. They might be super attached to their way of doing things and not prepared yet to make big changes.

              I mean, I hope that they realize that the fact that the company is not doing great overall means they need to be prepared to make big changes, but who knows.

          2. MassMatt*

            This is much more than employee opinions or a survey, though, this is MONEY. Retail very much cares about profits.

            Yes, if the company leadership overall is badly managed then they might tell the manager to adhere to their (bad) policies or get out.

            The fact that they have noticed her great numbers and are sending people to look at the store gives me at least a glimmer of hope that they want to find out what’s in the secret sauce and how to replicate the success.

          3. Festively Dressed Earl*

            I would bet on it, only because corporate knows something’s up. This store is a huge outlier in a positive way, and it sounds like the company desperately needs to replicate that success in other locations. The higher-ups know LW is doing something different and are coming to find out what it is.

        2. Momma Bear*

          Corporate may not care, but I would frame the displays part as “we did it per the book and were not achieving sales so we evaluated the local market/customer base and made these changes to target them and achieve the sales in the report.”

          Insofar as other policies, I’d focus on things that are not entirely counter to the rules but increase morale. Handling situations with people directly can result in them being more loyal to the job. If people stay a longer than average time, then LW is potentially saving the company $$$ by not having to onboard someone new every six months or having people quit suddenly.

          I would clue the employees in on the visit so they know to be on Best Behavior while the visitors are there. I had one job where we dressed pretty casually, but the week of our audit there were no jeans or sneakers allowed.

      6. Salsa Your Face*

        I agree with this, and also suggest sucking up to corporate when you explain your tactics. So instead of saying “I threw out your display and created my own,” say “I used the amazing display you sent as a starting point, and made some changes to it that I knew would appeal to our local customers.” Instead of “I don’t care about disciplinary procedures,” say “I took the company’s comments about leadership (or whatever principles they talk about a lot) to heart and manage each of my employees individually in order to develop the best working relationship with them.”

        Basically, parrot back as much of their own language back to them as you can while talking about the changes you’ve made, to make them think that you did this *with* their support instead of against it.

          1. Abogado Avocado*

            I agree that this is excellent advice. The issue here is how to “manage up”, not avoid being fired. Corporate has realized that your strategies might save the brand if they could only understand how your secret sauce works. That’s why corporate is sending consultants. If they wanted to fire you, they’d send HR. (What? And lose that income? You’ve got to be joking.)

            And while we here know you’re a revolutionary, you don’t have to express your success in those terms. Thus, when you parrot back corporate’s language and your “adaptations” or “strategies” for local customers, link each of those adaptations or strategies to the numerical effect on sales and employee retention, and any other corporate measures.

            And if you’re really feeling it, explain how the brand’s other stores can employ your strategies or adaptations.

            Please let us know what happens. I have a feeling you’re a retail power!

            1. Jake*

              yeah, transparency doesn’t have to mean, “your rules suck so I ignore them!”

              It can instead sound like, “I love the organization’s commitment to customer satisfaction, and I’ve noticed that our satisfaction scores improved when I started (insert thing you do with employees) and the employees really responded well!

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Fourthing this.

          I would love to think that you can tell them all the stuff you’re doing “wrong” and they’ll have an epiphany, but I think that’s very unlikely. I would lead with their own ideas and then discreetly massage in your own changes.

        2. Khatul Madame*

          Yes! The terms to use are “tailor” or “adapt”.
          “I tailored the display to local customer cohort”.
          “I adapted the staff management procedures to maximize efficiency of our team of sales associates”.

        3. MigraineMonth*

          Ooh, very smart. If the company has values statements/recent trainings that you can cite as inspiration for making X change, that might go over well. (Just don’t get too lost in buzzwords.)

          As a previous commenter said, also try to tie each of the changes directly to profit. It’s not that you randomly decided not to do write-ups, it’s that you are focused on staff retention because staff who have worked at the store for over a year sell X% more than new hires. Since changing the write-up policy, you’ve increased staff retention so now Y% of the staff has been there over a year, leading to $Z profit.

          If there are changes you’ve made that can’t be tied directly to Corporate Values/Goals or to profit, I wouldn’t tell corporate about those.

        4. NYWeasel*

          Yup, I work on the corporate side of a retailer, and I recommend saying that you made “adjustments to better reflect the specific needs of your local consumer base” by featuring X, Y & Z.

          In terms of the people leadership, I’d never say I ignored X or Y rules, bc that never ends well, but I might say that I “focus on empowering my team to dedicate their efforts to helping solve shopper challenges by removing distractions and ensuring the team fully understands their role in the path to purchase.” Then if I ever get my hand slapped for not being a hardass about some BS regulation, I can point back to that broad goal they like with a further explanation such as “I’ve found that the staff here is always very dedicated to their work but given retail salaries, they occasionally have challenges with child care or transit. I’ve found that if I interpret attendance regulations with 15% more leniency, the team brings a substantially more energized approach to customer interactions in return, which directly contributes to our strong results. There’s also less turnover and no measurable increase in violations of the policies.” Again, not to say it up front but have that in your back pocket if challenged.

        5. ABK*

          Yes to this!! And combine it with numbers: sales, employee retention, costs, customer satisfaction scores, anything else you can come up with that tells a really good numbers story.

      7. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        I’m pretty sure that OP’s treatment of her employees is a key component of her success.
        A friend of mine used to manage a showroom for a well-known Japanese make of cars, tucked away in a sleepy little suburb. He sold more cars than even the flagship showroom on the Champs Elysées. When he announced that he was retiring, the employees all worked flat out over 4-day public holiday weekend to fill all the orders in the book so that he would get the benefit rather than the guy taking over. People in France do not give up holidays like that for a boss they don’t like! Some of them even cried when he said he was leaving.
        He trained and employed guys fresh out of prison, with hardly ever anyone stealing stuff from the workshop. He would hand money over to cover someone’s rent if they had an unexpected problem like exorbitant vet’s bills, without even being asked.
        The Japanese overlords offered him €2 million just to stay on (he refused, he wasn’t looking for more money).

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Literally had a conversation with my grandboss on this subject yesterday. When the employer is flexible and reasonable, staff will respond in kind. Fortunately, this was a conversation where we totally agreed, not a disagreement. I also gave up a holiday to meet an unmovable deadline and got a day of in lieu. She has always been good to me, so I offered to do this without her having to ask.

          1. Perfectly normal-size space bird*

            Agreed! I’ve had so many bosses who were so rigid about time that I dreaded any situation where I might have to call in, arrive late, or leave early. There were those bosses (mostly call centers and retail) who would time breaks to the minute. So if they sent us on break at 2:13, we had to be back at 2:28. It was so stressful and I spent the last half of my break worried about watching the time because arriving back one minute late was going to lead to being scolded at best, often written up as tardy.

            My current job isn’t what I want, but I appreciate the flexibility we’re given. Breaks are honor system and we can tailor our schedule as needed as long as we put in the hours, meet our deadlines, and have some business hours availability when it gets busy. It’s one of the reasons why despite the lower pay and mediocre at best benefits, I’ve not been working too hard to find a new job. My bosses and grandbosses treat us respectfully and that’s why I don’t mind occasionally being asked to take on extra work or come in outside my normal schedule to help meet a deadline.

      8. SofiaDeo*

        Yes, you can speak to why *your particular clientele at your location* reacts better to modifying a display, etc. If there are demographics in your city/location that may support this, use them. Like if you are within 1 mile of a college, and have changed Z to appeal to college students compared to the average customer.

    2. I have opinions...*

      “You are doing an amazing job, and we love all your ideas! Just one thought… imagine how much more you could do on top of even this is you stuck to our policies. I know they may seem counterintuitive at times, but trust us. They were developed over a lot of years by a lot of people smarter than you and I.

      “Anyway, we look forward to seeing your shift, and seeing how much further that takes you. And keep up the great work!”

      1. Just Another Brick*

        “…may seem counterintuitive at times, but trust us. They were developed over a lot of years by a lot of people smarter than you and I.”

        This is precisely why I am looking for a new job. I took the job I have for the paycheck, and a place to go for 8 hours. I had no goals or expectations. The bar was low, just pay me correctly and on time. When I need to trade shifts for infrequent appointments, let me. I thrived for 4+ years, and even improved things.

        But those “Smarter People” above me, are now making my job insufferable. They renegotiated our contract without consulting us. Any flexibility we had schedule wise is out the window. Any perk, gone. We no longer have any modicum of discretion regarding any aspect of our jobs, but we are assured this is a good thing!

        Let the “Smarter People” who aren’t there and don’t do the job tell us what to do. We no longer have to think for ourselves.

        Sadly, I know I will be missed at the local level; they are not the problem. Doubtful the “Smarter People” up above will ever figure it out.

    3. Michael Scott*

      My philosophy is basically this. And this is something that I live by. And I always have. And I always will. Don’t ever, for any reason, do anything to anyone, for any reason, ever, no matter what. No matter… where. Or who, or who you are with, or, or where you are going, or… or where you’ve been… ever. For any reason, whatsoever.

      1. saskia*

        “Don’t ever, for any reason, do anything to anyone, for any reason, ever” — this has lived in my mind since the moment I heard it, and will continue to for the rest of my days.

        1. JustOut*

          It’s a quote from The Office, when Michael Scott was asked to explain his successes and philosophies in a similar situation to the OP.

    4. Mzanony*

      I would say, share the information about changing displays, but not about how you are loosey-goosey about attendance, etc. That could be grounds for dismissal not just for you, but for your team.

  3. lyonite*

    People with more experience in retail may have better ideas, but I’d suggest bringing up some of the more “palatable” infractions you’ve made, like the custom displays, and leave out the bigger things. The sort of people who love draconian attendance policies aren’t going to be willing to hear that they’re having a negative effect on their business, and trying to tell them that is likely to blow back on you. But you might be able to use some of your more innocuous “innovations” to make the point that the individual stores could benefit from more freedom to manage their own choices.

    1. Metadata Janktress*

      Yes, agreed on this. For displays in particular, you could phrase it as “I saw that a bunch of customers really liked X and Y products, so I took a chance and made a display with them.”

    2. ThisIsNotADuplicateComment*

      This is probably the best plan. Figure out what matters the most to corporate (attendance policies, infraction filing, whatever) and don’t mention that you break those. But things like “we use the corporate guidelines as a starting point for store displays and then modify them to best appeal to our customers” is the kind of thing you can share and shouldn’t get in trouble for at a reasonable business.
      If you absolutely can’t lose this job only mention one or two of the smallest rules you break. If you think you’d be okay with a few months of unemployment (or think you could find a new job right away) you can mention some of the bigger things, and even then you don’t have to tell them the whole truth if you think it will be bad for you (maybe pretend you just have a less strict attendance policies instead of throwing them away altogether).
      Bringing change to how the entire brand runs its stores would be great, but protect yourself (and your employees who will get a crappy boss if you’re fired) first.

      1. sparkle emoji*

        Yeah, I think your script about modifying corporate guidelines is a good one. Telling them you’re tweaking the official policies is likely an easier sell than telling them the official policies are bad and you’ve made up your own.

    3. She of Many Hats*

      I’d intersperse (temporarily) several of the key corporate displays among your innovative displays. You can word it as “due to supply chain delays you hadn’t received all the needed product/not all of the corporate fit well in the original spaces/testing customer reaction”. Employee management can be worded “I had several really successful employees who due to life happening needed accommodation and I didn’t want to lose them and lose their sales while trying to find good replacements wasting time and money interviewing & hiring since finding any retail help is so hard right now”

      Make your arguments about the money saved for corporate, the reduced pain points for corporate, things beyond you and corporate’s control.

    4. Lucia Pacciola*

      “People with more experience in retail may have better ideas”

      Yes, and I feel like this letter probably would benefit the most from a manager’s perspective.

      1. LWH*

        Yeah this seems like a weird question for reader answers, if anything this is MORE specialized to the point of needing a retail chain manager to chime in.

    5. ursula*

      I agree with this. Choose the most innocuous 20% of the stuff you change and tell them about that. Ease in with the mildest stuff in each category (proceed VERY carefully around the employee management stuff, as they can get spooked about legal stuff if they are from corporate) and see what they see open to. As soon as you see them looking tense or unsure, don’t tell them anything else. Protect yourself and your store first.

      Get your staff on board with only speaking generally about your management style (eg. “they are very respectful and reasonable with staff”, not “they changed the sick leave process so it’s less shitty”) and letting you take the lead. Try to be in the room when they’re talking to staff, so you can steer if necessary.

      I mean, to some degree they are setting you up. They must know you are doing some things differently than other stores – otherwise you wouldn’t be doing numbers. So by definition they should be expecting to hear that you are deviating from how others are operating, which might mean deviating from policy. But who knows what they’re thinking at this point.

      Also, honestly, congrats lol. You might get in trouble for this but you seem great.

    6. EA*

      Agreed! Only speak in positive terms, so basically don’t say anything about breaking rules or not doing what you were told to, and present everything you did as a bonus or adding to the strategy, rather than replacing anything. This might not be 100% true, but it’s better than losing your job. Definitely do NOT say anything about the attendance policies or anything like that.

    7. learnedthehardway*

      I think it is going to be fine to show how customizing the merchandizing to the local demographics is more effective than using corporate merchandizing schemes. That’s something that retailers can understand – they know that regional demographics and culture make a huge difference to how successful various marketing approaches are. Just point out that you use the corporate merchandising collateral to the extent that it makes sense for your store, but that you also customize. Frankly – stores SHOULD customize their merchandising to their local markets.

      However, customized merchandising of the store isn’t going to entirely explain a 400% increase in sales, so reviewing at a high level your staff management approach is probably also going to be necessary.

      Plus, Corporate HR can see your metrics of how many infractions are written up, how many issues are referred for investigation, etc. etc. Your store is going to be significantly under the average reporting rate, so it’s going to be obvious that part of your success is your people management approach.

      So, I would find a way to present your people management that makes sense. It’s entirely legitimate to say that the policies are so draconian that they cause issues and attrition, and reduce morale. You can say that you’re more focused on employee satisfaction, and will be flexible when you can – which allows you to retain good staff…. which is why you have fewer issues to report. You adhere to the intent of the policies, but have found that a certain level of flexibility enables you to attract and retain high quality staff, so you don’t have the same issues that other stores do.

      That should satisfy the consulting team – And it might lead to some overall positive changes in the operating policies of the organization.

      I think it is worth claiming your success – just be diplomatic about explaining it.

    8. Bee*

      This has been one of the strategies the new ownership of Barnes & Noble is implementing after its success with Waterstones in the UK: allowing local teams to create displays based on what appeals to local customers. And this is an even bigger deal with clothes, which can be even more regional than books! Mentioning that as a case study might be really helpful here – consultants are going to really like case studies.

    9. Cold Snap*

      Sorry, gotta disagree, I think corporate will be most upset about the displays; I think the folks saying to put up the corp displays before the consultants get there are correct.

      It might seem like not a big deal, but anyone who’s worked the corporate side of retail, CPG, grocery etc. knows they tend to be super strict on brand guidelines, plus they’re going to be mad they paid to create and send materials OP isn’t using in the display. There are HUGE engines behind every store display you see, from R&D to market research to design to production, they’re likely not going to be happy that OP has trashed all that, effective or not.

      1. I Have RBF*

        If the localized displays sell more, then they should not go with the corporate ones, because the corporate ones, despite all the research, design and blah blah, are not doing their job, which is to sell merchandise!!

        This attitude of “corporate knows best because research, blah, blah” is why chains fail in many markets.

        If your nationwide research tells you that, say, MAGA hats are really popular, so you insist that your stores in $BlueCity must prominently display MAGA hats, you will just sink the store. Same if you substitute Biden/Harris t-shirts in a $RedTown. If your nationwide research says that down parkas are the hottest item, and that all stores must display them in the prime store end cap, stores in Florida, Georgia and Louisiana are not going to sell as much, and they will be seen as “out of touch” by the locals.

        The more “unified” your presentation is, the less it will appeal to localized consumers, who will see the chain as out of touch and insensitive to local needs. So your “engines” are wasted, and way off base.

        I know people who will not shop chain clothing stores because those “engines” of uniformity are out of touch with most locales in one way or another.

        Smart retailers allow for local adaptation of their displays, because it is effective, possibly more effective than national market research and brand manipulation. Lots of consumers think that stuff is garbage.

        1. ThatOtherClare*

          You’re right, and successful chains know this. There are 3 big chain supermarkets along my commute and I alternate between all 3 of them because one has all the good cheeses, one has my favourite cereal, and the one closest to me doesn’t bother to stock any Asian vegetables or sauces, so I only go there if I’m out of milk.

          In another example, a tiny dollar store chain in my area was bought out by a big chain because the big chain couldn’t get a toe in. They started stocking the same weird items that the rest of the country must love and rapidly began haemorrhaging customers. The original owners of the little chain used their money and knowledge to start a new chain of dollar stores with the same old stock and they’re doing great. A little local knowledge goes a long way!

  4. I'm A Little Teapot*

    Realistically, if you tell them the truth, you’re going to get fired. And possibly the rest of the store. Corporate isn’t going to make any changes. Yes, it’s terrible that this is the reality of the situation, but it is. Do your best to keep your head down and don’t rock the boat. It’s not that hard to figure out that treating employees well will result in them working better and targeting displays for local tastes will have better results. If corporate management hasn’t figured this out its because they don’t want to. You will be punished, likely outright fired, and possibly the rest of the store as well, by trying to tell them what they should easily know.

    1. Em*

      Do you think so, even with the numbers OP is reporting? I am curious if you have experience in corporate retail or something?

      1. Jen*

        I think you can keep it to broader strokes without necessarily revealing the specific ways in which you bucked the system. Talk about building a culture of respect and trust with your employees and making sure they feel valued, and how that (presumably) has led to better attendance and performance. Talk about applying the same culture of valuing input to your relationship with the store’s customers, and how being responsive to their preferences when possible has also generated more interest in the merchandise and more sales.

        1. Random Dice*

          This is it. Don’t admit to breaking any corporate policy. At all. Just talk about respect and courtesy.

      2. Overit*

        The actual business goal — making $$ — is less important than following policy. I guarantee you this from decades in and out of retail.

        1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

          Yes. You know how this blog will sometimes bring up that managers are privy to more information than you are? Corporate is privy to information about brand strategy, equity, liability, etc., and they have a whole team of lawyers to answer the question of “what’s the harm in doing my own thing if it makes us more money.” Whether that’s right or fair is beside the point, which is that it is what it is.

          In short: the jig is up, the consultants aren’t going to say “teach me your ways O high performer, to make a difference across the whole company,” they’re going specifically because the store is an outlier and they want to know why, and LW should be applying for other jobs with extreme urgency.

          1. Snakebite*

            I couldn’t agree more! OP, I would put everything back for the visit, talk to your employees about being tight lipped to the consultants, say you treat your employees with respect and you have wonderful repeat customers and get out as fast as you can. Use your 400% metric to get a different job if you can. Not only could corporate have financial/legal liability about the display changes, depending on who you work for and if the suppliers are paying, but you are showing up the people who are being paid a lot of money to tell everyone else what to do.

      3. I'm A Little Teapot*

        My working experience in retail is very limited, for which I’m quite grateful. My experience with corporate is extensive. OP is dealing with corporate.

        OP is more likely to be fired BECAUSE they’re succeeding wildly. OP is making corporate look bad. For more reference, one of the other posts today is directly discussing this – 3. Should I clue my staff in about internal politics and personalities?

      4. Csethiro Ceredin*

        I haven’t worked in retail management for ~20 years but a friend does and they are ASTONISHINGLY rigid. They want to standardize everything and often appear to not trust managers at all. I’d urge OP to be cautious in what she tells them and lean into the “I know my area” aspects, and say that she makes a point of being supportive of staff but emphasize soft skills rather than policy changes.

        I hope it varies by company, but even when my friend has shown she can make way bigger profits with certain products/tactics that work locally, they scold her for it and don’t let her order the things that will sell. Then they base her sales goals off the margins she made with the items she is no longer able to sell and cut her budget and bonuses when she can’t make them. Her store has done exceptionally well but they just keep moving the goalposts and scolding her.

        My experience back in the day was similar – that (and low pay) was why I left. They wanted all the part time staff to be available any time with no other commitments, which I just ignored. You were sent huge swaths of product that would not sell in your area and denied what would sell.

        1. Perfectly normal-size space bird*

          This I agree with. I used to work in the garden center for a big blue retailer in a state where winter lasts six months and half of it was spent in -10F to -40F temps. We would get outdoor plants delivered in February for the upcoming corporate-mandated growing season. And every year we’d lose most of the plants that were delivered because they’d freeze on the delivery trucks or freeze from being put outside because we had no room inside for them. It sucked for us because our department was crammed for months with things that couldn’t sell. It sucked for the suppliers because they’d have to eat the cost when plants arrived dead. Every year, the department manager would put in a complaint to corporate and every year she’d be ignored.

          One year, the honest-to-goodness founder of the company came to our big blue retail store on his tour across the country of all his stores. He arrived in February just as we had another arrival of plants, half dead on the truck and the other half going to die from being put outside (because what space we had inside was already taken up by the survivors from a previous delivery). He literally called corporate HQ from our department phone and gave someone a chewing out. Nothing changed because all stores have to have the same seasonal merchandise scheduling, regardless of reality. Loss of merchandise and profits from stores in different climates meant nothing in the grand scheme of That’s How It’s Done.

    2. Hokey Puck*

      I agree. Even in my corporate job I often just ignored employee policies and did what I wanted, but I didn’t let on. I talked in broader terms about trusting people to do their jobs, treating people like adults, etc, but not that I wasn’t seeking HR approval for flexible work arrangements and things. They aren’t going to come around to your way of thinking, and even if the individual right above you does, there are too many layers and not enough reasonable people.

      Also, I was once in a residential treatment center for a mental health condition. The place I was at was BY FAR the best and most effective place I had ever been at, but it’s because they broke all the policies that were set at the corporate level. Patient’s outcomes and happiness were not enough important to corporate who wanted things their way. I would never have told them that it was such a good place for me because they didn’t follow the corporate way of doing things – they followed their professional opinions.

    3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I agree. I’ve lost supervisors to the sins of treating the rank and file with compassion as adults with lives and discretion of their own. Traditionally, I’ve seen the decisions framed in terms of “fairness,” “liability,” and “compliance.” When you get high enough in the hierarchy, Should begins to overrule Is.

      LW, you’re on borrowed time. Save and prepare accordingly, and it wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world to leave on your own terms when a suitable opportunity for a soft landing presents itself.

    4. RVA Cat*

      I think the OP should look for another job. Ideally, they would start their own store and take their team with them. I do wonder if there’s a competitor expanding into the area or a local retailer adding locations? Or maybe a store owner looking for someone to take over the business?

    5. Formerly retail manager*

      Do NOT tell them the truth.
      You stated the business as a whole was in the toilet.
      Meet with your staff.
      Protect them from corporate as best you can.
      Also- those displays might be coop and ‘paid’ space. If they notice changes , just shrug and say “oh that” I didn’t realize we hadn’t followed the exact plan.
      Dust off the resume, update with metrics and staff retention rates and look for a new position.
      It is a fantasy and only in Melanie Griffith rom-coms does the brillant front-line manager sway the big-shots with her accumen and gets promoted to corporate.

