Trickle down effect. A political phenomenon coined in terms of economics, it’s usually used to describe the top-to-bottom flow of industry, wealth, and the trickling down of resources across social class.
But in my mind, this top-down organizational model also applies itself nicely to company leadership and the very direct, impactful effect each individual leader brings to their company culture.
Take for example, the consumer experience at my very first job as a 16 year old teenager (back when I thought a three hour shift was near impossible and waffle fries were healthy), Chick-fil-A. Chick-fil-A workers, (for the most part), are across the board, smiley, peppy, polite, young people who understand their on-the-job purpose is to serve you with quality products, and to serve you in a way in which you feel like a somewhat appreciated and valued being. Certainly not in every instance, but as both a former fast food worker and current fast food consumer (one of my many guilty pleasures), I’ve found this to be something of a rarity across the vast majority of the industry. There is a simple explanation for this. Attitude and culture among all employees take its cue from the top – leadership example, good or bad, has a way of oozing its way down the ranks, infiltrating the air breathed by anyone stepping foot in that environment, from high ranking execs to ground floor workers. That air can be fresh and invigorating, with clear visibility for miles, or toxic and full of shadowy corners and a grim outlook. In the highly competitive world of retail, in which consumers must be convinced to live and breathe a particular brand, positive leadership has never been more important. And for that reason among many, I’m unbelievably thankful to be with Old Navy.
As I’ve mentioned previously, my experiences as a newcomer to Old Navy Management have been exceptional (check out my Vegas bound #FLC post if you haven’t yet). Perfect? Of course not, nor would I have wanted it to be without its challenges or obstacles. I believe challenges make you a stronger person and obstacles can sometimes turn out to be a lesson in disguise. I knew I was taking on a challenging store. With all my positive self-talk and well-laid plans for success, I have to admit I wasn’t quite prepared for the enormity of my task, or the learning curve I had to master in a very limited time frame. As unprepared and scared as I felt however, my shaky first footing allowed me to fully discover the generosity and goodwill of the exceptional leadership support that first drew me to Old Navy.
When I first received a call from my current market leader Molly asking if I was interested in talking about a career switch to Old Navy, I wasn’t sure how to react. I had always heard great things about working for the company and loved their style, but I was set in my previous job and wasn’t sure if I was ready to make a change. For a week straight, I researched the company and found out everything I could – it was so positive that I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to interview. My interview started with a quick informal coffee meet up with Molly for a prescreening. Even through my haze of nerves, I was able to discern how excited and passionate she was for the company.
The morning of my formal interview I had a mixture of emotions flowing through my head. I remember walking in and being greeted by Molly and then I was introduced to another fellow market leader from Ohio named Cassidy. She immediately introduced herself and told me we came from the same retail background and could empathize with the areas of the company which seemed like a foreign language to me – immediately putting me at ease and re-instilling my sense of confidence. Throughout the entire interview process, Cassidy went out of her way to phrase things in a manner that made sense in my Abercrombie jargon, and enabled me to fully represent my potential by creating a bridge between two entirely separate companies. What stuck out most was the incredible feeling that both Cassidy and Molly both cared about me as a person and took my goals, dreams, and personality into consideration for the position. I’ll never forget the words Molly said to me when I accepted the job offer.
“There is a spark about you and something very special, and I can’t wait to see that spark explode.” Not to be dramatic, but cue tears of joy and an overwhelming sense of acceptance.
Things progressed similarly from there. Amidst the storm of emotions I felt at leaving behind a beloved company that I held close to my heart to jump headfirst into a new one, the stability and availability of the Old Navy management remains one of my favorite aspects of my new workplace. Training took place in Bloomington, IN, where I followed the amazing lead of fellow manager, Brandy. I saw first hand what a unified store with a hardworking team looks like. I wanted my store to immediately look the same right off the bat. So obviously, when I first stepped foot in my own store and saw disorder with less-than-motivated associates, I had a full blown anxiety attack (ok, maybe not full blown but definitely a mini panic attack) and found myself attempting those breathing exercises you read about in silly, ineffective advice magazines in attempt to calm you down. As I was inhaling and exhaling I was interrupted by a knock at my door. I was about to meet my first light of motivation. Ashley was a cute, cheerful department manager, and the first thing she did was scoop me into a huge hug, tell me how excited she was to meet me, and ask me to please not give up on them. So, I decided to start with what I do best – build relationships. I got to know my team and was lucky enough to come across some great finds in external hires. Team unity started to blossom, and from there, our store began to slowly but surely turn the corner. It is amazing how fast a store can turn around when respect is given and trust is formed.
