Target, the slightly less popular and cleaner version of Walmart, is having a terrible year. Today it fired one executive, and clawed back compensation from another. What's the atmosphere like inside Target now? Allow another employee to explain.
In the past six months, Target suffered an enormous data breach; fired its CEO; and worst of all, had an employee tell us how bad the situation is at company headquarters, a bout of honesty so shocking to one of the company's top executives that he wrote a soul-searching essay about it.
A rough time, to be sure. And today, the company's board ordered canned former CEO Gregg Steinhafel to repay more than $5 million of his exit package, on the grounds that it was too generous. Also today, the company fired Tony Fisher, the head of its Canadian operations, on the grounds that its Canadian operations are a well-chronicled disaster that lost nearly a billion dollars last year.
Damn. That's a lot of problems. Target says that it wants to face up to its problems and hear honest critiques. We seek to help them with that. In the spirit of presenting a multiplicity of views, we now bring you a brand new bittersweet perspective that was sent to us in the past week by a (different) employee at Target's headquarters.
So like many Target employees I've read the defacing of Target management by the anonymous mid-level employee in our downtown headquarters. In a world of polarized opinions and internet hype I am sure there are thousands of employees on both sides of this equation. To be honest, my disagreement with the anonymous employee isn't that he's wrong or right; It's that he's completely short on facts. So let's rectify that...
Target is a company of generalists with very few specialized areas. The people that are promoted first generally are very good at being generalists. Let's not forget that Target is a discount retailer, and our own unofficial slogan is "Expect more (work), (get) paid less". As a generalist you don't get paid as well as a "Center of Excellence" position, which is Target's way of saying a specialized position.
Coming from outside Minnesota the concept of a company of generalists is not in line with my previous experience, and causes several problems. The first of which is brain drain. Simply put, as one person excels at their position they gain certain knowledge that other team members don't necessarily have. When that person gets promoted they tend to go to a completely different part of the company, taking their knowledge with them. This means that the average of the knowledge on any team is limited entirely by the length of time of the longest tenured person. Mistakes that were made years ago are likely to be repeated because the knowledge of those mistakes disappears quickly. Although you spread knowledge around the company, the sum knowledge in any one area is lessened.
Also, being a company of generalists causes very few people to be the "best in class" at their role. I am in a Center of Excellence role, and I've seen what other companies do. They hire the best at their work and give them a vertical career path. Target doesn't. Your career path at Target will always me a zig-zag across divisions and pyramids. That's the simple truth. You will never be great at something; just good...
Is Target innovative? They can be. The author claims we just copy other ideas. It may look like it, but that's only because Target has been so busy trying to define multichannel/omnichannel and innovate without all the necessary tools at the ready that a lot of our systems are held together by bandaids. We can't innovate because it's soul-crushing attempting to get technology to be our ally. There is a constant fight to get emerging concepts and truly innovative ideas moved forward because we are so busy trying to fix the problems we already have. We have so many systems tied together with so many interfaces that changing anything in any system is a year-long and million dollar project. Until Target realizes that their systems are 5 to 25 years out of date, our idea of innovation will be trying to make what we have do more, not trying to do anything revolutionary.
The last thing that isn't mentioned in the author's list of issues is that Target no longer has an identity. Our mission statements all talk about rebuilding trust and regaining customers, but we have no core identity left to give customers a reason. We have a Brand Name and we milk that brand name for all it's worth. But when it comes down to it none of us knows what Target is about anymore because Target has been too busy trying to be a better Walmart/Amazon. If there were no Amazons or Walmarts we would have to seriously soul-search to understand who we are and what our Brand Name means.
[Photo: AP. You can reach the author of this post at Hamilton@Gawker.com]