      1. anonymous anteater*

        Agreed. Save as much documentation of your success, especially relative to the rest of the company. Anything that shows your store sells more, retains more employees, and communication that spells out they are sending consultants to you because you are the model store for the rest. Use that to put together a strong resume and cover letter. Tell the consultants whatever you want, and go apply for the competition at the same time. Maybe you will even find one that gives you managerial discretion next time.

    6. Engineery*


      OP is A Problem to whatever empty suits came up with these policies, and one of those empty suits is likely to be put in the (deservedly) humiliating position of touring OP’s store. That person is not going there to learn anything; they’re looking to protect their own job by finding proof of OP cheating the system. Finding evidence of OP flagrantly violating corporate policies, such that they must be fired immediately for cause, solves The Problem.

      1. StarTrek Nutcase*

        Agree. I’ve had jobs (non-retail) where I got negative feedback for overproducing in both quantity and quality. Managers were more concerned this would flag underproducing employees and managers ineffectiveness in bringing those workers productivity up. Better expectations be kept low so they could easily be met. Just forget theis stifled stated business purpose.

    7. Ex-Teacher*

      >Realistically, if you tell them the truth, you’re going to get fired

      I’d say it’s a home run/strikeout situation. If LW tells them the truth (or even a limited version of the truth like “in general, I’ve been deviating from corporate policies to meet the needs of this market and my staff”) and says “listen, the corporate policies are bad and the profits and metrics from this store prove I’m doing it better. If corporate is interested in making more money across all of the stores in the brand, then they’ll make changes to how the operate. If they’re more interested in the bean-counting and an outdated, punitive disciplinary model that disrespects employees, loses buckets of money, and will kill the company, that’s their choice. They can fire me, I’ll get unemployment for a while, and I’ll land on my feet at a competitor where I can make *them* all that money instead. And while that happens, whoever is a new manager at this location will treat the employees poorly, leading to massive turnover and understaffing here. Your call.”

      The thing is, all of the employees at the location also know how LW is treating them. I doubt every employee knows what the corporate policies are, not every employee would know the details of how things are supposed to be run. If the consultants speak to the staff (and I’d bet they do), the truth will come out. Lying about it and covering it up will give them a better reason to fire LW that ultimately makes them look worse. Better to just be upfront and lay the cards on the table, than to cover it up and get fired for the coverup.

    8. Delta Delta*

      Yeah, I think OP needs to start looking for a job while this goes on. And maybe on the sly mention it to the employees, as well.

    9. Jane*

      Sadly, I don’t think you can be totally honest here.

      I used to work in retail, and those vendors are paying specific prices for where their merchandise sits. Vendors also usually provide the display chart for how they want their products displayed. So OP is likely to get in trouble for that.

      In addition to that, the marketing signs OP is changing went through rounds of creative and legal approvals before being implemented. I work in marketing currently, and everything displayed in-store and online goes through that process.

      Then you get to the disciplinary liberties OP has taken, and that’s just a breaking corporate’s rules flat out.

      This isn’t a one-off, mom and pop store. This is a giant corporation that, while making bad choices, has contracts and legal decisions surrounding their choices.

      OP’s best bet is to focus on the store’s amazing customer service and a happy crew (without bringing up those disciplinary liberties).

    10. Former Retail Manager*

      I came to agree with Little Teapot and the many other commenters who are offering similar guidance. I spent 13 years in retail management. They (corporate) do NOT want to be told that their strategy is failing, their policies suck, they are idiots for not doing something about it, and how they can do it better.

      Anytime there was an outlier location (doing really well or very poorly) there was an internal audit, conducted by employees who had once worked in the field and knew both the retail and corporate sides of the business. They would often come in and “work” at the location for several days watching everyone like a hawk. They were looking for policy deviations, potential theft, improper discounts provided, merchandising changes, etc. My location was similar to yours. We had a great manager who altered displays and ordered products that appealed to the demographic we served, in addition to some interesting scheduling. Everyone loved her. Sales were GREAT! Long story short, she got her hand slapped, the district manager was on her constantly, and she ultimately transferred to work in a different district before leaving altogether. At the time all this happened, the company was beginning to go downhill and most locations were suffering from decreased revenue, so you’d think that a location with increasing revenue would be a learning opportunity for the company. Nope. They didn’t want to hear anything that my manager had to say.

      As others said, I would use your accomplishments at this location to draft an amazing resume and get out. If possible, maybe consider the more corporate side of retail, if you really enjoy retail.

  5. Gigi*

    Oh wow, this is impressive and a pickle! I don’t have any advice but I do wonder if you’ve had any Mystery Shoppers in your store and if there’s a chance at least one exec already knows or have an inkling? A year+ is a long time of non-corporate displays..!

    1. Decidedly Me*

      I’ve done retail mystery shops and in my experience, it’s not typical to be asked if a display looks exactly like X. More things like – are the displays filled? Do they look neat? Is signage clear? Etc.

      I also doubt that execs are getting the nitty gritty details of mystery shop reports; they’re more likely getting aggregated data across all stores.

      1. Csethiro Ceredin*

        Yes in my experience the “are displays correct” stuff comes from district and regional managers visiting the store.

      2. Stinky Socks*

        Agree with Decidedly. The questions tend to focus on neatness (racks & changing rooms), staff interactions (greeted cheerfully and promptly, eye contact, grooming & uniform, etc) and basic metrics (how many registers were open, how many people ahead of you) etc. And if choose, the beloved Branded Credit Card pitch at the register. (insert eye roll here.)

  6. Ggdcdc*

    you should just be honest and tell them what worked. the results speak for themselves, if they’re so stuck up that they can’t adapt to change then that’s on them

      1. TeapotNinja*

        I’m pretty sure it’d be quite easy to secure another job with those kinds of results. 400% growth??? That’s insane.

        1. The Happy Graduate*

          But 400% growth from breaking all the corporate policies isn’t going to come across to interviewers the way it does here…

          1. Salsa Your Face*

            But it might, at a small business. If they can position it as “the big company didn’t appreciate my ability to innovate and sell, but I would love to take those skills and apply them to YOUR store.”

    1. I'm A Little Teapot*

      OP will be fired. And depending on the personalities involved at corporate, the rest of the employees at the store may be fired.

      1. Reality.Bites*

        No matter how well the OP is doing at their store, the chain is in trouble overall and stories of bricks and mortar chains turning it around are increasingly rare. Even if OP doesn’t lose their job now, it’s time to think of next steps.

    2. Tesuji*

      Oh, sweet summer child…

      There are definitely times when you should be willing to stand up for what you believe, even though you know it’s going to get you fired. Is “helping the company earn greater profits” really one of those things? Even though it’s going to be the company themselves that will be f__king you over?

    3. Starbuck*

      Uh, do you have retail or retail corporate experience? This is not realistic advice if OP wants to protect their job and their employees.

    4. House On The Rock*

      But it’s not on them, it’s on the OP and her staff who could likely lose their jobs if this goes awry! Never underestimate the ability of corporate consultants to pry defeat from the jaws of victory (and screw up lives in the process).

  7. Muffin Cupcake Heeler*

    I understand your hesitancy to admit where you’ve strayed from corporate standards. You run the risk of getting in trouble and/or fired for non-compliance with those policies, but you’d be doing your company a service to let them know how much of a difference it makes to approach things differently. My vote is for telling them and taking that risk. On the bright side of the possibility of losing your job because of this, your metrics should make it easy to get hired at a similar store if you explain why you chose to use the methods you used.

    1. Harper*

      Yes, this! OP is clearly a superstar in retail, and should be able to land a job with a better company easily, if that’s what it comes to.

      1. sofar*

        If LW gets fired for non-compliance, it potentially could make finding a new job trickier, if the potential employer call to verify employment and is told LW was fired for non-compliance.

        But I still agree with you when it comes to the long game for LW’s career. LW should be cautiously honest with the consultants. Like others have said, avoid disclosing all the ways that they are more “lenient” with employees, but showcase how they’ve “amended” company policy with regards to displays and such, as there are clear sales numbers to show that was the right move. IF LW is asked about the low employee turnover and high morale, they might say something like, “I try to give everyone as much autonomy as possible and avoid one-size-fits-all policies. Clearly that makes high performers stick around” instead of, “I basically took corporate’s policies about time off requests and chucked it in the trash.”

        Still risky, but if LW IS fired, they at least have a good story to share with prospective employers and can find one that sees LW’s talents for what they are.

    2. The Terrible Tom*

      “you’d be doing your company a service to let them know how much of a difference it makes to approach things differently. My vote is for telling them and taking that risk”

      I agree with your assessment that it would be doing the company a service, and that’s exactly why I don’t advocate for taking the risk — if they make it risky for *you* to do *them* a service, that’s on them.

      1. Hokey Puck*

        Hard agree here. Why risk your job, there are other things that are “take the risk” because it involves something harmful or really important.

      2. Team PottyMouth*

        Don’t think for one second that just because your store is too-performing, that it’s safe from being closed and/or reorganized in some way. A friend of mine recently got laid off from a top-performing store that was closed because the company is in a slump and started “downsizing”. So many factors go into that decision, and you know that happy employees and recent good sales history are not anywhere near the top of that list. The consultants are likely trying to figure out what works in your store that they can recommend using I. Whatever stores they decide to keep open, but that doesn’t mean yours is on the safe list.

        With that in mind, ask yourself how much help do you want to give them? You’re likely to be out of a job either way. If you’d like to keep the hope alive that you could potentially get transferred to another store if your location is slated to close, then soft-pedal the lax employee management and display variations to protect your image.

        All in all, with this track record and the financial state of the company, you’re primed to jump ship and find a more stable employer while you can still say you’re on good terms w your current company.

  8. ZSD*

    I vote you be forthright. You don’ t have to explicitly say, “I’m ignoring all your directives,” but you can say that you treat your employees with respect, give them flexibility to call out at the last minute when something legitimate comes up, etc. The reaction you’ll get of course depends on how reasonable the specific people that corporate sends out are, but at least you’ll know you tried.

    1. She of Many Hats*

      “I’d rather have one short shift than have to spend time recruiting & hiring a replacement over a month and not have that new person be as profitable as the one I have”.

  9. Testing*

    How important is this job for you? If you could survive losing this particular job, I’d be open and honest with the consultants about how you do things at your store (but maybe not stress the fact that it’s against the policies and that you are aware of this…). Maybe the company is open to learning how to do things better!

    If keeping this job is really important to you, I’d revert to the official policies for the time the consultants are there, lie about it, and then just revert back once they are gone.

    1. KToo*

      This is what I was thinking – depending on how willing OP is to possibly lose their job will decide how open they are about what they’ve been doing. Don’t care if every bridge burned? Go all out and tell them everything! But I also think that maybe not saying anything and playing dumb might backfire because OP did say the brand itself isn’t doing great, and if corporate can’t figure out a way to push new business it’s possible every store will close anyways and OP will be out of a job either way.

      I guess it’s just if they can afford to lose their job now, or want to keep it for the immediate future while still racking up successes and looking for a new place to land.

  10. nopetopus*

    The safest thing would be to revert everything back and shrug your shoulders, but I don’t think you should! You’ve created success far above and away from other stores by not following the corporate handbook, and I think the company should know that their own policies and marketing aren’t getting these results. You should take pride in what you and your employees have created and stand behind it.

    They might tell you to stop doing all those things and to follow their nonsense; if so, do it and watch your metrics sink. Then you have standing and the evidence to back it up to push back and be allowed to run it how you were before. Or heck, leave and find another store manager position where you don’t have to go behind corporate’s back to be able to do good and profitable work.

  11. pope suburban*

    I mean…I would keep on keeping on, because the consultants are there to learn and to do their job. That job probably isn’t what some of corporate imagines, where the consultants come in and say wow, corporate policies are great, here’s a magic way to get everyone to follow them and achieve results that are impossible. The job is to figure out what’s working and tell other stores how to implement that. I don’t think there fundamentally is something wrong about refusing to follow stupid and ineffective policies, frankly; no one here is breaking the law and clearly these are the right decisions because employees are happy and the store’s performance is stellar. I suppose someone could vindictively single LW out for discipline, but that would be a pretty bad look, and there are plenty of retailers who would love to have an effective and high-performing manager. This isn’t the only store in the world and there are worse things than taking one’s talents where they will be appreciated and rewarded.

    1. Zarniwoop*

      Some consultants are in the business of telling their clients what they need to hear, others are in the business of telling their clients what they want to hear. We don’t know which type OP will be meeting.

  12. B*

    Hate to be a cynic, but no good can come of being honest with these consultants. The best case scenario is they take your ideas, repackage them as their own, and get credit for making the same improvements to the brand that you did yourself. The more likely case is they document your “non compliance,” and the brand cracks down on you. If they wanted to be better, they would have done it by now; the odds of corporate leadership realizing the error in their ways because of your success doing different are near-zero.

    1. goofBall*

      Unfortunately, I agree.

      Worst case, OP may have their ideas stolen and lose their job.

      Most realistic case, one of those happen.

    2. Wilbur*

      Yeah, I’m not sure if I’d put my money on people who aren’t doing a good job running a company accepting they’re doing things wrong and changing.

      “The best case scenario is they take your ideas, repackage them as their own, and get credit for making the same improvements to the brand that you did yourself.”

      Literally cannot believe that people can justify consultants that aren’t experts. Best case scenario you give them ideas so management will listen (which points to the larger problem) and worst case they misunderstand everything and give bad suggestions.

    3. Latchkey Kid*

      Agreed, unfortunately. My job has hired 3-4 very expensive strategic consultants over the years to figure out how to improve processes, retain employees, stabilize cashflow, etc. Nothing has changed. Arguably, things have gotten worse in some respects. Corporate leadership is, at best, looking for superficial, easy-to-implement fixes and I would keep the real stuff to myself.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        I waver on this one, because technically the consultants are there to tell corporate “Store X does great because they change directives Y and Z, and don’t follow employee policy G&H, and it’s working great. We recommend you roll that ability out across your line”, but corporate might hear “LW is defying all your directives so you should fire them and you certainly shouldn’t let anyone else know about this.” There are so many examples of consultants saying “you should do The Things” and corporate saying “Eh, we don’t wanna cause it might cost an extra $10 up front” (and plenty of useless consultants, but let’s assume before they get there that they’re competent). So I don’t know what to tell LW. I guess I come down with “if you can afford to lose this job, I say tell them what you’re doing. If you can’t, dance around it as much as possible, and tie anything you can into how you stick to the framework as much as you can”.

        1. B*

          I think if the company actually cared to know anything about OP’s success, they would have picked up the phone to ask OP a long time ago. This is a CYA exercise that reflects zero good faith interest in improving the business.

    4. tinybutfierce*

      This. The entire brand isn’t doing well; if it was possible for them to have turned it around, they would have done so by now, and I can guarantee you it’s not for lack of anyone like the OP trying. One person isn’t going to change an entire (failing!) corporate culture.

    5. Wired Wolf*

      10000% agree about them stealing credit. Early on in my position I proposed a few bug fixes; my cries went ignored until the next system update six months later–surprise! Everything I’d been complaining about was in that release (but those slapdash fixes gradually broke something else when future updates were rolled out…only I know all the workarounds).

      Of course, once the numbers showed that my department was actually meeting a goal, they moved the goalposts (one is now down to a percentage that is literally impossible in the industry).

  13. BritSouthAfricanAmericanHybrid*

    Gosh, this is when you wish this was an ‘Undercover Boss’ situation where the C-level people/decision-makers could see what was really happening. The fact that your store is wildly successful will hopefully allow open conversation about what you’re doing that is working. You never know, they might be open to what you are doing because they are struggling as a corporation and need new ideas. Best of luck to you.

    1. Scientist12*

      Oh man I would love to see this on Undercover Boss! Imagine the CEO bringing OP to HQ and being like, we should probably fire you, but instead we’ll make you head of corporate strategy.

      CEO, to camera, “I never realized just how much treating employees well would affect the bottom line.”

    2. Alex*

      This is exactly what I was thinking! Unfortunately I don’t think the real world is an episode of undercover boss.

  14. DeskApple*

    This may be a multi post because of site issues:

    OP, ask to sit the consultants down for a few minutes at the start and provide them with documentation of how you’ve succeeded corresponding to the guideline you bent with your reasoning.

    ex: “Because our local demographic is primarily teens in lower income brackets, we changed the display to items they could realistically afford, resulting in xxx amount of those items sold”. or “Choosing to provide our employees with flexible scheduling has shown a decrease in staffing issues from this time to this time”. Etc.

    Be very deliberate about “doing this equaled this” and never “well I thought I could try…” take ownership of those changes!

    1. NothingIsLittle*

      And then corporate says, “well, our target demographic is actually rich white ladies and you’re diluting our brand by not following the display guidelines,” or, “Our suppliers decided on that display specifically because XYZ and our distribution contract does not allow us to change it.” I haven’t worked in retail management, but I know branding and, if I were in charge of corporate branding, I would lose my mind to hear a store manager was ignoring all that even if they were the most successful store in the country.

      This isn’t an independent store, it’s a franchise that needs to present a united image to consumers. Is the brand doing right by their consumers if this is the only location doing well? Obviously not, but it’s corporate’s right to choose to do business that way. OP will almost certainly not be served by honesty in this case.

      1. Retailvet23*

        The thing is that that store IS reaching the target market, because otherwise sales would not have increased. If you have a store outperforming all others to the point where you are sending a consultancy team to find out what is happening and spread it to the rest of the stores, you would be a hard-headed fool not to accept that what they are doing works. It isn’t as though they’re selling non-approved items; they are treating staff in a way that makes them feel valued and reducing costly turnaround from having to hire and train new people. They aren’t refusing to sell the products, they are presenting them in a way that appeals to clients and the sales show it works.

  15. CatLadyLawyer*

    Option 1: Lay it all out on the table just like you did here, emphasizing your STRONG record of success.

    Option 2: say nothing and pretend you’ve been following all the rules.

    Option 1 potential outcomes:
    (a) some insecure jerk up in corporate making all the dumb rules will feel threatened by the fact that you clearly are more competent at their job than they are, potentially resulting in negative consequences like a PIP/getting fired for “insubordination” or something like that;
    (b) they realize your value as a resource to the company and implement your changes across the board, which you could maybe then finagle into a promotion (regional manager?? internal retail consultant to your corporate overlords?)

    Option 2 potential outcomes:
    (a) they believe you that you’ve been “by the book” this whole time and your success is therefore attributed to a fluke of circumstance (e.g. your specific store location and customer demographics), and things continue on as always; or
    (b) they somehow find out you lied to them, and then that raises concerns about your trustworthiness, or makes it seem like you are trying to horde all the good ideas.

    I think go with Option 1.

    1. Cat*

      Completely agree. I think this is a well laid out . I would also consider trying to negotiate a promotion. I’m not sure exactly how I do that, but I would try. I would definitely write all this down and follow up to corporate with a write up of all the ideas so no one steals them. CC several people and be sure to include the 400% growth thing. It is risky, but if it’s something you can afford to do, I would definitely do option 1.

  16. MsM*

    I feel like if you and the consultants tell upper management “you need to at least give your managers more autonomy to adapt to what works for their locations, if not outright reverse your entire strategy,” and management goes “we wrote these rules, and we’re going to make them work,” the company will probably not be around long enough that you shouldn’t stick your accomplishments on your resume and shop that around to better places anyway.

    1. Keyboard Cowboy*

      Yeah, this. You do want the company to survive or else you’ll be out of a job anyway – it seems worth the gamble. (But I don’t have any background in retail, and I know that mid-level-management in some industries can be needlessly cruel! So, grain of salt :) )

  17. Harper*

    Oooh, this one is tough, but I’m going to go with being totally transparent. Exceeding targets by 400% for 5 quarters and drawing enough attention for the brand to send in consultants tells me you’re going to be safe, OP. The brand is struggling, you’re knocking it out of the park, and they’d be stupid to discipline you for breaking protocol. Now, are some companies stupid enough to discipline you anyway? Sure, it’s a risk. But it sounds like you’ve found the magic formula. Tell them!

    If you do hold back, maybe hold back on the information around attendance policies, or soften the language. Don’t say, “We threw that out the window”, but say, “I’ve found more flexibility works better”, something like that. You definitely sound savvy enough to navigate this!

    1. Busy Middle Manager*

      Agreed. On the flip side, there isn’t a huge amount to lose. Even if they lie left and right to keep their job, they’re most likely not earning huge amounts and can still be fired for a silly reason in the near future. Once I saw the manager of one store I worked in fired because the storage container we rented was too full, despite not having room for the stuff in store, I realized any random reason will get you demoted or fired. I got such a spanking for one credit card transaction not working (despite the computer making all of the correct blinking noises and printing a receipt) meanwhile I was busy upselling them on our loyalty program and getting their email – I realized many retail workers are basically set up to fail. Everything becomes your fault. You have to stop caring at a certain point.

    2. thatoneoverthere*

      I agree with this. I worked in retail for a long time (many years ago). Money and numbers are everything to corporate. In my store we had several sales reps that broke tons of rules and got away with EVERYTHING. They were never disciplined bc they were top performers.

      *To be clear OP I think what you are doing is great, just using this as an example*

      If you can take the hit of potentially being fired, i think you should be honest at whats working. You have proof and thats in the numbers and $$. I am hoping it works out for you.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          Which is why the advice came with the caveat of “If you can take the hit of potentially being fired”

    3. Dorothy Gale*

      I agree, I think they need a wake up call that their policies/approach are not working. They also want to know the answer, and I think it’s doing them a disservice to hide what you have been doing.

      If you get fired for it, you still have the excellent metrics to put on your resume. Also, if the larger company goes under because they can’t change with the times, you will still be out of a job.

      My only concern is that the consultant may be worried they will look bad. You’ll want to use a lot of corporate – speak to avoid sounding critical. ‘To counteract the staffing challenges in the post pandemic world, I have really been focusing on employee retention’ for example.

  18. Takki*

    Most companies take action for breaking a single policy, so either lie and have your employees lie for you, or you take a risk and go all in. Show them your processes, explain your logic, and remind them of the amazing results you’ve achieved. Then prepare to be demoted, moved, or fired for not following company policy.

    After their ‘disciplinary action’, make a Tik Tok outlining everything that just happened and leverage that into a new and better job.

  19. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    Gee, that’s a tough one because it’s hard to know if they ACTUALLY want new strategies or if they’ll flip out about how they only wanted strategies that followed the rules.

    I think I’d have a hard think about whether I’d be ok if they do the flip out. If there’s other opportunities in other organizations etc. And possibly an off-site conversation with key members of staff about how you all want to play it. Because I’d want my whole team to be able to be on-board so that the company will need to make a decision about clamping down on The Best Store Ever, and possibly losing everyone there, or actually taking the team’s lead on how it works better this way.

    Because the truth is, if more stores could do it like you do, they could be much more humane workplaces that would meet the needs of corporate, staff on the floor, and the customers so much better than standardizing things to the point of Corporate Despair.

    It sounds like you’re the Best Retail Boss Ever. I’d want to lean hard into that so that you can make as much impact on the strategy team as you can.

  20. The stranger*

    I think there is a difference between the HR procedures and the branding and business guidelines.

    As a manager, you have a lot of ground to communicate the way you improve retention, and you might want to sit down and give some feedback to the consultants.