Soon after I started seeing progress, I received my first ever upper field store visit from my loss prevention market manager Michael – yet another highly motivated and very respected leader. Not knowing what to expect, I prepared myself for his critiques followed by lists of area opportunities. To my surprise and delight, he instead told me the purpose of his visit was to offer his support and assistance to me. He was the first to congratulate me on my store’s somewhat improved (but still not up to par) condition. He then shared with me some game changing advice that would play a huge role in my leadership development.
“You need to learn to celebrate the small wins you have achieved,” I clearly remember him saying.
I stared at him in silence with a very perplexed look. I had never heard a company use this phrase before. I was always taught to celebrate milestones: small wins were meaningless unless they culminated in the desired final product. It didn’t take long after that moment for me to realize how incredible this concept was, recognizing and praising people for the little things. Before, I focused all my energy on the end goal and how I was going to get there, but thanks to Michael he opened up my mind and taught me that while it is still important to meet goals, it is also equally important to recognize and celebrate the small wins accomplished along the way”. It was an amazing boost to my confidence, and more importantly, reassured me of the value my progress was making. I was humbled at the recognition this company gave for what most companies would consider to be very small accomplishments. It is rare to find a company not only take time to appreciate their workers but truly invest in their futures and development along the way.
Early November I received yet another surprise from upper management – a touch base from my human resource manager Robin to see how I was transitioning in my new position and if there was anything she could do to help. November is a crazy time of the year, so the fact that she took time out of her schedule just to meet and check up on me meant a lot. It was such a lighthearted and uplifting conversation with someone I could truly relate to. Her caring personality and positive energy were contagious. I could tell we had the same views on many things, such as the importance of building relationships to build a unified team, and the importance of believing in the success and future of others. She gave me some great advice on my struggles I was having and reassured me that everything was going to be okay, and told me to reach out anytime for anything.
The retail world is forever changing. Old Navy has always stuck to its ground roots and beliefs: they believe in their people, the success of their people, and the growth of their people. I know this to be true because of several people: Molly – who never gave up on me, even when I started to give up on myself, and challenges me constantly to become a stronger leader. Robin who makes me feel valued in the company and keeps me uplifted and motivated by her inspiring words of encouragement, and praising me with recognition for our stores achievements. And last but not least, Cassidy, an amazing gem who believed in me from day one and has taken me under her wing to guide me along this journey. I don’t know if she realizes how much of an impact she has made on me. She is one of the most driven and motivating individuals I have ever met, and the fact that she celebrates my wins and truly cares about the success of my career (and keep in mind folks, she is not even in my same market) is so inspiring.
The list of influential and positive leaders I have come into contact with so far is endless, which brings me back to where I started – leadership starts at the top. Steve Stickel, Head of Stores at Old Navy, is the prime example of what a leader is. The dedication and passion he conveys for this company and its leaders are infectious and uplifting. I will never forget how inspirational his words of encouragement were when he reached out to me.
His message and vision for the company has definitely inspired me to never settle and to continue striving to be the best possible version of me, not only professionally, but personally as well.
I am a true believer that everything happens for a reason, and I believe Old Navy has opened my eyes to what leadership and compassion is all about. I can only hope to live up to the outstanding standards set by Steve and those under him, and am excited to continue growing as a learner, and a leader.
I have to also give a shout out to my outstanding team of leaders, has been on this crazy ride with me from day one. It is so amazing and I am so thankful to be part of something in which every contribution makes a difference, all thanks to the standards set by the individuals at the top.