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Hard Knocks Retail

Furniture World Magazine


Your retail team doesn’t play in a helmet with a decal on the side, but they can still play like winners if you follow the advice offered on HBO’s Hard Knocks Training Camp.

Are you suffering from the recruiting and hiring blues? Too many open positions and not enough serious applicants?

Imagine a scenario where hundreds of qualified applicants apply for a limited number of jobs. Beyond checking their resumes, you could also view video footage of each candidate in action on the job.

After meeting with them, you would hire 90 people for a four-week trial with the understanding that once they hit day 28, you’d only keep the best workers. The rest would get Don’t Come Monday (DCM) notes.

If you owned or managed a National Football League team, this would be your recruiting reality.

Since cutting cable and moving to streaming TV, I’ve watched some interesting programs including “Hard Knocks Training Camp.” The show premiered ten seasons ago. Each segment is a view into an NFL team’s training camp.

The show follows owners and coaches who select from hundreds of players vying for 53 positions. Some are young men right out of college. Others are free agents. A few are in the “once was” or the “never will be” categories.

Hundreds of men appear at combines and try-out sessions. NFL coaches get to hire 90 players at the start of training camp. Camp ends four weeks later. The best 53 players make the team.

If you’ve never watched Hard Knocks Training Camp on HBO, give it a whirl.

It will probably seem like a staffing Shangri-la to you. Although you will likely never have a similarly impressive talent pool apply for sales and operations jobs at your store, some takeaways from the series may help you to improve your operation.

“Position coaches are similar to retail department leaders. They define the attributes they are looking for, and the contributions they expect new hires will make to the team.”

Define the Position First

Before the coaches hire anyone, they set the desired outcome for each position. For example, a running QB will require different surrounding players than a pocket-passing QB. Position coaches are similar to retail department leaders. They define attributes they are looking for, and contributions they expect new hires will make to the team. There is a lineman coach for the muscle up front, a receivers coach for ball catchers, a running backs coach for the ground game, and so on. Those coaches define the attributes they are looking for and the contributions they expect new hires will make to the team. You might call these attributes job descriptions.

Your company has varied positions to fill as well. Be sure to carefully define the skills and attitudes each player should bring to the field.

Prima Donnas Not Welcome

Training camp attendees need to check their bad attitudes at the door. Rookies, pros, and all-stars are required to try out every season. Everyone must accept advice from their coaches. This is non-negotiable. Players who mouth off get benched or worse. In one episode, a player was cut from the team on the playing field in front of 89 other players just for talking back. That never happened again!

Retail store owners and managers must also train and teach their teams. The goal is to improve customer service. Everyone needs coaching now and then. Having players on your team who won’t accept or implement coaching advice is toxic. It negatively affects how other team members serve their customers and affects revenue.

Look for the Rough Diamond

Over four weeks, NFL coaches evaluate each player’s ability to perform in a designated role. Sometimes, they spot a player who is second best—a runner-up for several different positions—a jack of all trades, master of some.

One episode featured a player who was a decent running back, receiver, defensive end and tackle on kick-offs. Four roles covered—one position taken.

At all levels, football is a contact sport. At the professional level, it becomes brutal. Over a 17-week season, injuries occur, leaving some players physically unable to perform. Having a well-trained backup person ready to go is an asset, especially if he can cover several positions.

People enter our retail world through a revolving door. They get sick or injured, have families that need attention, go on vacations and quit without notice. Just as injuries happen in the NFL, there are absences in your showroom and warehouse. Hiring people who have multiple skills and cross-training your people results in never being caught shorthanded.

“Terminations for less egregious offenses should conclude with positive messages. It’s a good idea to acknowledge that your departing players have talents, just not the ones that mesh with your goals.”

It’s Been Good to Know You

Four weeks pass quickly at Hard Knocks Training Camp. Decisions are made, and the coaches cut the roster from 90 prospects to 53. At this point, coaches and other team managers meet one-on-one with the players who don’t make the team.

Behind closed doors, players are told why they didn’t make the team. They are encouraged to keep physically fit since another team may select them during the season. Most coaches tell players who don’t make the team that they have NFL ability, but there isn’t room on the roster to accommodate them. The meetings often end with a hug rather than a handshake.

Most furniture and mattress retailers occasionally cut players due to under-performance, habitual tardiness, theft, or worse.

Terminations for less egregious offenses should, likewise, conclude with positive messages. It’s a good idea to acknowledge that your departing players have talents, just not ones that mesh with your goals. Remember that former employees belong to social media and peer groups and may have 100 or 1,000 connections. Handling redundancies affirmatively can reduce unemployment claim lawsuits and create goodwill for your company.

Your team doesn’t play in a helmet with a decal on the side, but they can still play like winners. The coaches and owners featured on Hard Knocks Training Camp work hard to define their needs and hire the best teams possible. You can, too. Train and teach your people to master skills. Cut the people who are holding you back. These are winning strategies.

About Gordon Hecht: Gordon Hecht is a business growth and development consultant to the retail home furnishings industry. You can reach him at Gordon.hecht@aol.com