    However, the branding and business aspects are a different thing. I might be biaised here because I am in marketing, and I always see people thinking that they know how to sell or brand something, but they really lack technical and theoretical expertise ; they don’t respect the amount of knowledge it takes, think they know better and don’t take into account brand consistency, for instance. So they do their thing but they don’t realise the consequences. You are well-placed to ask questions about the guidelines, of course, you might mention what doesn’t work or the way clients react (this is really valuable information), but I would stop designing your own displays. You don’t know, for instance, if your store works because of the display, because you just do what you think will look better, but you don’t necessarily have the data or all the information to know why corporate created the display, and you don’t have data to support the impact of each of your own displays.

    1. saskia*

      This is a funny comment. If it’s working for the OP, why change? The brand overall is not doing well. Perhaps the brand itself isn’t investing in marketing and displays like they should, or they aren’t doing enough market research about the different demographics of their stories regionally, so the displays aren’t reaching the customer effectively. Just because OP isn’t trained in marketing doesn’t mean they can’t be good at making displays. They aren’t somehow denigrating your marketing expertise by doing so.
      That said, the possibility of there being corporate contracts/mandates/etc. about the displays does, I think, mean OP needs to revert her displays back to corporate’s standards while the consultants are there sniffing around.

      1. NothingIsLittle*

        I think you’re misunderstanding. OP is obviously perfectly competent at marketing within their specific location (bar some serious luck), but that does not translate to a national (possibly global) brand. As a marketing professional, you need to choose your target demographic. If you get more people, great! But you can’t scattershot and try to appeal to everyone in most cases. This isn’t a singular store or even a handful of local stores where different displays won’t have a major impact on how people view it; it’s a franchise where one store going rogue could do serious damage to your intended image.

        For example, imagine Macy’s. Macy’s is a brand for middle class white women; they try to expand that with their sub brands (Macy’s Inc IIRC?) but this is their core market. If you went to a Macy’s in Kentucky that was completely different from every other Macy’s in the country because they’re actually marketing to their local teens, that’s going to change how you view their brand. If you were a wealthy white lady and felt alienated in that store, that damages the brand as a whole because you no longer feel welcome in Macy’s in general. Even though it is just this one store that has made the change, it being a larger brand means that all of the individual stores reflect on each other.

        My mom has been shopping at Macy’s stores for decades, and a bad experience at one store once changed her entire image of the brand as a whole. And that is not unusual! You can even hear consumers judging franchises for a single location being dirty. This may not be the case for some individual consumers, but in as a whole this trend holds true. Is McDonalds or Wendy’s faster? Anywhere in the country, I’d put money down on McDonalds. That’s corporate branding and standardization.

        1. NothingIsLittle*

          To be clear, that’s not to say that OP’s strategy can’t work over-all or that allowing stores to have more individual variance is bad as a whole! Just, if it’s corporate’s goal to present a single brand image, as it is for many companies, they have good reason to be concerned. Some people bring up Barnes and Noble, which is fair, but B&N is also pretty singular in terms of national booksellers so they can afford to have their image diluted. Due to the saturation of fast fashion, for example, there’s a greater risk to that dilution.

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      It seems like you are pointing out that the success OP had is not the success corporate wants.
      Fact: OP has found success tweaking the displays
      Fact: OP’s store sold 400% more.

      So yeah, all this could bite OP in the butt if her success does not fit the corporate goal.

      They are coming to look at more than just numbers.

      The key metric is the customer demographic . Who is the target audience of the corporate level designed displays vs OP’s customers? Is OP reaching the target audience? Has OP found a new audience, but alienated the target?
      Yeah, OP.
      You could have won the battle, but lost the war.
      PS: i think this is crazy. A sale is a sale to me. but The Stranger makes the point that the company created a campaign and tools for it to succeed. Veering from that , success or not, may not be a win.

    3. musical chairs*

      This is the only comment I’ve seen so far here that takes how decisions are actually made in a large business into account without assuming that ego or malice or incompetence from the higher ups would drive the outcome. (Not saying those things can’t be there, just saying you can’t assume that without evidence).

      HR policies are much safer to change in this case, so long as you’re not introducing legal risk. If you talk to the consultants about how you manage your employees, point to your undergirding values (autonomy, respect, clear expectations), your distinct processes/policies, solutions, and how they translated to measurable, clear results. Clearly explain how you solve for any unintended consequences of deviating from the norm. Speak consultant to them, basically.

      For marketing, keep in mind that there may be contractual requirements your company had committed to with marketing, or other larger scale initiatives that make what you’re doing a risk for them, even if your specific store is doing great. Even if they don’t fire you for introducing that risk, they may not be able to implement your ideas at scale for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of your marketing or your keen understanding of your clientele.

      I would only talk about the HR stuff if it were me, and use the praise you get for that and leverage it into some kind of reward or flexibility or other professional capital for yourself and your team.

  21. DL*

    There’s been a lot of reporting lately that this is exactly how Barnes and Noble reinvented itself. It’s given more power to local managers and seen lots of success.

    Worst case is you lose your job and have lots of success stories to talk about at your next interviews. It’s always hard to take a risk, but seems like this is a good place to do it!

    1. New Mom (of 1 6/9)*

      Off-topic, but thanks for solving a local mystery for me! B&N is about to move into a very prominent (and expensive!) location in my old, trendy urban neighborhood. It used to be occupied by a national drugstore chain. I’ve been thinking “how on earth is a physical bookstore going to pay that mortgage?” Guess they’re on the upswing!

      1. Spargle*

        I worked at the Barn when I was in my twenties. LOVED it, we had a lot of autonomy and I was genuinely sad to leave that job. Corporate really left us alone for the most part.

      2. A Person*

        A B&N just moved into a space that was Amazon of all places, and I was surprised to be so excited for a chain bookstore. But they’ve done a great job with the space and especially with book displays that appeal to the locals.

      3. Snakebite*

        ugh, yes. I am sad to see it though, with so many nearby small bookstores! I hate to hope for a business to fail, but in this case, I hope the mortgage is too much for them.

  22. RevacholianLibrarian*

    This is a toughie! Before anything, I think it should be a consideration that you risk losing your job or face disciplinary action if they find out what you’ve been doing the past five years. However, I do commend you for apparently making your workplace a positive one for both your employees and your customers. That takes gumption and I really hope that those strategy consultants take it to heart.

    I would also note that you can point to Barnes & Noble, which seems to be doing well especially after individual stores were given more freedom in terms of managing their stores including creating their own displays and giving their stores a bit more personality.

  23. SereneScientist*

    LW, not knowing precisely the culture of your corporate office, I think this could actually be a rare opportunity to push them to make some changes after seeing the impact in your store. As you well know, the business world is so heavily driven by results and impact that sometimes they don’t always stop to consider how or why it’s even happening, no matter the complexity of 3/5 year plans, strategy, customer research etc. Someone higher up in your organization has clearly noticed something unusual about your store and how well you’re doing–unless the corporate office is *so* married to rules/policies that they refuse to flex, I think you could frame discussions with these consultants as, “I understand what our policies are, but I think some are actually hindering store performance. Here are x, y, z things I’ve done to increase employee retention, increase customer satisfaction, etc etc” Use their language to make yourself understood in short.

    If, however, you have seen similar draconian approaches in the corporate office culture–you mentioned higher ups being out of touch–through any other means, whether is it how they’ve weathered the last few years economically, how they manage lower performing stores, then definitely adjust accordingly. You certainly needn’t stick out your neck more if the odds of change are less. But considering the prevailing winds these days, I should think corporate is more inclined to listen because it means something good for their bottom line.

  24. Caramel & Cheddar*

    I feel like this is an incredible tightrope that may not be worth walking! I honestly don’t know how you frame any of the things that are working in a way that doesn’t ultimately get you reprimanded or fired, LW.

    It just seems so unlikely that consultants (are they internal or external?) will take any honest feedback you provide and use it to make change in the company, even though it’s clear that whatever you’re doing is working. I think what they’re probably hoping to hear is that all their existing staff and merchandising rules are working just fine and there’s some other je ne sais quoi that you’re doing to make your location super successful. They want the je ne sais quoi, not the reality, and the je ne sais quoi is that their policies and rules are what’s failing the company.

    1. Maglev to Crazytown*

      I used to have a deep hatred for consultants, because they come in, and make a lot of money telling management what I have been telling them for years.

      Not long ago, I had a really good class presented by someone who did consulting. What changed some of my opinion was that they flat out acknowledged that is how things go in 90% of cases… they come in, realize the knowledgeable technical and boots-on-the-ground people have the great ideas, but have been ignored by upper management “who knows better” repeatedly. And that they really do try to repackage that message for managers, hopeful that finally the employees’ knowledge and inputs will be put to use.

      In a best case scenario, that is what would happen here. A consultant comes in, and off the clock is laughing to themselves about how this individual store person is rocking it despite the company’s dumb policies, and sell approach that to company management on a nice shiny fancy PowerPoint.

      The worst case is there is negative blowback on the letter writer…. but seeing their high level actual performance metrics, they would likely end up getting a job elsewhere that values their type of approach and where they will be appreciated instead of having to hide their reason for success. Everyone I have ever known who got “fired for company for” in these situations ends up far better off in a place their skills will be appreciated and not penalized.

      1. SereneScientist*

        I work for a consulting firm but in an internal function. After speaking with a lot of our general consulting staff, I can confirm this has some truth in it. Consultants (rightly at times, wrongly at others) get a bad rap for being an investment a company makes that they really could be spending elsewhere on the firm, but sometimes, it takes an outside-in approach to convince senior leadership of something the frontline staff have long known. In fact, one of my colleagues is working on such a case right now for a national staffing agency that has a notoriously long timeline for folks starting up. The bare basics of the things seem really obvious: get people into systems faster, get them paid faster, and you’re more likely to retain them. But through a combination of organizational inertia and politics, the senior leadership couldn’t see this for themselves.

        1. Maglev to Crazytown*

          I can honestly say as much as I HATED consultants coming in, they have always been great with me. I “hated” them because as one of the internal ignored experts, it is hard not to be resentful when you get put down and ignored repeatedly, just for someone to make bank telling senior management the same thing. In every case it wasn’t that I wasn’t communicating the information effectively, but because management had an attitude of “our people are idiots who we don’t trust, and we need to bring smart consultants in.” I even had a few hunt that they had jobs available.

          I have gained a lot more respect for consultants after learning most of them realize many companies are wasting money that could have been saved by just listening to their own competent people in the fjrst place.

          1. Filosofickle*

            Yes. It is of my biggest responsibilities to advocate for employees! Leadership hired me to find out what they need to know, and I will tell them.

            Personally I have a pretty high success rate with getting execs to listen and be willing to change. That’s not because I have some sort of superpower, although you do have to know how to give tough love — its’ more that I choose my clients carefully. It sucks to spend months of your life working on something that goes nowhere. I don’t like being ignored any more than the employees do.

            That said, employers aren’t necessarily ignoring employees because they think they’re not smart. They think they don’t know the whole picture. (And that may be true.) So an advantage consultants have over employees is our access. Along with talking to the rank and file I’m also talking to those in the c-suite and at various levels / areas across the organization as well as outside the org. I can show how your idea fits with what a partner or a customer wants, and make a bigger, connected business case for change.

            1. Not that other person you didn't like*

              How did you get into the field? Are you independent or with an org? This is something I’ve considered transitioning into; any pointers would be massively appreciated.

              1. Filosofickle*

                I was independent for a long time, often collaborating with other independent consultants, and am now with an org.

                Can’t give good advice as I wandered my way in. I was already doing client-facing work in creative roles and ended up freelancing. I kept asking questions and pointing out stuff my clients didn’t know, and over time I found myself helping them figure out their strategy and culture. I did get an MBA at this point which is not necessary but it’s where I learned the interviewing / research skills and strategy tools I was missing.

                My colleagues have gotten here in wildly divergent ways: I’ve worked with business types who entered through traditional consulting firms as junior analysts, humanities thinkers who enter through qualitative / user / design research (loads of psych, sociology, linguistics, and literature majors around me), engineers that hated engineering and now use their background to be consultants for technical or industrial orgs, and generalists who enter through entry level roles in project coordination or client services. My clients are in all parts of the organization — often it’s whatever c-level group is feeling the most pain from crappy culture or processes. Could be IT, marketing, or “people ops”. (I don’t do the kind of work that’s about proper operations / efficiency.)

        2. bloop*

          I’m an external consultant. Nothing drives me crazier than some of the leaders who hire me and their inability to just pay attention and listen (or the bosses of the leaders who hire me hoping I can get those upper-level bosses to just pay attention and listen). I always try to give credit where it’s due OR provide cover where it’s necessary — since I’m expendable as a consultant, sometimes it’s just easier and safer for employees to use me as the conduit for feedback that no one wants to hear and avoid blowback on them if it doesn’t land. Alas, it’s hard to say in a situation like OPs because it’s impossible for it to be confidential in this kind of situation. The consultants (if they’re remotely decent at their jobs) will probably be genuinely interested in learning what is working and why. OP reverting back to the original policies could be impossible if it will just cause harm to the relationships with the staff and tank all the metrics. But it comes down to whether the leadership at the company are willing to actually listen and act on what’s staring them in the face.

          1. Properlike*

            Thank you for this insight. I wish I could figure out how to get into this kind of consulting work, because it is what I expected all along (but with PowerPoints.)

            1. bloop*

              It works for me because I have a niche skillset that is under-resourced in most organizations (so they don’t have dedicated staff for it, but periodically panic about needing it) and I’m constitutionally incapable of surviving in a five-day-a-week job, so the constant doom of “is there another contract coming or am I screwed” is outweighed by the flexibility and constant novelty of self-employment. I like getting to come in as a temporary friend to help make certain internal processes work better and then moving on Mary Poppins-style. When leadership actually knows how to make good use of a consultant to enhance internal capacity rather than try to substitute it, it’s actually pretty fun and rewarding! And when it’s not, at least it’s temporary. I’m not getting rich doing it the way I do it, but it’s not bad work if you can get it. Networking and marketing and word-of-mouth worked for me.

    2. Person of Interest*

      Yeah, I think the tightrope to walk is to give the passive-voice version of improvements that the consultants can pass along as recommendations, not directly try to take credit for the changes you know are working. E.g., tell them “It would be helpful if the company would give managers more flexibility to allow employees to do X.” External consultants who are knowledgeable about the field in general may understand that you’re tiptoeing around saying you’ve done this – they already know you are successful for some reasons. Their final presentation doesn’t have to say “She did X and Y happened” which may not even be replicable in other locations.

  25. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

    I used to work in retail as a department manager (not over any employees, just taking care of the merchandise) and had tailored our displays, stock presentation, etc. to what sold at our particular store. One time when no manager showed up to open (it was me and a key holder who could do the opening procedures, but had no supervisory power), we were visited by a Vice President of my department and one of the planners from that department. That was a HUGE deal- we were a small market, 2000 miles from corporate, and it was definitely a planned visit, so management really dropped the ball by not being there.

    But what saved the visit was that every question the VP and planner asked about the store and, in particular, my department, I had an answer for- reasonable, backed up by data, explanations for doing what I did. The VP and planner were pleased as punch because I could provide good, solid reasons for what I did (and probably it helped I showed up!). To be fair, everything I did was “on brand”- I knew not only the corporate policies and marketing cycles really well, so if a display was different, it wasn’t a completely different merchandise or off theme. So definitely if your displays and merchandise are on brand and sell well, that’s a plus in your favor and can help you explain those.

    Maybe stick to those topics if possible and the personnel issues maybe not mention unless it’s brought up. If it is, make the case that the sales reflect your approach; it’s hard to find good people in your area and in this tight economy overall; and if you make changes that work against those things, your sales will decrease. That’s just my 2 cents, but I’m rooting for you- hopefully the people there to pick your brain are actually there with good intentions and will listen to those on the front line.

    1. Storm in a teacup*

      I think this is excellent advice.
      Totally agree to share specifics around your displays and the customer service you provide.
      Re: employees I wouldn’t necessarily mention this as it’s also less tangible unless you have metrics to show staff retention and performance is also significantly higher than other stores.

  26. C4TL4DY*

    I wouldn’t tell them the truth. You need to cover your butt. In my experience, when management asks for feedback they just want to hear good things and will ignore anything that will involve changing policies/processes.

  27. Annie*

    Put back up the right displays and feign ignorance.

    “I’m a great manager and foster a culture of empowerment and respect.”

    Also why hasn’t OP lobbied for a promotion to corporate?

  28. bad luck girlie*

    As someone else also in retail (at a company also struggling, at a store that used to be a top performing store but…well), I wouldn’t share things that affect the employees you manage. Possibly talk about trying to highlight items that work for your specific market, and talk about vague things like “morale” and “employee care” but in my experience retailers loooooove to talk a big game about wanting feedback and wanting employee engagement but really wanting people to be squeaky wheels so they can be eliminated.

  29. Massive Dynamic*

    If they fire you over this – write a book!! Heck, write a book anyway. Share exactly what works and why. It would be a beacon of light in the dystopian hellscape that is retail.

    1. Dasein9 (he/him)*

      Do it!

      (If you haven’t written a book before, the most important part besides actually doing it is getting and listening to a strong editor.)

    2. Luanne Platter*

      What would the book be about? “I refused to enforce discipline, policy, and attendance and got fired.” End of book

      1. AngryOctopus*

        That’s a weird way to say “I treated my employees like adults who have lives outside of their job and respected them accordingly”

  30. Ellis Bell*

    I think a little bit of mix and matching is in order. People take feedback better if you avoid saying “everything is wrong” and choose three really important things for them to learn first. Think of the main takeaways you would want the strategy consultants to pitch for you. Focus on those. If they are the kinds of things that are easy to roll out and gain success with, they’ll probably come back for more. Trying to teach everything you do all at once is unlikely to succeed, even if it succeeds for you.

  31. Busy Middle Manager*

    Wow, I really love this letter. It hits so many buttons, the younger me that barely lasted six months in retail management, and the general desire to cut through more of the BS in the work world so workers can work on what’s important and actually make customers happy.

    Wondering what rules you broke? In my case, they said “no refunds” and I allowed refunds. I remember one day a guy came in with a, well, abnormal body type. Hard to fit. I don’t know what you’d call it, but I know we got him some clothes that fit, which was a challenge. Next day he realized something truly doesn’t fit. What the heck was I supposed to do? I just did the refund (system allowed it at least, it was just a policy to not use it, I guess that was a benefit of it not being a large chain).

    That was a case where I 100% couldn’t budge, sorry upper management! It was so ridiculous. This guy probably got made fun of in school for abnormally short arms and even if I’m a jerk in other situations I am definitely not going to argue with him that I am not taking back clothes because they don’t fit well. Not worth five seconds of my time on this planet.

    So I’d lean towards 100% transparency. You’ll get another job if fired. And you probably broke a horrible rule like harassing customers for emails and phone numbers in order to buy a pack of socks.

  32. NottheBobs*

    Are these internal or external consultants? I’m a consultant (not in retail) and the amount of times there are great ideas in the field that aren’t bubbled up is huge…I know a lot of consultants get a bad rap, but one of my favorite parts of my job is getting senior leadership to LISTEN to their employees. I vote for being transparent but instead of framing it as “I break all the rules” I’d frame it as “I recognized x was leading to y problem, so I piloted z…that was successful and since the primary objective is to hit my revenue targets, I expanded that approach”. Good luck, you sound like a great leader!

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      This is good actionable advice for this! I think it’s still a bit risky in that anything that isn’t 100% toeing the company line probably will be, but framing it as LW being super solution-oriented can probably take the sting out of the “I am absolutely not following corporate’s rules” aspect.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      I’ve had two opportunities to talk to OUTSIDE consultants when replacing high-level positions within my company, and I had good experiences with both. I had substantial issues with one of the incumbents, and I came with notes and examples. At that stage of my career, if I got fired for being matter-of-fact and honest about the business impacts all their tomfoolery was having on the organization, I was prepared to move on and not have to deal with the BS any more. (This person accused me in front of leadership of taking bribes from a vendor that I never work with to this day.) But I definitely realize that’s not an option for many people.

      As it turned out, I got a second call-back with those consultants, and the C-level person whose position was being reviewed ultimately found a better fit at a much smaller organization they could micromanage to their heart’s content. Their successor and I hit it off in our first meeting when I brought the regular reporting I was receiving and they were horrified by how useless it was and that it was being delivered in literally reams of paper versus the spreadsheet format I’d begged for.

      I would be much less transparent with internal resources who are much more personally invested in their own policies. I totally agree with the framing above, too – it needs to be measured, factual, and showing that anything that you may have done that bent the rules was motivated by achieving company objectives.

      I also echo the kudos. I’ve had to work subtly around bad policies and bad leadership, and it’s irritating to be expected to accomplish things when they’re hamstringing you with that crap. It’s difficult, and it’s impressive that OP has accomplished these results in the face of them.

  33. Mellie Bellie*

    I’ve worked retail and my vote is beyond a few generalities, like a bland “I foster a respectful workplace” and “we try to tailor our displays a bit to the local target customer” don’t advertise that you ignore their employee policies and change up all their displays. In a fair and just world, the higher ups would admire your efforts and listen to what you’re saying. In the real world, some middle manager somewhere is going to flag you as insubordinate and recommend “coaching” you on the proper policies and procedures, if not outright letting you go because you’re not adhering to them.

    1. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      I did a fair bit of time at both Lord & Taylor and Old Navy and I think this is the right approach.

      In a right and just world, the company would adopt your model at other stores and you could have a part in improving a lot of people’s experiences. And then the company would share a bigger piece of its newfound profitability with you and your team out of gratitude.

      But that is probably not going to happen. The draconian policies you have reflect the general retailer philosophy that corporate control is the defining key component to profitability. Reason and data and experience won’t matter if your techniques don’t center corporate control.

      The best case scenario here is that the consultants congratulate you on your success, recommend strategies to corporate based on your practices that don’t get adopted, and your team gets a pizza party. The worst case is that you and much of your time get fired for violating company policy. It just doesn’t seem worth it. Which sucks a lot.

      For what it’s worth, I do hope to be wrong about this and if you choose to have a little faith, LW, I really hope it works out for you!! Write back and let us know what happens!!!

  34. Box of Kittens*

    OP has gotten a lot of good advice already, so I just want to pop in and say I would LOVE an update on this one.

  35. Dasein9 (he/him)*

    LW, you look a little peaked. I think you may be coming down with something that will hit you like a freight train during the entire visit from the consultants. How awful! I’m so sorry you’re going to be ill in such a well-timed manner.

  36. Magdalena*

    Do not be tempted. Seriously.
    I’d be very, very worried about jeopardizing people’s livelihoods. People who employ “consultants” while being harsh and draconian towards their own employees will not respond well to this kind of feedback. They will spin it however they can to justify their pre-existing beliefs. Do not risk ruining a good thing.

    1. Juicebox Hero*


      I’m not so much worried about LW, who is awesome and I’m sure could land a new job fairly quickly, as the worker bees. Most likely they’re not making great money, living paycheck to paycheck, and don’t have any savings to help them through a period of unemployment. I wouldn’t risk fallout for them by trying to talk sense into corporate, which can’t be done.

