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Walking in Their Shoes: CEOs in the Retail Trenches

The impact of top executives working store shifts on business insights and employee engagement

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Starbucks' new CEO, Laxman Narasimhan, is implementing a hands-on approach to understanding his company's operations by working a monthly store shift. This strategy, according to former retail executives, is crucial for truly understanding the pain points of a business. It allows CEOs to connect directly with workers and customers, gaining firsthand insights into the realities of store operations.

Narasimhan's approach is part of a broader trend where top executives are immersing themselves in the day-to-day operations of their businesses. This practice, however, has seen a decline in recent years as fewer CEOs have direct experience working in stores. This lack of connection can lead to a disconnect between corporate leadership and the realities faced by employees and customers.

The benefits of this hands-on approach are numerous. It can lead to significant "aha moments" that can drive innovation and improvements in the business. For example, Greg Foran, former CEO of Walmart, used to visit stores every week to observe factors like customer service, inventory levels, and assortment. This practice allowed him to gain valuable insights that informed strategic decisions.

However, not all employees are thrilled with the idea of their CEO working alongside them. Some argue that these executives should focus more on understanding workers' rights and improving working conditions. Despite these concerns, the trend of CEOs working in stores provides a unique opportunity for top executives to gain a deeper understanding of their business operations and build stronger connections with their employees and customers.

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