    2. Evil_Consultant*

      There is no indication that the existing policies were “harsh” or “draconian” towards the people. And the Strategy Consultants are coming to pick her brain on why she’s doing so well when the brand as a whole if struggling. She has the opportunity possibly cause some real positive effects in the way things are done. But, ok, let’s say these “EVIL CONSULTANTS” *eye roll* are coming to punish her, the MANAGER is the one who set the newer rules and policies. Why would you assume they’d punish the people following her rules? And as a 20+ year consultant, I’m quite offended by what a lot of people think consultants DO. We do not “spin” things to reinforce existing beliefs, because, that’s NOT helpful. Clearly the existing beliefs aren’t working so telling the company they ARE is of no use. Consultants get paid to report objectively and accurately so that companies can go forward with full knowledge of what is and is not working. We are not paid to be some sort of “yes men” because that’s a waste of their money and our time.

  37. Willow Sunstar*

    I would say pick one or two minor things, but don’t do anything major to rock the boat. If you haven’t had any disciplinary action against you, you might get a hand slapped. Don’t tell them anything that would be a fireable offense.

  38. Rebecca*

    Focus on ALL the positive, innovative, and creative steps you’ve taken to get to where you are. Don’t touch the more obvious “violations”. Think deeply about ways to present things – phrases and words to use. Anything they question, like scheduling for example, have a positive retort at the ready – “isn’t it amazing I haven’t had any call outs in …. Weeks?” This display has worked so well because…” “I’ve found for this location … works best, we increased sales by … because of it”
    Stay positive and focus ONLY on your remarkable results and achievements.

  39. happyhoodies*

    Ooh this is a tough one!

    I think the first thing is to decide how attached you are to keeping your job and what’s your ultimate goal.
    If you want to keep your job, I’d suggest lying your ass off or even maybe just keeping it to “I have been able to retain some of my best employees by issuing an additional warning before disciplinary action”

    High risk/high reward option if you don’t care about losing your job could be to put together a really tight presentation and data of employee satisfaction, retention, pre-and-post data from when you started implementing these changes, and even any data you have on store displays, and see if you could leverage that into a job working with corporate. They’re never going to change the policies for the entire company but they could be impressed enough with you to move you up in the organization. IDK!

  40. Lou's Girl*

    This happened at the very large corporate bank I worked at years ago when they purchased a smaller ‘mom and pop’ branch. Corporate always has regulations and guidelines they have to follow, but those seem to get lost when dealing with actual human beings (especially in smaller settings where everyone knows everyone else).

    The ‘mom and pop’ branch was used to making loans to people they knew, without collateral or regulations. They just knew them personally and knew they could pay it back. But Corporate HAD to follow FDIC guidelines or get fined.

    My two cents- pick and choose what you present to the consultants, don’t give them all your secrets, but do show them best practices for your location. Especially the retention of your employees.

    The consultants will take your feedback and practices back to corporate and if corporate has issues, they SHOULD address them with you before they just terminate you. If that is the case and they want you to do things their way, regardless of what’s right and non-illegal, then polish off your resume and go somewhere that appreciates your talents and approach to humans.

    1. Lou's Girl*

      Corporate came down and ‘trained’ the ‘mom and pop’ branch Manager, but she quit after a few months. She was exhausted having to tell her friends, family, church members, little league parents, etc., that things had changed, and she no longer had autonomy. She went across the street to the competitor and slowly pilfered the other staff and the clientele.

      1. Always Bring Pickles to a Potluck*

        To be fair, the way the mom and pop branch was operating was setting themselves up for lawsuits and sanctions and the CEO being forced to testify before Congress. Loaning to people you know without an underwriting process is a good way to only lend to a limited demographic.

      2. Properlike*

        Did she also set up a regional organization and marry a second Pop also in mom-and-Pop banking? :)

  41. Thoracic Bunk*

    I wouldn’t risk being totally honest unless you’re comfortable with being fired and the domino affect thereof.

    The people instituting those attendance and punishment systems don’t want to change. You are not the first person in the world to discover that people work better under non-draconian policies. They know, the brand strategists know, they just don’t care. They definitely do not want to be shown as incorrect by some lowly store manager. Do you even have a degree in retail management?!? /s

    You could throw them a bone and repackage some of the less offensive changes like the displays, as something that you are doing occasionally and might have a bigger impact. But honestly I would expect to get cracked down on about that as well.

    I’d be aware about them pumping your employees for information as well. Honestly, I would have one-on-one talks with them about how if they rat you out for being a chill manager you will probably get fired and their jobs will go back to sucking. ¯⁠\⁠_⁠(⁠ツ⁠)⁠_⁠/⁠¯

    For anyone saying, but you owe them honesty, I don’t think that’s the case. They’ll fire you without a second thought and no care to any responsibilities that you have. In this we all have to survive.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      I like the idea of warning their employees before hand, and once the plan has been decided, so that everyone is on the same page.

      I see nothing wrong with this especially since we just went through corporate training in “How to handle an OSHA inspection”

  42. Tina*

    You know your company best, I would divulge anything that is more palatable for them like customizing display for your consumer base, and keep quiet on hr and policy non compliance. Some of it is stuff the company can and should be willing to implement the other would be a nightmare so good luck!

  43. Just my guess*

    Consultants are not the decision makers–they’ll be there to build rapport and make you feel comfortable (and they genuinely aren’t there to get you in trouble), but at the end of the day…they aren’t your supervisor.

    Anyone looking at the lower number of write ups you have compared to other stores is going to notice, a difference in numbers, but you definitely need to talk around it when it asked instead of directly saying you break the rules (because they probably have looked at the numbers, and i would expect them to ask).

    Mention a couple of the rule breakings that are easier to swallow and won’t open up lawyer headaches (like the displays) and see what the fallout there is like AFTER the consultants leave.

    Also talk about valuing or needing flexibility from corporate to manage store to the needs of your employees without the fear of retaliation without saying that you’re breaking the rules, and see what might come back

    You actually do have some power here because of your performance, but because its external consultants, it’s hard to gauge safety. proceed with caution (and, sadly, polish your resume with those solid, excellent quantifiable metrics. Not because you’ll get fired but because changes are coming, and it’s nice to be prepared)

  44. M*

    Maybe I’m a cynic but I don’t think they’re coming to rain sunshine and roses on you. I think they know something is up and they’re coming to “catch” you in whatever it is.

    Ideally they probably want to hold you up as a store that is following all the stupid polices and rules as an example to the other stores, and once they find out you’re not following those polices, we’ll…your whole team is most likely going to be out. Retail is unkind.

    1. Baby Yoda*

      “Maybe I’m a cynic but I don’t think they’re coming to rain sunshine and roses on you. I think they know something is up and they’re coming to “catch” you in whatever it is”

      That’s been my experience with every “consultant” I’ve encountered.

    2. elodieunderglass*

      I’m going to type more in-depth advice in a separate comment, but this is part of what makes it so tricky. OP doesn’t seem to have a very clear steer on what kind of consultants they are or what they’re looking for. Given the figures, it could well be an audit – the consultants are being sent because they suspect the overperformance is the anomaly, and they’re concerned OP is cooking the books.

  45. CommanderBanana*

    Wait, you mean to tell me that you get the most out of employees but respecting their autonomy, treating them like adults, and working with their strengths instead of by imposing one-size-fits-all standards from a corporate overlord who thinks people are widgets???

    I am CLUTCHING my pearls over here.

    Honestly, LW, I don’t know what to tell you. My personal experience with consultants (and take this with a huge grain of salt, I don’t work in retail) is that they are paid a lot of money to tell the overlord(s) what they already knew, or could have known by just, you know, ASKING one of their peons, and then gotten rid of when what they’re telling the overlords is that the overlords are the problem.

    1. NameRequired*

      I have been a consultant for 20+ years and frankly find this rather offensive. Our team takes being objective quite seriously. We do not bow to “corporate overlords” and tell them what they want to hear. We are paid regardless of the nature of our final reports and the information in there–positive, negative, neutral–or what we recommend. There is no value in saying, “nope everything you’re doing is perfect the way it is, keep doing it!” Companies bring in consultants because they recognize that some things need to change, and since most of the stores in this brand are failing, telling them that their methods are successful, would be outright lying and short sighted and not helpful at ALL with getting them back on track.

  46. cxxxb*

    I was the store manager for 10 years at a similar youth-ish focused retail store until 2013 (I now work in executive management at a non-profit). Here is my advice based on my store management experience…own up to it, but have documentation. Take pics of the displays that have been selling your merch better than the corp displays. Have your sales goals vs. actual sales from when you stopped doing their displays. Corporate retail does want everything cookie cutter (partially because then at each location customers can find things easily) but more than anything, they want you to sell especially in the current climate in which companies like yours are suffering greatly. As far as the employee accountability pieces, have those high performing employees there when the consultants come in. show their results, especially those that were struggling and now are performing well! You may get some serious push back from these consultants so be prepared for that. But you may get praised. The mall stores are dying and they need to see why yours specifically is NOT and you should be proud of that.

    1. cxxxb*

      all of that is to say…. don’t frame it as “breaking all the rules” frame it as “I did research about my customer base and this is what works in this location because x,y,z”. Come with facts and data. Offer to take them on a tour of your mall so they can see what else is selling around you. If these are outside consultants, they wont say anything too direct to you, but your district or regional manager may (or they may not, do they know whats going on? how often do they come in?). If they are internal consultants they may have direct feedback.

  47. Enescudoh*

    A lot of the comments seem to be equating the Strategy Consultants with Upper Corporate Management – I had assumed SC was an external company?
    Not quite the same situation, but I’ve definitely felt more empowered to be honest with External SCs knowing that they can package up anything they have to take back to Upper Corporate Management themselves, and it’s possible the same could work for you. If you tell SCs what you’ve actually done to make it work at your store it’s not in their interest to get you punished for it. It’s in their interest to communicate their conclusions from it back to their client in a way that will make them listen and get better results in more stores, because that equates success for them.

  48. anonymous commenter*

    I worry that all the reasonable pride in your success, and the commenters being proud at your ability to kick ass, might mean that you lose sight of one big fact: the company’s priorities are not the same as yours, and ‘this particular store doing amazingly’ is not their number 1. They might believe that a uniform branding strategy enhances overall profits even if tweaking it might bring benefits in particular markets, for example. Or that having strict attendance policies applied across the board is better than allowing individual managers (some of whom are great like you, but others of whom might be terrible) from making their own rules, even if things improve when *great* managers get given leeway. They might be wrong about those things – I think they probably are, and the B&N example is a good argument! But don’t assume that your stellar results – even results they would like to see replicated elsewhere – will mean more to them than their priorities for the business as a whole.

  49. Dr. Prepper.*

    If any or all of these policies have penalty or disciplinary clauses in them if not followed, you will almost certainly be fired if your not following the policies come to light. There are too many persons in power in these companies who live to eviscerate those who “don’t follow the rules” and are champing at the bit to make an example of someone, especially if that someone is more successfully than themselves.
    If you have any innovations that are not strictly related to ignoring policies (think – employee of the week, best new display idea, etc.) showcase THOSE and downplay or sidestep any policy violations.
    Or, lay it all out, hope for the best, knowing you can take your successes to another retail company if needed.

  50. AnonRuleBreaker*

    I can’t tell you what to do, but what you are doing is how I ended up, at a very young age, in an amazing position that change the entire trajectory of my career.

    During grad school I was interning in my field, I was killing it, but they did not have a full time position for me. They asked if I wanted to be sort of a “floater” filling in for people who were on paternity leave, out on medical leave, or while they recruited a permanent person. I jumped on it. I was 23, and it was giving me the chance to try out a bunch of different positions for 6-12 weeks, in different locations around the US. Giving me great exposure and so much learning!

    I can’t give too much detail, but, I started noticing trends in locations that weren’t doing well. As I was preparing to go to the next location I would research their numbers and would subtly make changes once I arrived. After about a year of this, someone at corporate noticed. They asked me for a meeting and asked what I was doing, and I told them. All of it. I knew I was risking getting fired, but at this point I had a ton of experience and knew I could get a job at a competitor if I wanted one. They sat in silence- all these stuffy old men, looking at me, looking at each other. They said they needed to discuss this privately, and to come back the next day.

    The next day they offered me a position they made up for me. I began traveling around the country for 3-6 months postings at a huge salary. It was am amazing experience for 23 yr old me.

    20 yrs later, I am still doing that line of work in a much bigger capacity, with very little travel.

    Not every company will embrace the rule breaking, not every company will promote you into a position like I got- a lot of them will steal your ideas and turn them into stiff rules for everyone. Naive 23 yr old me didn’t know all that, but looking back I am glad I was so brazen and naive.

    Would I do it now? I am not sure. As we get older and have more responsibilities we become more risk averse. I still like to buck the system, but I do it with a bit more finesse and caution now.

    1. ebongreen*

      I’m really on-board with this approach. You’re clearly in an interesting position, and this is a crisis/opportunity.

      A fair bit depends on what sort of relationship you can strike up with the consultants—who, as folks have made clear, are usually brought in to tell the C suite truths the executives could discover themselves if they were humble enough to ask for real truthful answers themselves, and provided enough psychological safety to deserve them. Your management clearly doesn’t believe in providing independence or psychological safety, but the consultants might.

      I don’t know your financial situation or risk tolerance, but I would be advise you to be as open to the consultants as you feel you can be. _If they’re any good at their job_, they will sincerely want to hear what you’ve done and why it’s been successful—and furthermore, if the retailer you work for now decides You’ve Been Bad and fires you, _the consultant group should consider hiring you immediately as new consultant_, or refer you to some other firm that deserves your services and for which you’d be a better fit.

      If you’re as good as you say you are, you deserve better than being a single store manager. Set your sights higher and put yourself in a position to do more good for more people. Good luck!

  51. Nemo*

    I had the special privilege of working for Blockbuster AND Borders after undergrad, when both companies were circling the drain, and both stores even happened to be flagships that got extra attention from corporate. The parade of strategy consultants always wanted to hear what was working… so long as it could credibly be spun as their idea. What actually worked from our boots-on-the-ground perspective was at best irrelevant and at worst a threat to the full execution of their vision, so we had to fill our checkout lane at Blockbuster with specialty pickles and install a popcorn machine that made the whole store smell like burning and set up the loneliest display selling HDTVs and Blu-ray players in the back corner, while the manager’s plan to train employees to be genre specialists so that we’d always have a recommendation for any customer got shot down for interfering with the mandate that we only and always push the company’s kneejerk Netflix-but-worse subscription.

    I would love for your rule-breaking to be seen and accepted as precisely the kind of out-of-the-box thinking your company needs, OP, but I have never encountered a corporate retail environment, whether as employee or as customer, where that would be a plausible outcome. You could be making them a million dollars a month and they’d still focus on how your workers are “undisciplined” and how store revenue could be even higher if you were a draconian asshole to them.

    1. Former Retail Manager*

      Hey! Former Blockbuster manager here also! I was in the Fort Worth area from 1999-2010. I remember these visits. My store was not in a good area of town, so the consultants never wanted to come to us, but we were one of the last locations in DFW to close when they all finally shut down. What you describe is spot on based on my experiences.

  52. Falling Diphthong*

    Are the people coming your very senior managers, or are they outside consultants?

    Because there is a consultancy rule that you go in and talk to the people on the front line, who tell you what the problems are and what would fix them, and then you turn around and tell the head office what they said, but with graphs and charts and a 5-6 figure fee. But the head office was not going to hear that stuff without the expensive outsider veneer inserted between upper management and the poor policies.

    1. LucyHoneychurch*

      BINGO. Companies could save tons of money if they listened more to the front line people, but it seems that their bigwig pants can’t handle these interactions with “peons.” I have seen this over and over again.

  53. Menace to Sobriety*

    Honestly, I’d tell the truth or at least most of it! You are getting results, and in business, the bottom line is everything. You may be able to effect real change here! “I found that our employees weren’t feeling respected and valued by XYZ constraints, so I removed them, and our turnover has gone down by X%.” “We found that our demographic really responded to displays that resonated with them in XYZ way, and after giving the corporate designs ABC amount of time, we changed it up and it made a startling difference in upping our sales of those display items by X%” or whatever. Give quantifiable examples and metrics of how YOUR way of doing business is working, because theirs is clearly not. I think you may well be pleasantly surprised by the response and they may implement your changes across the stores, perhaps even invite you to train other managers on your methods! Good Luck!

    1. HonorBox*

      Definitely agree with the specific metrics. Especially as it relates to turnover and how changes have impacted sales. More money is good, and we all know there’s a pretty significant cost when you have to hire and train new people.

  54. CV*

    If these are outside consultants, it may be possible to learn about some of their other jobs: are they cutthroat? Do managers get pilloried after their report goes in? Do the stores they examine improve noticeably?

    This information might help you decide how to handle them.

  55. Juicebox Hero*

    10 year retail survivor here.

    If you want to keep this job, revert, for at least as long as the corporate bloodhounds are going to be sniffing around. I’ve never met a more bullheaded, doctrinaire, petty bunch of martinets as the corporate heads of a retail company.

    Since the chain itself isn’t doing well, they clearly care more about the rules being followed than employee satisfaction or appealing to the public, which are so obvious that a turnip could have thought of it. One renegade store manager isn’t going to convince them of anything, and I’d bet straight cash money that you’ll either be fired or on such a short leash that you can’t nod without choking yourself.

    1. cxxxb*

      See this is why retail is so tough! I did retail management for ten years and this would have been praised by my company-because profit over everything. but I would have had to have a lot of data to back me up.

      1. Juicebox Hero*

        You were lucky. At the store I worked at, one of the higher-ups decided that we weren’t allowed to have garbage cans on the sales floor anymore, so if you had as much as a dirty tissue you had to go into the stockroom to throw it away and hope you didn’t catch hell for leaving the register. We also weren’t allowed to post the list of phone extensions next to the phone, and a zillion other equally petty rules.

        Meanwhile, the customers were allowed to get away with murder and store management wouldn’t hesitate to throw you under the bus.

        I left there 15.5 years ago and still have nightmares.

        1. Wired Wolf*

          OMG that sounds like the place I work at now. The store manager and most of the supervisors are petty manipulators (guess that’s how they can cater to a customer base that is insane). The company actually enacted a return policy where you don’t even need a receipt OR the product.

    2. Nonanon*

      Honestly, I think the short-leash option is more likely than an outright firing (“Wow, you’re doing great by not following policies, imagine how much better you would be if you did all those disciplinary writeups!”). I ABSOLUTELY agree LW should be selective about telling the higher ups exactly what they’re doing; they know company culture better than I do, so they can ultimately decide how much to hide/massage/outright admit (for example “Jina is a high school student and corporate policy states that “evening” shifts technically start right when school ends. She’s otherwise a fantastic employee, so I don’t feel writing her up if she clocks in late on a school day is prudent of management” is probably better than “Jina needs to use public transport which can be unreliable and it’s not worth my time to write it up as long as she does her job,” unless “I always follow corporate policy when it comes to employee tardiness” is the best option. It’s hard to call as an absolute outsider). It’s an absolutely sucky situation, and I wish LW the best… especially if it involves keeping their job.

  56. Frogs*

    Tell them a few points (the lowest risk ones) and see what is the response when their findings are reported back to management. If positive, you could share a few more. But wait until they report – the consultants might initially be positive but the response from management might be adverse.

  57. AvocadoQueen*

    I’m with the people who are saying to be mostly honest, but to have the data and great, enthusiastic answers to back up what you’re doing. Act proud, enthusiastic, and eager to share what works so well to get your sales numbers high. Praise your employees. Show that you know your specific customers. Explain how you tailor displays to them. Maybe this will end up as a Barnes and Moble situation, where they realized letting each location have autonomy was a good thing.

  58. Olive*

    I’m curious about how the actual changes work – if the team isn’t held to attendance policies, how does the store maintain coverage and not end up dumping on some people? Because I assume that the employees as a whole wouldn’t be happy if they were constantly being pulled in at the last minute when other people call out. I’ve seen letters here where people were fairly upset that their manager was making them work to find their own coverage no matter how sick they were.

    The answer to how the OP handles coverage fairly might be a good, positive response that will have a lot better reception than “I break all the rules and don’t make people stick to the attendance policy”.

    Same with the displays – I’m really curious about what kind of display could be drawing people in so much. Talking about how they determine the demographics and learning what’s viral would be a better response than “I ignore the corporate guidelines for displays”. Frame it as using the guidelines as guidelines instead of commandments, and then adding to them to make the displays specific to the clientele.

  59. Irish Teacher.*

    Could you tell them about one or two of the minor changes you’ve made?

    I’d be very wary of telling them about things like not holding your staff to attendance policies because the sort of company that implements such draconian policies strikes me as likely to be the type that would read that as “I let my team slack and don’t have authority over them.” Nor would I be inclined to admit to breaking large numbers of rules.

    But given that your store is doing so much better than the overall company and they seem to want your input, it might be possible to get them to listen and accept a couple of changes, if you use examples where you either tweaked the rules rather than outright ignored them (“I found that firing people after two infractions of x rule was leading to a very high turnover, so I often just place people on a PIP at that point and if they successfully complete it, I don’t fire them”) or where the rules are minor and ones they are less likely to care about. I’m thinking things like the requirement to ensure all customers “turned their trolleys” (so that we could check them for hidden items as well as to make it easier to pack) in a retail store I worked in. I think it would likely be safe enough to say, “I found that customers resented being told to turn their trolleys around and that turning them didn’t really prevent shoplifting, so I don’t actually insist my cashiers make customers do that.” The worst I could see happening in response to that is your being told to ensure it in future. It isn’t something any reasonable company would sack their most successful manager for.

  60. As You Wish*

    Okay, full disclosure that I’ve been the strategy consultant sent to the retail store to help figure out what’s working and what’s not. So I know its possible for that team to be there in completely good faith, trying to give good recommendations to upper management. It is very unlikely the consultants are there to enforce existing policies. Almost always, we are there because things need fixing, so there’s appetite to hear good ideas and share them. Also – there’s a bit of a recent pendulum swing in strategy for chain retailers, back to giving local autonomy to management that knows their market and customers best (see: Barnes & Noble lately) so what you are doing may be a proof point of something that a lot of strategists are seeing and recommending anyway. For this reason my advice is to pick a few things that you think are core to your success and share them – motivating your store staff, tweaking your displays, or whatever. Maybe keep quiet if there’s something you think is going to trigger HR (like not logging PTO or something.) But when it comes to merchandising or operations, I don’t think there will be any downside to sharing. Upside is, they recommend your approach to other store managers and the entire enterprise starts doing better, thus making it less likely the whole organization goes under! And congrats to you for being a great manager, whatever you decide.

    1. Princess Pumpkin Spice*

      I agree, keep quiet about the staffing policies. I’m sorry, but no good can come of telling them you aren’t writing up staff or holding them accountable for lateness / call outs. Picking the few things that are actionable elsewhere, like merchandising to specific clientele, seems like the best approach.

  61. Leenie*

    I’m not in retail, so this isn’t coming from a place of expertise. But, I’d be inclined to present a modified/softened version of the truth. Something like – I always set up the displays as directed by corporate. But if it looks like a particular display isn’t getting attention, I’ll change it up in (x, y, or z) way. Or, I’m fortunate that I have many trustworthy and successful staff members, so I’ve been able to offer them some flexibility in scheduling from time to time. So it doesn’t sound like you’ve completely thrown the rule book out, if that’s not safe for you and you need the job. And also just because telling corporate that they’re doing absolutely everything wrong isn’t likely to be met with gratitude, or spur real change – it’s too much of an affront to their worldview. But I bet you can tell them enough that you actually are able to give your staff and techniques some credit, and maybe make a difference. It’s a delicate line.

    1. Csethiro Ceredin*

      I agree. This is the best balance of making your points but not sentencing yourself to a bunch of micromanaging and lectures about why they know best.

  62. whyblue*

    Own it. Your way is demonstrably working better than the official guidance. As long as you did not do anything illegal or unethical, your company wants to make money and you made them way more than anyone else.

  63. Rachel*

    stay tight lipped on the infractions. they will hold it against you even if they don’t say anything upfront. let your staff know about the visit and go by the book while consultants are there. if you are candid you will get punished. it’s sad but you see the corporate culture

  64. Student*

    I hate putting this in writing, but your strategy depends on your social status/race/gender. If you are a well-off white guy, you may very well be able to just tell these consultants the blunt truth – point to the bad policies you ignore, point to what you actually do, explain why it works better. Then the consultants will try to figure out how to repackage what you tell them into advice the C-suite might actually listen to. People with privilege can get away with a lot when their results are good, and there’s a lot of allowance for swagger when you’re making money.

    People without privilege, or with less privilege, don’t get the same treatment for the same behavior. If you’re a racial minority, a woman, or otherwise not part of the normal US C-suite good ol’ boys club, then keep your head down. Swagger from us gets marked as arrogance, and good results that we achieve tend to create resentment from the C-suite more often than adoration. In such a case, pick exactly one secret to reveal. Pick a secret to share that you think might genuinely help others. Make sure the secret you pick to share is also an acceptable loss to you, if corporate just comes back to stamp it out. You need to give them SOMETHING to keep them from digging around a bunch on their own. Make your delivery to the consultants as genuine and enthusiastic as you can manage.

    1. Old Dumpling*

      Agree. As a short, fat, plain (and now over-40) woman, I can point to dozens of times in my work life when I’ve taken it upon myself to make an improvement (or just suggested an improvement) and been treated or actually told I’m not qualified, I’m out of line, I should have asked, stay in my lane–regardless of how great my results are. And at the same time, have regularly observed tall, thin/athletic, pretty female and mediocre male colleagues get away with murder, get their ideas greenlit, get whatever they need whenever they need it.

      If your gut is worried you may not have the social capital to win these people over, choose self-preservation and cover your ass. Sorry. :(

  65. first thought best thought*

    I think you should be prepared for unemployment soon. That said, you’re at a place where there’s nothing to lose. I think you should be honest and frank, presented respectfully—and maybe, maybe you might win the upper management lottery, like your staff did with you, and they’ll fight for your proven success making positive changes across the company.

    Still, be prepared to leave. Use your metrics in your resume, as long as there’s someone above you who would provide a valuable reference.

  66. Rectilinear Propagation*

    I’m also voting for “stick to the small stuff, if anything”.

    Retail as an industry is infamous for terrible staffing practices. They are unlikely to agree that your flexible attendance policy plays a part in the store’s success. And they definitely aren’t going to agree that being more relaxed in disciplinary stuff helped. The second you say that, they’re going to worry about what other rules you aren’t following and whether that’s made them vulnerable to lawsuits.

    For the employee stuff, I wouldn’t say anything more than you’ve been able to retain a productive workforce and that means you have experienced employees. Let them know that keeping employees happy is a good thing but don’t specify how you kept them.

    Maybe you can tell them about stuff like the displays but I honestly don’t think the risk is worth it. As you said, their guidelines are draconian. That sounds to me like they’re likely to demote or fire you on principle even if they like your ideas.

  67. Zennish*

    I’d vote for telling the truth, but phrasing things so it sounds like you’re just bending the rules a bit, or being creative, rather than outright breaking them, whenever possible. They obviously know something is different at your store, or they wouldn’t be sending people in the first place. If you play dumb, there is just too much chance that’s going to blow back in a way that makes you look like you were just insubordinate and then lied about it, which is going to be a much bigger deal.

  68. Princess Pumpkin Spice*

    Oh, OP, I could have written this letter a decade ago. I’m sorry to say that, when it comes to corporate retail, the corporate part of the company who isn’t on the ground tend to be stuck in their ways, surrounded by yes-men who all have lofty and unrealistic expectations of how their stores run.

    My advice? Pick the three things you think will be the most likely to get adopted company-wide, and the ones least likely to get you in trouble. I’d start with something like the displays. Explain what is being sent to you doesn’t appeal to your customers, and that you customize your floor sets in line with your market. Perhaps suggesting regionally-driven displays, or broad ideas rather than specific pieces to be used.

    Be honest about a few small things, enough to show that you are doing a few things different while not admitting to throwing out the rule book.

  69. HonorBox*

    I think your best bet is to be really, really honest. Especially if these strategy consultants are not directly corporate folks, it might be a good opportunity to open their eyes. While you’re definitely running afoul of policies set down by corporate, you’re running the store in the best way possible for your area with your team. Clearly, the reason the consultants are coming to visit are because you’re outperforming everyone else by a large margin so they’ll be more interested in finding out how that’s happening. The fact that you’re flexible with your team, the fact that you are setting displays that make product more attractive to customers should be eye opening to corporate.

    If you set everything back to the way the rules say you should for the consultants, you’re going to continue to be an anomaly and raise eyebrows. The brutal truth may lead to changes that allow the overall business to be more successful and/or lead you to a role where you might be able to have influence over how other stores can operate better.

    If you have an opportunity to send an update at some point, I think we’d all love to hear how things shake out.

    1. HonorBox*

      All this said, when I say “really, really honest” I guess I’d say “really really honest” where you think you can have the best effect and minimize any potential for real trouble. For instance, if you’re letting employees get by with something that could be seen as illegal or unethical, don’t admit that. Or if one of your employees gets away with more related to the attendance policy and that comes up when the consultants are talking with your employees, that’ll be bad. But if you’re letting everyone get by with more related to attendance and can talk about how difficult it is market-wide to recruit and retain employees, you have actual data to show WHY you’re doing what you’re doing.

  70. Brain the Brian*

    Any chance this chain uses a franchise model with different local owners around the country? If so, you might want to try getting your local ownership and management on board first — or at least clueing them in that this won’t be as simple as it might seem.

  71. OrigCassandra*

    No matter what you decide with respect to the consultants — get your résumé out there NOW. You are a gem and somebody will recognize that!

    Best-case, you get to jump out before the consultants arrive, consultants/management blame you, so your employees escape danger (for now).

    Worst-case, they fire you, but you have a leg up on better employment.

  72. bleh*

    Genuinely gobsmacked by all the comments telling you to be forthright. If you work for a corporation like H&M or Forever 21, I guarantee that your success will not change the company policy. They will see that you are breaking their existing policy, they will fire you, and they will replace you with a manager who will follow the rules and turn the store into another draconian workplace. I think the changing displays is small enough that it’s safe to talk about that, and it’s probably what they’re actually looking for, but the attendance and infraction stuff isn’t safe to tell them about.

    Corporations, by design, exist to cater to investors, not customers and certainly not employees. They do not take risks. They do not care about you. They do not care about their employees’ wellbeing. They care about assuring their investors that they’re making the most money by spending the least and taking the smallest risks. You can’t trust that they’ll take a risk on you, no matter how sensible it might be.

    1. CMBG*

      Agree. “Authenticity is dangerous and expensive” — Tina Fey said that a few days ago. Different field, but it applies widely. Speak in generalities about respecting and trusting employees, being creative with displays (while respecting corporate guidelines!), noticing local trends and taking advantage via special promotions, fostering teamwork, and just getting lucky hiring great talent. Above all, protect your store, your employees, and your job. The corporation that set all those policies that don’t work is not going to suddenly wise up and change them on the advice of one rogue manager (no matter how successful).

  73. Kristin*

    “Strategy consultants” – are they internal, or external? If external, I wouldn’t give away all your secrets, but depending upon how they intend to share their information, I would be upfront with them about what works and what does not. Is there some way you can ask them questions about how your information will be shared and used before you open up (if you decide to)?
    And you might want to think about spinning off and opening your own store someday. You are obviously a winner, and probably will not last in a micromanaging bureaucracy for long.

  74. Llellayena*

    What parts of what you’ve changed will be visible to visitors and what parts will fly under the radar? I assume display changes will be visible, but the scheduling flexibility and other employee retention strategies may not be. I would present the physical store changes as “based on local marketing impact.” It’s easy enough to agree to change them back if there’s objection to straying from the “brand” but it’s also something that could influence the global brand (which theoretically is why they’re sending people to figure out why you’re so much better). Things like customer interaction can also be “local marketing impact.” The employee stuff is a little grayer. Are there parts of it that are quite noticeable and likely to be highly controversial that you can ask your staff to switch back temporarily (dress code, flexible arrival times)? Can you pick one or two employee satisfaction things you’ve done that “bend” the rules to lean on and hide others for the time you’re being observed? Discipline is one that can be by “manager discretion” despite written policy, especially if you can point to “I talked to Sue about X and it never happened again. If I had done Y per the policy, she would not still be working for us and we would have lost Z profit, based on her sales numbers. Now we have a loyal, model employee who brings in Z profit per month on average.” It’s always a risk, but the company won’t change if you don’t let them see what’s actually working. Just don’t dump it all on them at once.

  75. The Terrible Tom*

    I’m probably just noticing a particular type of response more than others because of my own biases, but in scrolling through these comments I feel like I saw a *lot* of type, “Well, if the risk is losing your job in order to teach this company how to do things, I say do it!”

  76. anony*

    Own it.

    With the things that can be observed by anyone—like the displays—talk in specifics and share your reasons.

    With the stuff like employee policies, focus on the big picture of *actually* showing them respect and being flexible when you can, and how that translates into retention and how they interact with the customers.

    Good luck.

  77. Timothy*

    As you show them around the store, explain the policies that you’ve put into place, without necessarily elaborating that they’re not the ‘corporate’ policies. Your excellent results and your happy workforce should show them that you’re doing things right.

    If they steal your ideas, that’s fine — you’re doing retail right. If they fire you — irritating, but you produced great results and you provided a great workplace for your colleagues. And you can take that to the next place you work.

    And maybe you put the consultants in a difficult position — by reporting that your store isn’t following the guidelines, yet somehow .. has a very productive store and a happy workforce. Can’t wait to hear the followup.

  78. tabloidtainted*

    I would personally only reveal your changes if you are comfortable with the risk. Good for you for making your store a success, LW!

  79. Kitano*

    I’d vote for giving them an edited version of the truth – see if you can find a “corporate method” that worked for another struggling retailer in your business’ sector that aligns with what you’re already doing (more or less) and attribute your success to following that.

    Unfortunately, the nail that sticks out gets the hammer, so if you package it as your own ideas, some Fussy Frank in corporate HQ who lovingly crafted the draconian guidelines will discredit you and probably try to get you fired(because your success directly threatens their clout/continued employment with the company). If you can point to a method that clearly worked to revitalize a competitor, then there’s a larger body of evidence behind it to support your arguments.

    It sucks that you can’t take and receive due credit for your awesome success straight up, but if you need this job then covering yourself with the mantle of someone else’s ideas is safer than being straightforward.

  80. GelieFish*

    when I worked retail, the rule breaker were often rewarded for thinking outside the box.
    worth a shot as it sounds like you are making a positive difference.

    1. LucyHoneychurch*

      There are tons of people here that are saying the opposite. I worked in retail for over 10 years, and I recall lots of really ugly displays that we had to follow to the letter. There was very little room for any creativity, it was about following corporate orders.

  81. Former Retail Manager*

    If you need to keep this job, and your staff needs to keep their jobs DO NOT DISCLOSE.

    Retail is a different world, and they absolutely will fire you & likely the entire staff. Pick one or two of the things that are very, very, VERY small and don’t violate any rules about staffing, pay, leave, or branding to leave up to go along with your shrug, then revert absolutely everything else. Talk to your staff and warn them all what is coming and that they need to keep quiet about what you’ve been doing that is different to protect all your jobs.

    It’s a lovely, idealistic idea to think that they’d look at the numbers and support you but it isn’t the way big retail corporations work. I used to work as a manager for one of the big pet retail chains that everyone thinks is great (hint: it’s not from the inside) and watched store managers I knew who were making improvements in their store get fired multiple times despite having the numbers to back up their changes. I kept in touch with several of them over the years and none of the companies they moved on to were any different.

  82. Louisa*

    I’d be really careful. I don’t know that the amazing sales numbers will be enough, maybe I’m just jaded. I would not ever say that you aren’t following policies or are breaking the rules. In my opinion it’s too much risk that you’ll be forced to comply. I don’t have any confidence that the decision makers will agree with you and attribute your success to rule breaking because it won’t fit their narrative. If you want to share improvements, do that, but just make sure to spin it. Not saying to lie, but if you share things that are working, you don’t necessarily have to also explain what rule you are breaking at the same time. It’s going to take some finesse and out of the box thinking but you clearly already have that!

  83. ragazza*

    Unfortunately in my experience, even hard data doesn’t convince companies they need to change. (Look at how many are pushing back against remote work!) So maybe you can just hint at the changes you’ve made, saying things like “I find that my employees are much more motivated when I give them a little more flexibility when they need it,” etc.

  84. WheresMyPen*

    I really hope we get an update to this one (that involves OP being given a raise and all their ideas being implemented on a national level, saving the company)!

  85. François Caron*

    You and your staff should prepare your resumes (emphasize the positive changes) and start looking for new jobs right away. If the corporation’s doing badly except for your store, they won’t be around for very long and you’ve all have better luck working for someone else who will value your collective success and expertise. Don’t tell management or the consultants anything. If management was serious about learning the secret to your success, they would have asked you directly instead of going through a proxy.

  86. ticktick*

    Can you refer to the ostensible principles behind the draconian corporate policies and then frame what you’ve been doing as just “extending” those principles? Like, “Oh, I knew that the reason behind having the attendance policies is to make sure we always had coverage, and because I know the specific individuals here respond to permission for time off by giving me double that amount in the next week, that’s what I did, so I never have a problem with coverage”? Or “Oh, the corporate displays are designed to be eye-catching, and my clientele really have their attention caught by this sort of thing, so I just made some improvements”? That way, you never say that the corporate dictates were wrong, you just made them more right.

  87. JR 17*

    These are external consultants, right? Part of the value of hiring an external consulting firm is creating distance and insulating the people/data from management and providing an internal perspective. I think this is a conversation you could potentially have with the consultant – that you do things in an unorthodox (but totally legal!) way and you want to share but you’re worried about job security. If they were going out to interview, say, the top 10 stores, it’s very likely that they could offer you anonymity. Harder if you’re the single best and they’re interviewing specifically YOU, but they might still be able to offer you some protection. Obviously, you’d need to trust them, so still a risk.

  88. HugeTractsofLand*

    I echo what a lot of people have said here about telling them the obvious, lower stakes stuff like the custom displays. I would emphasize that you’re adapting to your local clientele, because I think that’s a pretty understood concept across businesses. Maybe couch it as “Obviously corporate standards are the gold standard, but we’ve seen such a financial benefit to adapting that I felt I had to continue the experiment.”

    Also! There’s a non-zero chance that someone thinks you’re cooking the books since there’s such a marked difference in your results. If you pretend that you’ve been following policy all along, that would make me more suspicious. Coming clean about some stuff will give them something concrete to focus on instead of imagining you’re doing something more nefarious.

    1. HonorBox*

      That second point is a good one. If I saw a 400% difference I’d wonder what was going on and as much as I hate to admit it, I’d assume something negative first.

  89. Brambles are not the only fruit*

    Its not often in life that we’re singled out and called upon for greatness but this is one of those times. This isn’t about managing a clothes shop, its about creating a world where treating the people under our supervision with respect and understanding is accepted as the right thing to do. That fact that it’s right is borne out by the feedback from your staff and by the shop’s turnover. Before the strategy consultants arrive, maybe write a detailed memo with your own personal policies, have it spelt out in black and white that this is what you do and that it works. That way, any criticism of your approach will only look foolish.

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      Have you ever worked for a corporate retail chain? I got in trouble once for not having one (1) of the arms on one (1) four-way rack out of at least 100 at the correct height. The fact that the little button that was supposed to keep the arm in place was broken didn’t matter.

  90. COHikerGirl*

    I worked at both CompUSA and Best Buy. Comp, the managers were sketch (and did straight up illegal stuff) but they definitely gave us employees some leeway. I was able to rework a few displays and move some stuff around that actually led to us selling some product that hadn’t really been selling before. I thought it was pretty cool. Best Buy, I had some ideas that could help sales (close proximity of add-ons helps with sales!), but there was no way to actually implement it. Between that and the “cash is king” cheer we had to do at morning meetings (serious ick), I quit way sooner than I would have had it not been so rigid.

    Definitely get the paid displays but there is some leeway with the rest, to tailor to your store and customers! I firmly believe this. Sadly…OP, corporate probably won’t care. I hope they do, because you have done amazing work! Definitely realize that your employees will remember you, even if they don’t say anything. I would have loved to have you as my boss!

  91. Suzy Q*

    I hope you will think about becoming a retail corporate consultant. You would make a heck of a lot more money and have more autonomy. You sound like an amazing person! Write down everything you have done in order to achieve this success, not to show these people who are coming to see you but for your future. Retail is mostly a dead-end job but you can do more and better with your life. Good luck!

    1. Random Dice*

      Agreed! This kind of brain and innovation is really impressive. Think outside of the box (store)!

  92. TeapotNinja*

    Do not change anything, keep everything as you have them, and honestly tell why your store(s) are succeeding.

    If the strategy consultants are worth their money, the message they’ll deliver to management is that their processes suck and they should change it to yours.

    If you can wrap those changes to some evidence/data based information, even better. They would be out of their minds to punish you for any of this crap.

    If they ARE out of their minds, and you know this, then hide everything. If they actually care, they will promote you.

  93. TheOtherOtherBoleynGirl*

    It’s a tough one and you know your company’s situation and culture best. I also think other commenters’ concerns about your ideas being taken and repackaged are worth considering and it may be worth it reflect on what *you* want to get out of them visiting and your career trajectory as a whole. Is this an opportunity for a stepping stone? Do you want to stay at this company? Do you want to stay in your role?

    Honestly, I would own this though. You are doing better than a good job managing the store….you’re outperforming by 400% and are the top location in the whole country….so own that success. But it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

    I would emphasize your hard “business” successes…your idea to create displays that feel relevant to your region, etc. That’s easier to explain and justify. If you do want to talk about your personnel management, I would frame your choices as a manager as a “personal philosophy” or “ethos” rather than an objection to the company policies. For example, “I have a person-centered approach to management. I have found that being more flexible in our attendance policy has increased employee retention and productivity and significantly built trust as a team.” Or “I have found that coaching employees through challenges, in place of disciplining them, has created a culture of support and positive feedback. Some of those employees that typically would have been fired ended up drastically improving and becoming helpers to other new employees.” Or whatever the case may be.

    Back everything you possibly can with data and research.

    Congratulations on a job well done!

  94. Goldenrod*

    I honestly don’t know what you should do BUT just came here to say that I think you are amazing! There need to be more managers like you. And it is so cool that treating people with respect and using your creativity and common sense actually translated into massive profits for the store!

    I hope you are able to parlay your obvious talents and abilities into a role where you can create even more positive changes for yourself and your employees

  95. Stuart Foote*

    I would rewatch Office Space and recite all of Peter Gibbons’ dialogue to the Bobs to these consultants verbatim. I see no reason that shouldn’t work here.

  96. SometimesMaybe*

    I know I am in the minority, but I am skeptical the changes you implemented are solely responsible for the 400% increase in sales. Its sounds like your employees love you and that is great (truly), but with national chain stores, it rarely makes a difference, unless there is great incompetence; location and national ad campaigns are usually the biggest influencers. If I want to shop at Nike, I go to Nike and buy the shoe I want and I really don’t care about which store has the happiest employees. Also refusing to follow corporate discipline procedures can open the company up to lawsuits if there is ever an issue. And look I get it, I managed a national chain restaurant (think Olive Garden) and I hated some of the policies, but I also really hated it when customers or employees would expect the same special exception they had been given at a different location that my location could not offer. I do however believe that location managers should be given more leeway to make changes necessary for individual stores, but it really should not be done in secret, most policies do not materialize out of thin air and their can be consequences for the corporation beyond individual locations. Its a hard call as to what to do now, but I would share maybe a few of the lesser changes and gradually transition back to corporate policies to protect your job (but only if this a career you see yourself in long term).

  97. Fiona*

    I would pick 1-2 things that you could identify as deviating from policy that are substantial enough to be interesting while low-stakes enough that nobody is going to fire you. Spin it as positively and excitedly as possible – it should come off like you are happily innovating and not trying to be underhanded or break the rules. Only you know which things walk that line. Big corporations act like they want people to be creative but they very rarely reward people for actual creativity. So I would tread lightly. Good luck and congratulations on creating such an amazing work environment!

  98. Former Retail Lifer*

    I HATE corporate retail. The higher-ups are always so out-of-touch and don’t understand what is actually going on in the store and what the customer actually wants, but the employees all do. I have a story of successfully going rogue, but we got bit in the a** at the end. Years ago, I was an assistant manager in a retail store in a dying mall that was walking distance from a convention center. There was a niche sporting event in town and we carried a brand name that was popular with that sport. However, it wasn’t normally a big seller for us and the company-directed layouts always had it in the back. The weekend of the event, we moved all of that stuff up front and center and sold almost all of it. We were congratulated by our district manager for our phenomimal sales that weekend, but he didn’t have the data on what was actually sold. The corporate office did, however, and they wound up transferring a TON of that name brand to us. Which we sat on and never sold. It took up so much space and reduced the space available for stuff we actually COULD have sold. We didn’t bother taking that kind ofinitiative again.

  99. Jake*

    I’ve had a pretty good career so far by assuming that my bosses are operating in good faith. As such, I’d be 100% transparent for two completely different reasons:

    1. ALL of these changes are contributing to the success of the store, and sharing that knowledge is good for you and them. For you it shows competence, for them it at the very least gives them ideas for implementation elsewhere.

    2. This one is far more important. If you get backlash for this… you know that you need to find another job. While this would normally be scary, it shouldn’t be in this instance because you clearly are very good at your job, and would be in high demand! Nothing is going to look better on a resume than “I managed the top store of (insert national brand) in the country, outperforming (insert metric) by 400%.” Then following that up with a cover letter explaining how you did it and what made that job fun… Hell, I’d hire you to work for my construction company!

    It can be scary, but in either case, by being fully transparent, you will have a good outcome. When you are this good at your job, there is very little reason to not be transparent.

    I nested this in a thread, and realized I probably should not have.

  100. Chirpy*

    I would pick a few of the best/biggest impact changes to highlight, and just don’t bring up the other changes unless directly asked. Telling them everything is just going to overwhelm them.

    If they ask why you aren’t following planograms, highlight how changing them to meet customer needs/wants sold more products. Show them why you made the changes. If they ask about your employee policies, show them how they’ve improved moral and employee engagement with selling the brand.

    I’m just a regular store employee, but I’ve created multiple displays that both store management and corporate have okayed me not following the planogram, because I’ve come up with something better. One time, I put a seasonal display up early because we had space and product on hand already, one of the buyers saw it, and they actually used my display as the planogram for the entire company. It helps if you can explain why you did what you did, to show you put thought into it and didn’t arbitrarily just do things “your way”. Obviously this is going to depend on your particular company’s management, but since you do have a 400% sales increase, that should already have shown them that you do know what you’re doing.

  101. PotsPansTeapots*

    There’s a lot going on here, but one thing stood out to me. You are kicking a** and taking names at this job, outperforming metrics while keeping employees happy.

    You will likely never have this much power again to advocate for better policies (and your employees) as a manager. In most other situations, you won’t already have these impressive results before you advocate for changes.

    I don’t think you should pass this opportunity up. Also, I think that corporate may already have an inkling things are different at your store. 99.9% chance they’ve already sent mystery shoppers who have noticed some changes.

    Is there a risk you’ll be fired/moved/micromanaged into the earth? Sure is! I think it’s more likely that management will just try to pass off some of OP’s ideas as theirs.

    So what? You’ll have this amazing story to tell when you’re ready to move on. And in the meantime, you’ll have advocated for your employees and maybe have made things a little better for others.

  102. Jellyfish64*

    The right answer depends on what you want to get out of it. If you’re really happy in your job and not in a life/financial place to risk losing it, playing it safe is probably your best bet.

    But you’ve been recognized by the corporate headquarters for outstanding success, and the company wants other stores to work more like yours. That could be a ticket to a higher-level job, potentially for significantly more money. If that’s something you’re interested in, it’s definitely something you could try to push for.

    Keeping in mind that the corporate office doesn’t know why their other stores aren’t performing like yours, it would be up to you to give them that answer and tell them how you can help them get there.

    And however you decide to approach it, you’re much more likely to avoid blowback if you do it respectfully. For example, rather than “The corporate discipline policies are awful so I ignored them”, it could be “I needed to adapt the corporate discipline policies to make sure they would work properly for our specific staff members.”

    Good luck!

  103. Llama Llama*

    I like data to tell stories! So if you are going to say I don’t have as strict of attendance policies and in return my employees engagement score is 95 instead of 40. My average employee lasts 5 years instead of 5 months. Employees with 4 years of experience sell 300% more than 5 months. Etc etc

  104. Bagels*

    Is it just a fantasy that the strategist comes, this highest achieving manager in the country gives an I threw out the rule book speech and then gets an executive position to rewrite the broken rule book, getting a 7 figure book deal of how brick and mortar can thrive in the internet age plus endless public speaking gigs and a Ted talk?

    Or gets fired, a badge of honor, a symptom of corporate dysfunction, leading to consulting and a 6 figure book deal the success of which leads to endless public speaking gigs and a Ted talk?

    Which is to say I would Go For It. Tell them everything.

    I don’t work in corporate America. But still.

  105. JR*

    Oof. I can’t help but think of Office Space, when Peter tells the Bobs his thoughts in perfect honesty. Life isn’t a movie, of course. Like others have said, I would start with non-employee policy changes. And then I’d be honest but indirect about the employees, if you have to be. No answering questions directly, but saying something like how employees are happiest when their managers show them the flexibility, because life isn’t on a rigid schedule. You promote a culture of positive reinforcement and believe every mistake is an opportunity for growth. Etc etc.
    Of course, you can shoot for complete honesty, but that’s a risk.

  106. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    OP, you rock. In your shoes, I’d tell them like it is. If they don’t like it or want to write you up for insubordination, get them to fire you, claim your unemployment benefit and open your own shop, you clearly have heaps of talent.

  107. H.Regalis*

    How much of a risk can you afford to take? How much of a risk do you want to take? If you got fired, what would be the immediate consequences for other area of your life?

    You’re not obligated to risk becoming homeless to help some corporate shareholders get a better ROI. If you’re in a more secure financial position, and you feel strongly about the practices you’ve come up with, give it a shot.

  108. Evil Queen of Dysfunction*

    My first grown up job was a sales manager for the juniors department at a department store. My dragon lady boss was going to be away for the long weekend, Maybe Labor Day or MLK? Anyway I had like 10 full rounders (the large circular racks) worth of clearance merchandise which was TOO MUCH. It was ugly and took up way to much floor space. As soon as she left for the weekend, I dragged those suckers into the aisles which was strictly forbidden.

    By the end of the weekend I had maybe a rounder and a half left, and they were very light. (and Monday before I left I pushed them back into the corner where they belonged) My sales were tops in the network, including against bigger stores. My people were happy because it was easy to get Multi unit sales over the weekend, and it increased their commissions.

    My boss when she returned mentioned my big weekend and how great my rounders looked. She gave me a look and I knew she knew what I did. (somebody snitched) But what was she going to say with sales like that? Plus it put my department in a healthy position moving into the next season. (mark downs weren’t dragging down my $$$.)

    Bottom line is… the bottom line. It is much easier to ask forgiveness then permission. Your results speak for themselves.

    Focus on your merchandising, and how you are taking the information from corporate to target your specific audience/demographic/etc in your area.
    Talk about how you empower your people to take ownership over their schedules.
    Talk about your lack of turnover (because your people are empowered) which helps keep consistency in the store which brings back repeat customers.
    You aren’t lying, cheating or stealing. You aren’t falsifying sales or numbers. As a manager you are managing the companies expectations with your team, your store and your customer, in a way that is successful for all.

  109. starrai*

    If there’s room to say “we’ve experimented a little with the displays to target the local consumers directly and these have been the results,” I think that’s PROBABLY safe to say. But a culture that’s so draconian overall might still discipline you. So instead, you might say “I’ve been thinking that experimenting with the displays to target our shoppers more directly might be worth exploring,” and give some examples of that (but framed as theoretical).

    When it comes to how you’ve been managing the staff in accordance with attendance and whatnot, don’t mention that at all. Just say you’ve been really blessed with great staff and steer them toward sales practices whenever possible. It’d probably be a good idea to have a talk with your staff beforehand, so that they’re aware these strategists will be coming through in case any of the visitors chat with your staff.

    Being cooperative and bland seems like the way to deal with corporate interference in this kind of culture, alas. Hopefully, they’ll just come in, nod enthusiastically, and leave, and you can go back to running a successful outlet.

  110. TX_Trucker*

    Your letter could have been written by one of my family members that manages a gas station. Her sales were astronomical compared to others. When the consultants came in, she was partially honest. She was honest about the visual changes that couldn’t be hidden, such as the unofficial candy displays and the food truck in the parking lot. She kept quiet about the “hidden” changes related to scheduling, free coffee for staff and other employee perks. After the consultants, corporate did give her and other stores more flexibility to create their own store displays. But they came down hard against allowing food trucks or other vendors to set-up in their parking lot – since that was competition and a legal liability. Which was a shame, because the rotating food trucks was the main driver attracting folks to the store in a low-traffic location.

  111. daeranilen*

    I don’t have firsthand advice for this OP, but having worked in retail myself – this type of story is so, so common across many large chain retailers, and you may be able to find other managers talking about how they dealt with your exact situation in the subreddits for those large chain retailers. I have absolutely seen people talking about this exact scenario in r/Target.

  112. BecauseHigherEd*

    Years ago, I worked at a local division of a big corporation. We basically did not follow any of the corporate policies. Some of that was for the worst (the owner was incapable of doing anything) but some of that was for the better (for example, combining certain offices was the only way that we could get certain work done). When we were audited by corporate…they were unamused by all of this and the location was eventually shut down.

    Even if your rule-bending makes sense in your context and with your staff, I don’t foresee that corporate will love seeing that you’ve thrown all their ideas out the window. This *could* become an Office Space situation where the consultants are bowled over by how “real” you are, but to be honest, I think it’s more likely that you’ll get a reprimand.

    Which means…….you should look for new jobs where you actually have the freedom to innovate and improve processes! Retail consulting could be one route, but there are so many other fields where you could use these skills as well.

    1. BecauseHigherEd*

      Adding also that we were PARTIALLY honest about what we were doing that went against company policy, and even then, Corporate was livid.

  113. Leslie*

    Tell them everything, especially the part about your employees feeling more respected. If you had been my manager at the Gap I would have sung your praises for being honest.

    1. Luanne Platter*

      Would you have sung their praises when you’re constantly having to cover people calling out, because your manager refused to enforce attendance policies?

      1. Leslie*

        I don’t know what the attendance policies are that this Manger is violating. You are being very specific in what you imagine is going on. At the store worked at we did not have this problem, they hired so many people most didn’t even make it on the schedule and wondered why they had even been “hired”. The over hiring had do to with a policy that many people grappled with.

  114. AndersonDarling*

    I’d take the angle that you tested these changes and since they were successful, you kept them in place. Your going to be talking to Performance Improvement(PI) consultants, so that is directly in line with how PI works.
    “And since corporate has been so hands off, I took that to mean that I could find whichever successful path worked with my unique team and market.”
    You may save your entire company. Good luck to you! You should be proud of what you have done!

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I should also mention that since they are sending out a PI team, they are aware that you are doing things differently. If they thought you were playing by the book, then the executives would pat themselves on the back and celebrate how smart they all are for making the rules.

  115. RagingADHD*

    This sounds like the episode of The Office where Michael is asked to explain his secret of success to Corporate, because the Scranton branch is the only one making money: “Don’t ever, for any reason, do anything for anyone, for any reason, ever, no matter what. No matter where. Or who, or who you are with, or where you are going or… or where you’ve been… ever. For any reason, whatsoever.”

    But in all seriousness, money speaks for itself. If upper management were more interested in enforcing the status quo than in making money, they wouldn’t be sending the consultants to you in the first place. They obviously know you are doing something differently, because your results are so different!

    There really isn’t much of a downside to showing your methods, since eventually your location will not be able to keep the rest of the company afloat singlehandedly. The organization is floundering. The more they flounder, the more people are going to lose their jobs, and eventually that will likely include your team, too. Might as well make a good-faith effort to share your improvements.

    And if they implement just a few of your changes, it sounds like the workers at other locations will benefit greatly.

  116. theothermadeline*

    I wonder if there is a way to malicious compliance this? Are there any ways to interpret policies that you’ve been creative with that you could say, wide-eyes “well of course that’s a wonderful policy to give me as the manager creative discretion to tailor set ups”

    As someone who has worked as part of HR for a multi-site corporate body, I would actually be much less open about personnel policy unless you are an employment lawyer and are 100% positive that you haven’t accidentally opened them up to some unforeseen liability by allowing a portion of employees to operate in a different way, haven’t been accidentally been showing favor to some parties in your enforcement, so on and so forth. Treating people like adults is not a novel idea and is something you can use as a framing, but tread very lightly around official personnel policies in your discussions would be my advice.

    And I would not advise outright lying in any way. You work with too many people for that to realistically hold up to any scrutiny long term.

    1. Katie Impact*

      If the company has a mission statement, you could try leaning hard on that as justification for anything that’s not quite in line with policy. Most companies like to say they’re committed to innovation and new ideas, whether they are or not.

  117. Ashley*

    Data, data, data. Literally only tell them something if you have hard quantitative data to back it up and directly tie to it. If you tell them you changed the scheduling policy, for example, you better be able to show direct metrics for how it directly helped like reduced no-shows or higher than average shift coverage.

    Soft qualitative data like “employees like it” is a cherry on top but it cannot hold up as a justification by itself for any changes. If you don’t have quantitative data/metrics to support a change, do not mention it (at least at first).

  118. Anoj*

    Seems like management is now trying to perhaps get feedback from their store managers, especially stores doing so well, how they are accomplishing that feat. I would recommend you share *some* of the ways you’ve been managing the store differently than what the procedures/policies dictate. You can absolutely share how happy your employees are if they are given more flexibility and how that translates to happy customers and higher sales. I hate when a company has a “formula” for success that hasn’t been modified for the current climate or asks for feedback from those on the front lines.

  119. Lisa Babs*

    I was shocked that no one in the comments mentioned the idea of bankruptcy.
    I do agree that the OP risks loosing her job if she does speak up. BUT she also risks loosing her job if she doesn’t speak up. Not just her job but that of all her employees. It sounds like the brand is failing. And if she doesn’t speak up so they can turn things around across the board. There is a very good chance the company will go bankrupt in a year or so.

    I’m not saying that makes her decision easy, just more complicated.

    1. RagingADHD*

      Oh, I did, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Some comments just take a while to show up.

      “Don’t say anything or you’ll get fired” is short-term thinking. While it’s possible that the head office would summarily fire LW for deviating from policy, it is not actually the most likely outcome (especially given their track record). Assuming these are outside consultants, absolutely nothing is going to happen immediately. Any decision by management is likely to take months, at least.

      The most likely medium-to-long-term outcome is that management will get the consultant report, pay for some kind of process improvement program that gives lip service to the general principles of what LW is doing, but not actually make any substantive changes at all. And go belly up anyway.

      But it’s worth a shot.

  120. elodieunderglass*

    I don’t want to worry you unnecessarily OP, but there is a small chance that the consultants are being sent as part of an audit – the overperformance being an anomaly, they might find the easiest solution is not “OP is wildly overperforming beyond the expectations of math,” but “OP is manipulating the situation.” So – no matter what the outcome – you really need to build a good supporting case of justification for the stuff that’s safer to commit to paper. Even if you keep your lips sealed about what you’ve done, there’s a chance it’ll come to light and there is a chance that the narrative will become, “OP achieved these numbers by cooking the books.”

    With all things being considered, the chain’s in trouble and . The consultants aren’t necessarily coming to be your friends; but the evidence will be your friend.

    Do you have a trusted friend in the company? Do you have a friend who is skilled in putting together case studies and/or convincing presentations/reports about evidence (lawyer, scientist, executive sort of person.) I would advise you to seek specific advice from a sworn confidante who knows you, your personality, and your abilities to help you here.

    The easiest thing to create a clear narrative (that helps you keep your story straight) will be to get ahead of them and create a presentation or report. This report would detail the interventions you made and the justification for doing so. If it were me, I would keep this centered on sales interventions and POSSIBLY a broad “Management Philosophy”, for example maybe touching a bit on “light touch management that keeps things respectful and flexible”. It would help if the report detailed the immediate impact of the interventions (i.e. after changing a display you observed 200x sales and 3x pieces of customer feedback.) This is what I’d do in my own position; however, I do not work retail. That’s why a mentor/advisor, especially one at the company, would help.

    It is quite likely that the consultants will monitor your behavior and observe you in person. Brief your employees in advance. Take a light touch and obviously don’t instruct them to LIE for you, or change their behavior in obviously artificial ways – but do ensure that they know it’s very important to attend work on time while the consultants are there, etc.

    It may be worth consulting an employment lawyer if any of the policies you’ve violated are genuinely actionable and would constitute a genuine threat to your employment. Again, in my position, “not writing people up for being late” is entirely down to the judgment of the manager and team, so nobody would mind if you justified it (for me that might look like “My entire experienced team of high performers have childcare responsibilities; it isn’t worth spending time managing other people’s calendars; our metrics are high and this works for us.” There are other jobs where this would be an instant firing. We have no information about your company and therefore cannot advise you – and it’s serious, this is your livelihood.)

    Finally, let’s be realistic – the franchise is struggling and this is a red flag. If you leave under a bright star, you could walk into a better position with your metrics… IF they aren’t under a dark cloud of suspicion, IF you haven’t had a tribunal for misconduct, and so on. I would genuinely suggest it’s serious enough to take expert advice, whether that’s from a lawyer or a trusted mentor. It is a really good idea to ask Alison, but for incredibly nuanced questions that require some knowledge of your workplace and impact your immediate ability to make an income, it is expert territory.

  121. Baunilha*

    My advice is to tread carefully. If (and only if) you think they will react well by hearing you’re breaking policy, choose the more mild ones to talk about and don’t present it as breaking but rather bending them. Again, this will depend on what you know about your company. Some will be ok with you looking the other way regarding punishing employees, others won’t. Same goes for the display: I’ve worked at a department store with very lose guidance on what should go on display and so would be okay with your approach, but others above mentioned companies that wouldn’t like it at all.
    So it all boils down to what you know about your employer and what they value the most. And if you think they won’t react well to anything, you have my blessing to lie in order to keep your job.

    1. HonorBox*

      Related to your suggestion of treading carefully… While the consultants may not tell the truth, or may fix a word salad for an answer, it might be worth asking them from the outset what their objective is for the visit. The answer you get may give you some additional data for how to approach the situation.

      And you’re absolutely right in your point about what the employer values most. If the LW is not writing people up for being a few minutes late or stepping off the floor to take a personal call, that might be a HUGE issue for an employer who is specific in clock-in/clock-out procedures. But if the thing they’re valuing most is the bottom line, it might be better for LW to suggest that they’ve given their team some flexibility as it relates to being 10 minutes early for each shift, since weather, childcare, etc. can be challenging.

  122. AnonInCanada*

    This is a tough one. You go against the corporate grain and their focus groups and expert consultant-approved methodologies (and other assorted jargon that only a PR exec can muster… or Weird Al Yankovic :-P) and come up with amazing results.

    Yes, we know money talks louder than corporate bafflegab, but there are many types who are stuck in their ways and believe it’s My Way Or The Highway. If I were in OP’s shoes, I would be transparent about it, but also be prepared to polish up their résumé with these accomplishments in bullet points. If these corporate bozos can’t appreciate what OP’s done, then their competitors will.

  123. Typing All The Time*

    Sadly, it depends on how you say it. You can say that you’ve read and followed the corporate rules but learned through customer feedback and observation that they weren’t successful in your store. You decided to apply what you’ve witnessed to experimenting with displays and implementing better customer service practices and found the results from these improvements have shown an increase in sales and staff morale.

  124. Jessica Clubber Lang*

    I would say it depends on factors we don’t know – like how much does corporate really care about following each policy, does the fact that you’ve been successful mitigate not following the rules, do your direct bosses know about this already, and so on.

    Actually I’m surprised this is an “ask the readers” question – I was hoping to see the AAM answer!

  125. Two Fish*

    If you tell the truth and are let go over it, you could definitely get an Atlantic article or even an airport business book out of this story!

  126. Become A Thought Leader*

    I wouldn’t make up elaborate lies. Be transparent. I’d also start reaching out to trade shows, conferences, media outlets, retail associations, and other avenues where you can talk and put your message out there as a thought leader driving exponential revenue growth. Do this right, and other retailers and B2C companies will be banging on your door wanting to recruit you and you won’t have to worry about this organization anymore if they don’t pay you your dues or want to fire you for violating their backward policies.

  127. Richard Hershberger*

    What we have here is a recurring tale in chain retail: The tension between the central office and the managers in the field. Often when you look at very successful chains, a key to their success is the practice of hiring good store managers and letting them manage. Walmart in the 1970s into the 80s is a great example of this. But as the chain grows it becomes harder to keep the quality of store managers up, while at the same time the central office bureaucracy grows larger and larger. And that central office bureaucracy is in the same building as the C-suite, inevitably giving it more influence. They will be able to point to bad store managers and make the case for more centralized control. Even if the central office is good at this, this policy will lose the local touch. And if the central office is bad at it, the entire chain pays the price.

    Barnes & Noble went through this. They are currently attempting to return authority to the local store managers. I am very curious to see if this sticks. Ordinarily I would be skeptical, but in this case it comes from the CEO, who seems pretty committed to the idea, and B&N seems to have collectively realized it was in crisis mode. So maybe.

    In the case of this letter, the question is if corporate similarly considers itself in crisis mode and willing to try radical ideas like giving up some centralized control. My guess is not. The LW tells us the brand is not doing very well. That allows for central office to think it just needs to make a tweak.

  128. Bear Expert*

    Good work on building an effective team!

    Pick your three favorite interventions that are off policy, but that you have (ideally) direct evidence that your changes make a better store and produce better results. Gather your data and the results.

    Put some things to the by the book method so the strategists won’t be completely distracted by everything being different.

    Start off and continue to repeat that you love Company, you love the philosophy, you believe in Company and you want success for Company. You have done some interpretation of the less core-Company policies to better fit the local needs and market. Specifically, you made these three changes. You have no idea if they would produce the same results anywhere else, but in your local sphere, they had these results due to these specific local needs/market/culture.

    Its not that you think the policies in general are stupid and bad (even if they are) its that you’re so on board with making Company successful and you’re in tune with some weird (possibly unique) local conditions that made it better for Company for you to follow the spirit more than the letter. As long as you’re not breaking laws.

  129. MuseumChick*

    I am SO torn on this. One the one hand, I would hope that the insanely good numbers you are producing would help protect your from blowback if you do reveal the true reasons why the store is doing so well. On the other hand, the world is unfair and you could very well risk your job if you tell them everything.

    If you go with telling them everything, I would also start looking for a new job right now. Plan for the work case (you being fired).

    You could go with talking broadly/being only partly honest about what you have been. For example, “One of the biggest reasons I believe this store is doing well is because of how I treat the staff. When staff feel respected, understood and that I will support them their morale is great which is a huge benefit to the store.” If they ask for an example, do with one that will be most palpable to corporate.

    Please give us an update on what happens with this.

  130. LinesInTheSand*

    First of all, understand that you’re in a position of power here. You have a track record of proven results. With that track record, you’ll be able to find a new gig if necessary.

    I think before you decide what to tell corporate, you should decide what you want. If you want them to leave you alone, be bland. “I followed policies, tried to use my best judgement, and things just worked out really well.” Things will *probably* stay exactly the way they are.

    If you want to parlay this into potentially larger opportunities either here or elsewhere, you can be more specific. The key to this messaging is reinforcing, over and over, that you and your employer are on the same side and want the same things. The language to use here is “I really tried to understand the spirit of the rules and regulations of corporate. I’ve made some judgement calls here that, while not within the letter of the rules, are what I think are best for the company in these specific ways.” You want to reinforce that you understand why the rules are there and you’ve found other ways to solve the problems they’re there to solve. E.g. Attendance. You understand that this is a coverage job, the store has set hours it has to be open, and that can’t work out if you don’t have staff to cover it. You’ve solved the attendance problem another way but it’s still solved.

    IMPORTANT: they may still be miffed. If that’s the case, do you really want to keep working for them?

    MORE IMPORTANT: Before you meet with these people, practice talking about yourself and your achievements, like you did in this letter. Practice talking about your philosophy of management. Why you did what you did, why you believed it was the right thing, and have some concrete examples of success stories to back it up. Obviously the metrics speak for themselves, but stories like “Ashley had to call out last minute because her dad was in the ER. Under the corporate attendance policy, I would have had to write her up for unexcused absence but because we did instead, we were able to cover her shift, she was able to be there for her family, and she’s still one of our most valued team members.” Or whatever.

    Good luck!

    1. SLG*

      This is such good advice! Much better phrased than I did. Especially the part about reinforcing that you and your employer are on the same side and want the same things, and that you understand why the rules are there and are taking a problem-solving approach. 100% this.

  131. Michelle Smith*

    This letter and comment section gave me agita – not because anything wrong was said, but because the entire situation seems like a big gamble to me with respect to your livelihood and I’m stressed just reading about it. I don’t have any good advice for you and was surprised this one was pitched to the readers, but I hope you see something useful in the commenters’ advice that resonates with you.

    I’m just writing a comment to say that I hope you update us after this situation resolves itself, one way or another, and that I’m crossing my fingers for a positive outcome! (But please write back and tell us either way!)

    1. Michelle Smith*

      Oh and also, I guess I do have one piece of guiding advice that might help. Your responsibility and loyalty is to yourself, not to a company you don’t own. Your ability to pay your bills, maintain your lifestyle, and feel good about the work you do is more important than shareholder profits.

    2. I'm just here for the cats!*

      I agree. I’m actually on the fence and don’t know what I would do if I were in this situation. If the OP does decide to tell what she’s been doing I think she should document now how successful she has been. this way if it does come down to her being fired and they contest the unemployment she can show “how can I be insubordinate (or whatever they claim) when I had the highest sales numbers, etc”

      Something similar happened to a family member. She was fired saying that her numbers were not good enough (call time, customer reviews, etc) but she was getting weekly bonuses. She showed that to unemployment and they approved her.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        As LinesInTheSand points out upthread, going bland is always an option. I would add that the more dysfunctional the organization, the better the bland option, assuming that staying in this job is a priority. Judging from a distance just how dysfunction is the home office can, however, be tricky.

    3. LinesInTheSand*

      Staying at this job is also a gamble with respect to livelihood, as LW is doing a lot of high value work that’s going unrecognized and unrewarded and it sounds like that’s unlikely to change. LW has to make their own decisions based on their own circumstances.

      Someone made a point once that stuck with me: “Your job security isn’t in your current job, it’s in your ability to get the next one.” So with that in mind, LW has to decide which gamble they want: the gamble that their efforts will suddenly be rewarded or the gamble that they’ll be able to find something better elsewhere.

  132. Older, Wiser, Designs Synthesizers*

    The people who made those guidelines have WAY more clout than you do, and when you challenge the usefulness of their output, you are threatening their jobs. That’s very unwise.

    Also, what’s the percentage in it for you? You triumph and Retailers-r-us improves their shareholder returns? Do you take home an extra penny? Have you improved the world? Weigh that best-case outcome versus the downside risk that your reputation is dragged, you’re put on PIPs, demoted, and fired and then struggle to find an equivalent job ever again.

    Do NOT mess with corporate. They’ll eat you.

  133. But not the Hippopotamus*

    I’m inclined to suggest minimizing some of the changes being on purpose. Like maybe “We mistakenly did the displays like this and noticed it worked really well, so we kept doing that”

    The sheer amount of stuff that is different might overwhelm corporate into thinking its insubordination, being my thought. so if some of it was a happy accident, that might counteract that.

  134. Mim*

    I am genuinely curious what types of things corporate expects a consultant to find to explain this store’s outlier success, given that their policies are so draconian. If managers, per policy, don’t have a lot of leeway to make management decisions, the logical conclusions are that there is either something happening outside of their/management’s control at that location, or that the OP is going outside of the narrow scope of corporate policy to create the conditions for the success that store is experiencing.

    I mean, that is assuming that corporate is thinking logically about the situation, which they may not be. Selfishly, I want the OP to lay all their cards out on the table — tell the consultant everything. Because I want to know how corporate will respond, both specifically to the OP, but also on a larger level, in terms of changes they do or don’t make in their policies. Obviously, this is high risk for the OP, so I wouldn’t blame them for just lying to keep their job. The optimist in me want so think that this also has the potential to be high-reward, because what company wouldn’t want to promote and celebrate such an innovative and successful manager? But yeah, I’m not naive. What I really wish was that the OP could turn their amazing management skills (and general human empathy) into an opportunity to run their own, independent business. But that can be such a large hurdle, especially without the financial backing and name/brand recognition of a large chain.

  135. Chauncy Gardener*

    I personally would wing it, if I were you. When the consultants arrive, see what they ask and how they’re asking it. Show them around, and try to get a read on them before you start talking. Brief your staff ahead of time to not tell the consultants ANYTHING except that they do what you tell them to do. No mention of any violation of their employee management policies.
    If you feel like taking a risk, you can leave the displays (or some of them maybe) the way you have them and tell them this is your big difference. But that could be risky.
    Can you read GlassDoor reviews on your company to see if others have had a similar experience?
    It’s so hard to judge. Some companies are so rigid, they’ll cut off their noses to spite their face.

    I wish you the best!

  136. Mo*

    Many of these comments come across as very naive. Managing a big chain retail location is not remotely the same as working for a smaller retail company or working an office job. OP is likely to lose their job if they reveal what they’ve been doing and it will be hard to find a similar job with another big chain if they are fired for not complying with corporate policies. These chains want conformity and a uniform experience across all their stores. The best thing to tell the consultants is that you work to create a sense of comoraderie among your staff or something else that is really boring and fully in compliance.

    Yes it would be great if OP could use their metrics to get another job, especially in a context where they can advocate for their own ideas. The best way to do that is to job search on their own terms, not after they’ve been fired on someone else’s timeline and with the baggage that comes with being fired.

  137. not like a regular teacher*

    1. Begin job searching. Point to your amazing metrics!
    2. Be “semi honest” with the consultants, focusing on tailoring the displays to your internal market. Don’t mention the attendance policy stuff at all unless specifically asked and downplay your “deviations from policy” as much as possible.

    Best case scenario, you keep your job and are maybe even rewarded.
    Most likely scenario, you’re reprimanded and keep your job but with much more hands-on management from above (ie the job environment would become much less pleasant)
    Worst case scenario, you get fired or the job changes for the worse to the point that you don’t want it anywhere, and you move on to a better job – maybe managing a higher-end store, moving into merchandising/branding strategy at a different company, or moving into the corporate side at a different company.

  138. Jonathan MacKay*

    Chesterton’s Fence comes to mind here… the gist of the idea is “If you come to a fence built across a path, don’t remove it until you know why it is there in the first place.” Essentially, every rule and regulation has probably been put in place for one reason or another, which may not apply in in all cases – at which point, if you know full well that it doesn’t, (or shouldn’t apply) go about your merry way knowing that you understand the difference between the letter of the rule and the spirit of the rule.

    I’ve often talked with friends about the Purge movie series and the obvious point that’s overlooked in pursuit of the plot – if nothing is illegal for 24 hours, that means all regulations prohibiting various things are ALSO suspended. Can’t build your deck because it’s blocked by a regulation that really shouldn’t apply? What regulation?

    I think the fact that your productivity and sales are up so high above the expected average should speak for itself.

  139. I Licked Your Salt Lamp*

    This is tough. I had a similar experience when I worked retail nearly a decade ago- not as a manager however. I used to work as a sales associate for a well-known retail chain with a rewards program. As cashiers we were expected to meet a goal of 55-58% for reward sign-ups. If we didn’t meet this often enough, we were penalized. After a few months working the register 90% of the time, I realized that pre-existing rewards members didn’t count against you. If a customer didn’t want to sign up, that dinged against our percentage of reward customers. But if were already in the system as a member, our new member to non-member ratio seemed to remain unchanged.

    Well, my strategy became this: ask customers if they are already members. If the answer was no, ask if they’d like to sign up, do my usual pitch etc. If yes, great! If a no: I could quickly search by either phone number or last name. And the search did not require a full last name, partial names will pull up all members with a similar name (searching “John” pulls up all Johnsons, etc)

    So I started pulling up the member search in advance, quickly type in a common last name if I suspected a customer would decline rewards, then use a random member (different every time so it wasn’t too suspicious), and also be careful not to do this 100% of the time or we got investigated… but anyway this almost backfired when my manager was so impressed with my rewards sign-ups that she wanted me to teach other associates my technique. Whoops. I left that job shortly afterwards when I graduated college anyway but got away with it for 2 years. I think my advice ended up being “just be friendly and smile”… yeah right.

  140. Fluffy Fish*

    OP I just want to say I don’t think there is a “right” answer, merely what is going to be right for you.

    I hope you take all the advice not as any example of what you should do but as a route to find out what you really want to do – what you’ll be able to live with.

  141. Filicophyta*

    I agree with a lot of the people who are saying corporate will probably blame you and maybe fire you. OTOH, maybe you can talk your way into a good position jump and implement good employee treatment everywhere. (Yes, I know, highly unlikely, but it’s a best case scenario. The company wants that money.)

  142. Never Ends Well*

    Unless there have been major changes in leadership, I can all but guarantee you that the checked-out upper management that has been letting the brand flounder will not want to hear that their policies and procedures are the problem, no matter how successful your store has been without them. There is tremendous inertia behind those bad retail strategies. This is corporate retail, and upper management will not be making radical changes to industry-typical policies they’ve had in place in for ages just because those policies demonstrably don’t work.

    I realize this sounds very cynical, but, well, that’s retail. I would love to be proven wrong in this case, but there is a very real risk that you’ll be fired if you tell the consultants the truth (or at the very least told to follow the rules to the letter while still somehow hitting those 400% metrics, then punished when you can’t).

    Now’s a good time for you and everyone at your store to make sure your resumes are up-to-date and highlight your store’s tremendous success, which you absolutely should be proud of!

    1. Aerin*

      FINALLY someone brought up the point I haven’t seen anyone else make. OP, do some research into the board of directors, the C-suite, and the majority shareholders. Have there been any changes in the roster there lately? Usually a willingness to seriously change direction comes as part of some housecleaning at the top.

      If you see strong evidence that might be the case, like they’ve brought in a bunch of new blood and those people have published op-eds about innovation in policy, then it’s probably safe for you to make a (strongly documented) case for your changes, since there’s a better chance that the consultants will be looking for that sort of thing.

      But if it’s all the same dudes who have guided the company to its current state… well, those consultants are probably there to ask “how are you doing so well, and why is it due to our existing policies?” and there’s a good chance that your success will just make those dudes look bad, which will likely lead to you being punished for having deviated. You would still want to point to something to explain the numbers (since, as someone else pointed out, this might be more of an audit) but careful and quiet is safer.

      Either way, polish up your resume and target some smaller companies/local brands. This dying giant doesn’t deserve you.

  143. Domanda*

    I haven’t worked in retail management but I have some thoughts about human nature. What’s the likelihood that they’ll talk to your team? Is your team aware that some of your policies go against corporate guidelines? How many people are on your team and how reasonable would it be to discuss this dilemma with them? Are you comfortable coaching them on what they should or should not disclose to the consultants?

    Several commenters have (understandably) advocated for covering yourself and not telling the consultants anything, but if you do that, I’m concerned about what happens if/when the consultants talk to your team. If there’s a significant difference between what you’re telling the consultants and what they’re hearing from your team, then the story might then become “Why is OP lying to us and what else are they hiding?”. It’s one thing to adjust your own story but it feels like another thing to ask your team to adjust theirs.

    I’m not necessarily advocating for total disclosure about every single one your changes for all of the reasons mentioned above. However, if you consider the challenge of trying to get X number of team members to keep a story straight, it might help guide you to what and how much to disclose.

    Good luck, and please send in an update!

  144. CherryBlossom*

    One of the difficulties of submitting a retail workplace question to a primarily office workplace site is seeing a lot of well-meaning advice that amounts to “be honest and tell them what’s working! You have a chance to make a difference! And hey, if they do fire you, how hard can it be to get another retail job?” A lot of office types assume retail is easy to get into, easy to stick with, and easy to do. Sorry, not the case.

    As someone who’s worked in retail in a similar type of fast fashion store as LW, I know that at best, they’ll tell you to stick to the policy down to the letter and somehow still keep up the increased revenue, and at worst they’ll fire you and the entire shop. What most of my cool managers in retail has done is take us all aside, tell us to stick to code when corporate comes in, and go back to normal when they leave.

    A major retail chain like H&M or Forever 21 is never going to listen to the input of one random manager. Best to protect yourself and your employees and keep your heads down.

    1. anono*

      I think OP’s only saving grace is the performance of the company overall. She said that it was not performing well, except for her store which is exceeding targets. If things are really bad, they might be desperate enough to listen to her strategies.

  145. Former academic*

    I’ve only dealt with consultants in academia, and in the context of “this department is deeply dysfunctional and we are bringing outside help.” In that case, it was actually possible to talk to the consultants to understand how things were going to be reported/what would be kept confidential. For instance, if they’re talking to the top 20 stores, they might be able to report things back in a way that doesn’t make it clear that YOU are the one doing something (“some managers had successfully redesigned standard displays to cater to local trends”, e.g.). Asking them who else they’re talking to and how things will be reported to corporate might change how risky certain disclosures are.

  146. SLG*

    I’m seeing a lot of folks describe option 1 (revert briefly to corporate policy and shrug) and option 2 (tell them everything you’re doing), but based on years of experience doing change management, I’m going to suggest option 3: talk about what you’re doing, but strategically and in ways that will make the consultants and the corporate office want to learn more.

    First, pick 1-3 things you think will have the greatest impact and/or will be the easiest for consultants to advocate for (because you have data to back them up, they’re not hot-button issues, etc). Then, talk about those 1-3 things NOT as if they’re whole-sale overhauls to corporate policy, but as if they’re small, manageable, and completely reasonable tweaks. When you talk about them, emphasize the good parts of the corporate policy and just talk about how you pushed even farther, took the policy to its logical conclusion, etc. Make it sound like you were so inspired by the corporate higher-ups that you wanted to carry their mission further. You want them to believe that what you’re doing isn’t threatening anyone and is the logical next step to meet their goals. (Which it is!)

    So for example: Instead of saying “I just broke all the rules for store displays,” say something like “It’s clear our company cares a lot about reflecting our brand in store displays. That’s important to me too, and it’s clearly important to the success of our company. So in this location, I’ve been doing that by ensuring that our brand is reflected in these displays in ways that appeal to my local market. That helps our customers see how this brand enhances their life right now, and makes them want to buy.” (I’ve never worked in retail so I’m fully making this up, but hopefully this gives you a sense of how to do this.)

    I agree with other commenters that staffing policy is likely to be a hot button issue, but you could probably address it vaguely and in ways that are non-threatening: “I really emphasize developing talent here, including doing everything I can to increase our employees sense of ownership and accountability. I go out of my way to set things up so that when our store succeeds, our employees succeed, and vice versa.” You can say that while not mentioning specific policies you broke.

    I really hope you’ll share an update on how it all goes!

  147. ExCon(sultant)*

    I had a 20-year career as a consultant.
    There seem to be good arguments on both sides for telling the truth and for hiding what you’re doing. The initial conversation with the consultants could help you make that decision. So, I’d recommend asking the consultants a lot of questions right up front before you decide. Find out what they’re looking at and have an answer to explain what they’ll see. If you decide to omit information and then they find out another way, that will be much worse than if you told them upfront. Even during the interview, you can ask for more context around the question and how they might use your answer. Is the information going to be aggregated with other stores? How many stores are they going to? Will they let you see the final report? Who is the report going to? Be really interested in their jobs and get as much out of them as you can. If you can find out from them how receptive corporate is to making changes, that can help guide your response.

  148. Marie*

    The hard part about the employee piece is typically those policies hurt good employees, but provide a path to fire under performers/toxic workers and protect the company from law suits. Depending on how much money your store is bringing it, the risk may not actually outweigh the reward.

  149. Old Dumpling*

    If you can’t afford to lose your job immediately or within a couple weeks of the consultant visit, keep your trap shut. Choose self-preservation. While you may have gotten these amazing results, it’s a complete movie fantasy to think corporate is going to change their whole business strategy because of one store manager.

    I work in HR. DO NOT TELL THEM ABOUT FUDGING YOUR EMPLOYEES’ TIME. Do not tell them ANYTHING about being loose-goosey with anything impacting your employees’ time on the clock or wages or PTO. They may smile in your face while they’re with you, but you’ll have handed them carte blanche to terminate you for cause, regardless of your sales results. Also . . . just be really careful you’re not opening up the company to legal issues.

    Trust your gut. Protect yourself, your job, and your employees’ jobs. They’re coming with the COMPANY’s best interests in mind, not yours.

    1. Luanne Platter*

      Yes, this. Some of the policies OP admits to changing have severe legal consequences. I’m not sure why more people aren’t picking up on that.

    2. Sloanicota*

      Yes, unfortunately big companies have legal reasons that don’t always make sense to the individual store manager why they do things the way they do, especially in regards to human resources employment policies. They may have created the procedures knowing it would drive some people away but decided to keep them because they were more focused on X liability. Lawyers and other types also tend to provide conservative advice that gets incorporated into overly-strict rules – but the employer doesn’t want you to circumvent legal recommendations on your own!

    3. Lady Sybil*

      Definitely. The stuff about floor plans is one thing but the attendance stuff, much as OP is doing a brilliant thing, is a hell of a can of worms.

    4. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah, I’d probably leave the employees out of it and just focus on things in the actual store

  150. vsco*

    Strategy consultants are, ostensibly, there to help improve company performance, not to ensure compliance with existing rules. I’d prepare two statements that speak to what you’ve tried to do in general ways (e.g. you focused on 1) creating a culture in which employees feel trusted and valued, and treat customers well as a result, and 2) tailoring things to the tastes of your local clientele) and then tell the strategy consultants that you’re happy to help them brainstorm what this could look like, but feel uncomfortable/vulnerable to negative corporate reactions talking about specific changes you’ve made at your store.

  151. anywhere but here*

    I think you have good standing to say that you’ve used your discretion as a manager to craft attendance, write up, etc guidelines that lead to obviously engaged, respected, and successful employees, and that has massively helped sales. The displays I think may be more within the purview of corporate just because that has to do with how their products are marketed, so I am less confident that saying “Yeah I just ignore that” will end up going over okay.

    You’re obviously doing things very well and I think you have the room to create change to pomote employee wellbeing at more than just your store, so I would love to see that. Hopefully the corporate folks are intelligent enough to see that if overall the company is failing but you are glowingly successful and ignoring guidelines, it’s because the guidelines inhibit success and rethink them accordingly.

  152. Boof*

    Wow OP, i could see this going either way if you actually tell the truth
    1) they’re so impressed with your record they revamp their policies to match what you’re doing or
    2) they’re so entrenched in their ways that they fire you for not following them even though clearly your ways are better
    Or something in between
    You are probably in a better position to read the vibe than we are. I like the idea of feeling out the consultants with smaller scale “infractions”. I’m not sure if it’s the window displays, or some of the more employee friendly policies (especially if you can find something to support that other corporations do it), but I do hope your superiors are the pragmatic types not the cut off their nose to spite their face types.

  153. K*

    I wouldn’t be so confident that these policies are actually making the difference in sales until you see some data proving it. Assumptions make an ass of you and me.

  154. TeamOne*

    I’m shocked you got all the other managers at the store to buy in to all this! Your district manager doesn’t make the rounds?

  155. Luanne Platter*

    Ugh, this really isn’t great. Little policy changes like changing the displays to match your market, engaging / inspiring your team, finding ways to make the store more profitable- these aren’t problems. The problems are refusing to hold associates accountable for attendance, discipline, and policy violations. That’s a major issue which can open your employer to legal liabilities. If someone feels they’ve been treated differently because they are a member of a protected class, they can file a complaint with the EEOC and your habit of not enforcing established policies will severely hurt your case.

    Honestly, congrats for having a high-performing store. However, you should probably plan an exit soon. When your directors discover you haven’t been enforcing policies, they will probably move to suspend or terminate.

    Good luck.


    1st, congratulations
    Tell the truth. But … ask the consultants if you can talk directly before starting so they will be able to put their observations & questions in perspwctive.
    Have all the numbers to show your success. Including how long your staff is staying. High turnover = expensive.

    If the worst case is discipline, then tell the truth and go back to corporate standards if the Boss doesn’t approve.

    If worst case is loosing your job, I can’t suggest anything.

  157. Destra N.*

    You have ALL of the leverage in this conversation. If they were to discipline you, then you have some really impressive metrics that look amazing on a resume, and the rule follower they replace you with isn’t likely to keep the numbers up. You won’t need to say it outright for the implicit threat to be obvious, and no one sane will want to risk losing profits. Your store’s performance is also feeding into some higher-level executive’s annual performance bonus, so they should be willing to go to the mat to protect it and duplicate it. They’re sending people out to study what you’re doing differently, right? Go into that talk with that confidence and with the willingness to follow through — and I bet nothing bad happens at all. And if it does? Take your genius elsewhere.

  158. Ex-Teacher*

    I’d recommend pulling an “Office Space”- shoot straight with the consultants.

    If you cover up the changes, then the truth will probably come out anyway. They’ll talk to the staff, something will be inconsistent, and then it will come out that you lied. Getting fired for the coverup is bad.

    If you’re upfront, then you can just go straight to the heart of the matter. “My profits and metrics speak for themselves. This location is outperforming everywhere else in the company. The short version is that I have deviated from some of the policies dictated to us by corporate, because they did not work for our location. Clearly I made the right choice for the company’s bottom line. I can go in to detail on this, but realistically if corporate is going to fire me for this then let’s just cut to the chase- I can go get unemployment, land on my feet at a competitor, and make them a bunch of money. Meanwhile this store falls in line with corporate, loses all of the gains they would get from here, increases turnover, becomes understaffed, and moves closer to bankruptcy. It’s corporate’s choice.”

    Better to be fired for making a ton of money than to be fired for lying.

  159. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Former retail person here – both chain and independent. Without knowing more about your company and what these consultants will do, I am very hesitant to give you suggestions. It’s really a high-risk situation.

    My chain experience was with a place that deliberately did not do planograms or other top-down enforced rules about what to stock where. Corporate and regional managers knew that we would have better sales if we paid attention to our actual customers, instead of some MBA-generated theoretical customer. But that mindset is a rarity, and when a chain is floundering they urge to try to standardize is often strong, as management flails around for anything they can latch on to that they can have a sense of control.

    That being said, can you split the baby? Can you have the store sort-of in guidelines, but have a couple of your best-performing setups still the way you do them? And then explain the analysis that led you to do them that way – not just “I had a feeling” but “I noticed that many more of our customers were X demographic this year than in the past, so I featured items that I know they would be interested in.”

  160. Melissa*

    Your decision partly depends on what your staff knows, as the consultants may ask them. If your team knows you don’t follow policies, you’ll need to be more honest with the consultants. But vague-honest! “I respect my staff and understand they might get sick or run late occasionally” or “I tweaked one of the displays to better highlight X product, which then sold well”.

  161. Jane*

    Sadly, I don’t think you can be totally honest here.

    I used to work in retail, and those vendors are paying specific prices for where their merchandise sits. Vendors also usually provide the display chart for how they want their products displayed. So OP is likely to get in trouble for that.

    In addition to that, the marketing signs OP is changing went through rounds of creative and legal approvals before being implemented. I work in marketing currently, and everything displayed in-store and online goes through that process.

    Then you get to the disciplinary liberties OP has taken, and that’s just a breaking corporate’s rules flat out.

    This isn’t a one-off, mom and pop store. This is a giant corporation that, while making bad choices, has contracts and legal decisions surrounding their choices.

    OP’s best bet is to focus on the store’s amazing customer service and a happy crew (without bringing up those disciplinary liberties).

    1. Lady Sybil*

      Having worked in marketing, while I admire OP’s overall approach, the persistent belief that marketing is so easy anyone from any branch can do what the like used to have me and my colleagues tearing our hair out. The site lead who constantly put up misspelled posters featuring our old logo in place of the actual assets was a particular challenge…

  162. Emily (Not a Bot)*

    The thing is, you can’t make people lie for you (like, both it’s wrong and you just actually can’t do it) and also, there’s going to be data that will show some of what’s going on if anyone bothers to look at it. Unless you are falsifying employee attendance/discipline records, which I doubt you are. Given that…. you should tell the truth on this.

  163. rightokaysure*

    It’s impossible to answer this question because we don’t know what OP wants. Does OP WANT to help the company writ large? If she does, her success probably puts her on safe ground to tell them the truth. It would be shocking if she got fired and at least a little surprising if they asked her to change how she is doing things.

    On the other hand, if she doesn’t care about helping her employer beyond just doing her job (which I would argue is fine), then she should 100% put everything back how it is supposed to be and shrug her shoulders. Why take even a little risk if she doesn’t care to help the company?

    There’s another issue here which is that OP may not be breaking the rules as much as she thinks she is. I’ve known many hard core rule followers who can’t differentiate between rules and guidelines (and are especially challenged by that when an employer describes something as a rule but doesn’t mean it as strictly as, say, a school rule). This post gives me those vibes, so another question I have–that OP could perhaps ask her assistant manager–is whether she’s actually violating any rules in a way that could possibly matter.

  164. Pete*

    Why has your district manager not already evaluated the success of your store?

    Can you go to another store location to see if there are any other easily identifiable reasons your store is performing better?

  165. My2cents*

    The best news is they are sending “consultants” not a corporate team. Sounds like you may have the open minds of a third party.

  166. Hiring Mgr*

    If you have already been the top store in the nation for over a year, hasn’t your immediate boss or regional mgr or whoever already asked about what you’re doing differently or why you’re so successful?

    I’d tell the consultants same thing you’ve been telling them.

  167. Inexperienced but hopeful*

    Based on having been a reader here for about a year: you do not owe these people.

    So first, it depends on your financial position. Seems to me that if need be, you could probably find a new job pretty soon, but of course that it is your call to make.

    Second, what is your sense that these consultants will listen?

    If you think they will listen, and you are comfortable with the risk of retaliation if it turns out they don’t like the truth, then I think telling them would be better. On the other hand, if the risk is too great for you to tell and/or you don’t get the sense that they will listen, it’s not immoral to lie.

    Either way, good luck and please send an update if you can!

  168. Marie*

    400! Congratulations!! Just tell them the straight truth and or show them this column. You are very talented, and all good wishes and prayers for you and your career–wherever it may be!

  169. Bitte Meddler*

    Not retail, but inside sales for the world’s largest software company. We were plunked down in our cubes and told, essentially, to dial prospects and customers without any prep work. Just start chugging through our assigned list of clients and throw everything at them from servers to collaboration software to cloud storage to maintenance contracts. Dial, dial, dial!

    I got absolutely nowhere doing that, so I spent some (unauthorized, off-the-clock) time building profiles of my biggest customers, including what products of ours and our competitors they already had installed, along with a summary of what their business was, and who the relevant people were.

    Bam. My sales went through the roof. I closed bigger deals than anyone ever had, even though I was getting written up and put on a PIP for not meeting my daily dial quota (I shit you not).

    Eventually, management decided to ask what I was doing that was making me so much more productive than my peers. I showed them, and then pointed out that they couldn’t force everyone else to do what I did, which was spend dozens of unpaid hours building out the profiles. (We were hourly + commission).

    So they backed off the required number of dials and added a metric around gathering client intel.

    It was still one of the worst, most toxic places I have ever worked, but at least they were willing to entertain the idea that they’d get better results if they didn’t think of our department as a sweatshop call center.

    If the consultants were hired to make the rest of the stores as profitable as yours, they have an incentive to listen to you and to highlight your practices as a model, versus gathering data to get you fired for breaking company policy.

  170. Peon*

    Having worked retail, I worry that changing the displays will be the thing that gets you in the most trouble. My experience with corporate retail is that displays like that are often mandated because there is a contract between the retailer and the brand and you may have violated that. You know your own niche of the industry better than we would, but tread carefully confessing that.

    1. SometimesMaybe*

      Thank you for point about displays. I am surprised no one else if bring this up. It is a huge deal that brands pay a lot of money for.

      1. Peon*

        It really stood out to me; not following attendance policies is one thing, as long as you’re not violating labor laws, it can probably be forgiven. So can turning a blind eye to other infractions as long as it’s not causing problems with shrink/loss prevention.

        But things like not adhering to merchandising displays and breaking lay down dates (if they apply) can have monetary and supply consequences for the whole chain.

  171. Chris too*

    What kind of infractions are you ignoring? I love retail and sometimes work part time at it for fun, although it’s not my main thing.

    I’d put up the corporate displays. I’d also lean hard on “we’re doing well because our sales team is invested and cares, and there’s very little turnover.” That isn’t a confession of wrongdoing!

    If you could point out a specific instance that doesn’t look too bad I’d do it – “Stacey was late and I should have just written her up, and after so many write-ups fired her, but it’s because she depends on a bus that only comes once an hour and can sometimes run late. I changed her shift start time to 15 minutes later to accommodate the fact that she is reliant on the bus, and now she’s never late. It was sensible and better for morale than firing her when we all knew what the problem was.”

  172. Garblesnark*

    Can you talk with your team?

    I don’t think there’s a way around suspending your tardy policy, for example (or dancing around it very carefully) while the consultants are present. And individual employees the consultants see breaking policy could lose their jobs without you being able to protect them.

  173. Lurker*

    I would go over my policies and procedures handbook with a fine-tooth comb to understand the consequences of what you’ve done. If they explicitly say that you’re allowed to make changes where you see fit, then proceed with caution but probably don’t lay all your cards on the table. If the handbook is more strict, tell them nothing. I was a manager in a retail store similar to what you’ve described and while they probably wouldn’t have fired me (depending on how much and what you’ve changed), I would have been ordered to stop immediately (and I did try to improve things, and was ordered to stop). These sort of changes are only possible if you have a higher-up on your side. Your priority should be to protect yourself and your staff.

  174. Nat20*

    This is a pickle! Telling the whole truth is likely to get you in trouble, but playing dumb and lying completely could arouse suspicion and backfire, maybe even worse.

    I think you’ve got to determine:
    a) how much trouble you’re likely to get in if you admit everything. On the scale from nothing to “just change it back” to disciplinary action to fired, where do you suspect total honesty will land you?
    b) whether you think you’ll be able to convince anyone that what you’ve accomplished means they should consider making changes. Will they be willing to learn from you or at least hear you out because of your success, or will they not be able to see anything past “you broke the Rules” so your success is moot?
    c) how much you care about this company above/outside your own location, and how much they care about you.

    Based on those, then you can decide whether to come clean or just give some vague half-truths. If you do come clean, I’d recommend framing it as decisions you stand by and that had clear results, not a sin you’re confessing. Say it with pride and confidence but without arrogance, and connect every decision to the solid reasons behind it and the measurable results after it. By half-truths I mean something vague like “I trust my team because they trust me”, rather than straight up “I dont follow the attendace policy”. I would not blame you for either approach.

  175. Properlike*

    Dating myself here, but does anyone remember the final scenes from 9 to 5?

    It seems like OP is damned either way. But also has transferable skills not restricted to retail. My advice: be honest, be enthusiastic, back it with metrics, AND have a back-up plan.

  176. MCMonkeyBean*

    Ooooh, this is so tough. I assume in theory they *want* to know what you are doing so they can emulate it elsewhere, but in practice the risk of them reacting badly may not be worth it.

    IMO when you say “I know this isn’t okay” I actually disagree. It sounds like the rules you are breaking are largely bad ones and that by making different choices everyone wins! You, your employees, your bosses and your customers! So personally I don’t think you should feel bad about it for even a second.

    But that doesn’t mean that *they* would be okay with it. Maybe you could pick one or two small things to share what you have been doing differently. Like maybe the displays might be something you could offer up? You could say something like how you always set up the corporate approved displays but then sometimes you make adjustments based on things you notice from the customers like XYZ example and how you’ve noticed that impacting certain customer behaviors.

  177. HR Exec Popping In*

    I agree with many of the comments. Lead with your metrics and link them to your actions as much as possible. E.g., I put up ABC display as provided and saw sales of X, then modified it to Y and saw sales of X+Y. Share your management style, but be cautious of sharing any full out violations of company policy. It is great to showcase flexibility, autonomy, etc. but stay away from failure to report incidents or things that may cross a hard line they might have to report/act upon. E.g., anything that would indicate lying or stealing to them. Otherwise, please share your story with them. You are effective and corporate wants to understand why and learn from it. That is why they sent consultants and not just came themselves – they want an objective opinion that they can learn from vs. their own biased people seeing “what is wrong”. Good luck and we would love an update.

  178. Mmm.*

    Here’s what to remember: They already know you’re doing something differently because your way is working and theirs isn’t. Since they won’t want to lose you, assuming they’re halfway logical people, they aren’t there for a “gotcha.” However, if you’re too anxious for total honesty (which I get!), here are some thoughts:

    “I have modified guidelines based on getting to know our local community. What works in NYC, for instance, doesn’t speak to people here in Salt Lake City.” (Or whatever the case may be.) It shows an awareness of the expectations combined with a customer-first mentality.

    “I’ve been spending my own time learning about evolutions in workplaces given our average employee’s age and making sure we’re meeting their needs in terms of respect and, yes, scheduling. This has resulted in X, Y, Z specific, quantifiable results.” (Bonus points for low turnover!)

    “Some specific things I think corporate recommends that work well are… and why.” Try to find something here so you don’t just sound like “yeah, take down The Man!”

    Sounds like you’re killing it. Good luck!

    1. current retail manager*

      OP, I think these are some great scripts, and I think the reminder that you’re the one making money for this company isn’t a small thing. Yes, I’m sure there are petty, awful people out there who would just be mad that you’re successful without following their rules, but I think there are less of them than people might think. As the store manager who’s driving these results, you have a considerable amount of leverage here — not one person at my company or among my connections and peers in the industry would say that this is worth losing you over. Be thoughtful, and don’t rush into it with the mindset of “I’ll tell them everything and it’ll be fine,” but don’t make the decision based solely on panic or fear, either.

  179. Link*

    First, make absolutely sure that the branding and display rules are just from corporate and not dictated by suppliers. You’ll find out some very nasty consequences if those policies are dictated by suppliers and not some corporate busybody. That said, you clearly have a good perception on the pulse of your community to do your displays the way you do and that may end up an advantage in more ways than one.

    Second, give your team a heads up that corporate is coming to review your store because it’s doing so well. And from what you’ve said, abnormally well comparatively. Make sure they know to stay hush on certain policies you’re breaking or bending, and give them reasons why, makes it easier to hide unease and anxiety. If they don’t, you and several of your employees might find your employment a thing of the past.

    Go into the meeting with your metrics and such really available to reference. Such as breaking policies A B and C resulted in X Y and Z, which is resulting also in H L and P for sales and employee morale, etc.

    Bring up stuff only as they do. These are still policies you’re breaking, and purposefully at that. You’re going to have to be ready to defend your decisions if required. This is a very tight position you’re in. This is going to go badly, or be a great opportunity to make changes. I don’t really see an in between option here tbh.

  180. Anony4892*

    Don’t tell them how you succeed. You have to think corporate mentality. Once they know your secret, then they will take it and make other stores profitable which means you will no longer be profitable. Unless they are promoting you to a consultant or giving you a pay raise to work at corporate, then you owe the company nothing. My advice is based on experience working in a large corporate environment for years.

  181. Rumpus*

    OK this is the exact plot of 9 to 5! Minus the kidnapping of course. I would do what Dolly Parton did

  182. NZReb*

    I’d keep it focused on results and “tweaked for local conditions”. For example:

    The nature of City’s public transport means that commute times are unpredictable. I’ve dealt with this by not penalizing staff if they’re occasionally late because of public transport problems.

    These tweaks have greatly improved staff retention and mean:
    * my recruitment costs are X compared with company average of Y
    * my staff have been here an average of X years compared with company average of Y
    * my staff have much greater expertise than the company average, and therefore, my sales per staff member are X instead of company average of Y
    * staff expertise means that customer satisfaction is X instead of company average of Y
    * customer satisfaction means that rate of return custom is X instead of company average of Y

    If you don’t measure these factors you can say “high” instead.

  183. nnn*

    Sometimes, for some audiences, “I adjusted and built upon the rules” comes across better than “I broke the rules.”

    So, for example, “A lot of people were looking for red scarfs when the red team made the sportsball playoffs, so we put them right on the front display to attract foot traffic.”

    Or: “The most frequent complaint I get as manager is about aggressive upselling, so as an experiment, we tried setting aside the standard upselling script and, as you can see by the chart, that correlates directly with the increase in our performance metrics.”

  184. current retail manager*

    OP, you’ve gotten a ton of advice here and have a lot to think about already, but I’m going to add my thoughts because the one thing I didn’t see much of in the comments was advice from current retail store managers, which I am. I saw a lot of comments from former retail store managers, and I respect their input and experience, but I also think this industry has changed so much so rapidly over the last handful of years that unless you literally just left, your knowledge may not be all that applicable anymore. I think making money talks a lot louder than a lot of these commenters may believe.

    Anyway. I think what this comes down to is what you know of your company, and your boss, and their boss. I work for a company that does allow a fair amount of “shopkeeper mentality” — in other words, store managers do have space to do things differently based on what works for our store and our business. I regularly set displays differently than what the visual documents call for, because my space is different and my customer is different and my inventory is different. I’m allowed to do that. I’m allowed to make exceptions to our written policies to take care of a customer, I’m allowed to give my employees flexibility in their schedules even if it’s technically not “policy.” I have a boss and a grandboss who respect and value my leadership and my insights on my store and my team and my customers, and if I can back up what I was doing with data and results, they generally allow me to keep doing it (and if it’s a situation where I really do need to do it by the book, they explain that and we have a conversation! It’s not ever something where I think, oh, but if they found out I did this differently, I’d probably get fired. My company functions like a corporate office in this way — unless I’m stealing or punch a coworker, I’m not going to be randomly fired. I say this to counter against the immense amount of cynicism in these comments. I want you to be smart and do what you think is best for YOUR situation. If that means you change it all back and shrug, then that is what it is and you shouldn’t feel bad about staying quiet to keep your job… but take the time to think about it!)

    Another thing to consider about disregarding policies and how much of that to share or not: do your employees feeling respected and appreciated mean they show up to work and you don’t have regular problems with attendance violations? By removing the possibility of “punishment,” and just generally treating people like responsible adults, have you actually minimized the issues altogether? I saw a lot of comments that seemed to assume that you still have lots of attendance issues and callouts, and just aren’t doing anything about it, in which case you’d probably have a problem… but I feel like that probably isn’t the case. I’m willing to bet that in addition to employees who enjoy interacting with the customers, you also have employees who are pretty reliable and are committed to their jobs and to you and to showing up for you. That’s valuable.

    Like I said, though, I also know this is going to vary based on the brand and the ownership and your boss. My advice would be to take some time and think over what you know of the current leadership, your boss, and their boss. What level of reasonableness are you working with? Make your decision based on that. Also, if your boss is a reasonable person, loop them in and ask for their advice. I know that might not be possible, since it’s been over a year and they don’t seem to be aware of what’s happening in your store, which sounds like they’re… not great, but if that’s inaccurate, absolutely use them as a sounding board.

    No matter what you do, good luck (and seriously, congrats — top location in the US for the last five quarters is incredibly impressive)! This industry is really challenging, so know that as someone who is knee-deep in it with you and gets it, I’m rooting for you.

  185. Voicemail of Ghostface*

    The phrase “positive deviance” instead of rule breaking might serve you here! Vague also tends to work better than specific. “I give my employees flexibility” rather than “I don’t care if they break XYZ rule” or “I tweak the displays to suit the needs of this specific store” rather than “I don’t do the corporate displays at all.”

    for the record, I think OP is awesome.

  186. Ex-Big 3*

    I’m very surprised by the number of commentators who interpreted a visit by strategy consultants as compliance officers – a former strategy consultant that was the least of my concerns. I would explain the changes and why you think they are effective on sales, turnover, etc. Strategy consultants likely have a direct line to the CEO/COO with a mandate to recommend a bunch of changes and then put together an implementation plan. I think you’ll be doing your company a service by explaining what works.

    For the internal politics, I am not aware and you will have to judge if your District and Regional Managers will freak out over your initiatives, but likely they or someone more senior recommended to the consultants to visit your store.

  187. Canned Cannon*

    This is not good.
    I get why LW is doing it; I’ve done it myself. But they are not truly helping anyone and are not helping themselves.
    By doing this and not being honest about it, they are demonstrating to the decision-makers that their policies are functioning well. Meanwhile, the other stores that try to follow the rules risk the consequences of not matching LW’s achievements.
    LW’s employer does not deserve this level of support. If they are going to enact poor polices, they are responsible for the consequences of doing so. If they never experience those consequences, they will never learn.
    The best thing LW can do now is to resign while they’re on top. They can then move to an employer who actually deserves (and values) their level of commitment.
    Saying that, LW runs the risk of having to lie in their next job interview. How do they explain their past successes without also demonstrating they are willing to lie and breach policy? Their reasons may be completely justifiable but it may not inspire trust. A loose cannon that hits the enemy is still a loose cannon.

  188. ijustworkhere*

    Congratulations! Innovation that shows results is powerful to top executives. Strategy consultants have a different focus for their visit than a regional manager. They usually have a line direct to the C-suite and are interested in what’s making this work, not how compliant you are with policies that obviously aren’t doing the trick.

    You are essentially running a test location or a concept store. Big difference is you are testing your own concepts. You have an Entrepeneur’s spirit and I hope the powers that be see that. Sometimes it helps to be bold, confident and unapologetic when you are doing things that get results.

    You might wind up with a strategy job yourself after this visit!

  189. You Can't Pronounce It*

    Use this opportunity. I had a boss once who did the same thing for the bank I worked at. She was one of the best bosses and she was even promoted several times because she used her judgement and not just the rules.

  190. Fluttervale*

    Retail manager here. You only control 3 things in the store as a manager: how your employees treat people, whether or not your sales floor is full, and where you put the merchandise. You don’t control what merchandise you get, how much it costs, the return policy, how well the company advertises, or what the corporate brand means to people. So focus on how you have taken the things you DO control and how that has changed your results (and what you think would make you more successful — is your branding aimed at teens but the styles are out of date, so you merchandise for the demographic you get not the demographic they want.).

  191. Irish Teacher.*

    I’d really love an update on this, whatever happens.

    And I’m really hoping things end well for the LW, whether it is by finding another job with a company less close to disaster or by impressing the consultants.

  192. Menace to Sobriety*

    I am … stunned and baffled by the sheer volume of commenters telling the OP to LIE. The company wants to know what she’s doing/pick her brain to get other stores that are struggling up to her success. This is the time to tell the truth, “I tried it the corporate way, and it wasn’t working so I did XYZ and things turned around.” The company needs to hear that their methods are outdated, or onerous, or whatever and they need to regroup. This OP has a perfect opportunity to influence the way her company grows and operates going forward. But, even if it weren’t like that, advocating someone LIE to their leadership (or anyone, really) is just… so wrong to me. If someone who worked for me found a better way to do things than the way I’ve been telling them, and it wasn’t unethical or illegal, I would want to know what it is and if it’s feasible, implement it more widely. Sounds like that’s what the company is trying to find out here, and lying helps nobody.

  193. Religious Nutter*

    It’s corporate management and you’re beating your goals by 400%. If you told them you were getting these results by sacrificing goats in the back room… they’d start requisitioning goats.

    I’d write up every single rule you’re breaking and why _exactly_ it contributes to sales. If you stay focused on how these decisions move more product, they’d have to be completely unhinged to ignore your recommendations.

    Just make sure you’re always tying it to sales. They don’t give two figs if your employees feel respected, but they’ll write whole new policies if those policies move more product.

    1. Menace to Sobriety*

      Thank you for saying this. I really think it’s so wrong for people to keep telling the OP to LIE to the corporate strategists. Clearly they know that this store and this manager have some secret sauce to success, and they want to bottle it and sprinkle it around. I don’t think she’ll be punished for telling the truth, as long as she ties it to “X wasn’t working so I did Y and now sales are up to Z” etc… Bottom Line Rules in retail. The one thing I disagree with a tiny bit, is I think they WILL care about employees if she can tie it to turnover, because training new employees costs money. Unhappy, surly employees lose custumerw and cost sales which costs the bottom line money, so I think that’s actually important to share, as well,

  194. Stevesie*

    I’d argue that they’re sending consultants because they already know you’re doing something differently. The brand is struggling, and you’re overshooting goal by 400%? Unless they’re so delusional as to think that your location is just somehow the only one where every approach they take is going like gangbusters, they know something is going on! IMO, if you don’t tell them the truth about the merchandising part especially, they might assume some fraud is happening. It might be more risky to pretend like you’re not doing anything differently.

    Good luck!

  195. Fluff*

    A lot of great advice – A few thoughts once you figure out topics, etc.
    1. Practice your presentation or discussion on the topics you choose. Record, video, etc.

    2. Write out some of your Spiels. Put them through some tools to make it sound professional. I use goblin tools. Practice again.

    3. Have someone (employee) be your wing person when the consultants come. They can help you judge how things are going which is VERY difficult when you are the object of attention. Perhaps they can read the consultants interest or body language or reception to your answers. Your brain is going to be so focused on what is coming out of your mouth. Then have short times where you can privately check in with your wing person on how it is going.

    4. Have several different plans you can quickly change to depending on #3. This could be the full open share most things, to only share displays type x, to nope, only going to be giving bland company speak things with your one tidbit.

    5. Consider how you might be able to make this a proposal for you – If you are interested, would you like to go to 1-2 stores and help them? You can spin this into a chance to express interest.

    Good luck – put toes in, but have a firm stand on the edge and don’t fall into the pool.

  196. RH in CT*

    First, update your resume with the details you gave in you letter to Allison, especially covering the statistics you provided.
    Second, I would be truthful with whoever shows up to figure out how you have done it.

  197. Sparky McDragon*

    If you have knowledge of the name of the strategy consulting firm (if it is external) it might be worth looking up the track record, projct history, LinkedIn presence etc. Just to see if you can geta sense of their philosophy or approach. In general, good consultants get paid to give companies honest feedback and they are good at doing it in ways that help them do better without pissing the companies execs off. If they’re internal strategy team members, I would tread wayyyyyyyyyyy more carefully because you won’t know who’s pet project you have been non-compliant with. I do think the comments upthread about the company using your strategic innovation while still paying you a store manager rate are something worth thinking about, while you are thinking about where and how you sell your labor.

  198. Witch of Oz*

    This reminded me of the story of how James Daunt saved the Waterstones bookshop chain in the UK. One of the problems was that management would set out the display rules for ALL stores, ignoring the fact that different books would be un/popular in different areas of the UK. He trusted local bookshop managers to know what THEIR customers would like and promote those books. OP it sounds like you know YOUR customers. If they want to know why your store is succeeding while others are failing, start with that. Good luck! I hope they listen to you.

  199. Richard*

    The fact that this is even a question is itself interesting. I wonder what would happen if you first told the consultants something like,

    “I’d love to explain what I’ve done here, but to be honest, I’m quite nervous that I’m going to be reprimanded – or even fired! – because I’m aware that I’ve deliberately diverged from some of the centrally dictated policies. Even when my store has been recognised as the top location in the US for the past 5 quarters, I am still worried that senior leadership will prioritise rule-following over results, and that they will prioritise punishment over coaching. I think the fact that I’m even worried about these things is symptomatic of a breakdown in the relationship between upper management and successful store managers like myself.”

  200. Ajay*

    I teach mathematics of gambling. It says that if there is 50% chance of a small loss and 50% chance of a big gain, you should take the risk. So if you are likely to get a similar or better job elsewhere, you should tell the facts more openly. If the chances of other jobs are not very high, you should play safe. Then tell the consultants what they want to hear.

Comments are closed.