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The 5 tough questions one CEO asked

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For George Zimmer, leadership is all about finding answers to tough questions. For 40 years, he ran retail chain Men’s Wearhouse from 1973 until spring 2014.

Soon after he launched the company in 1973, he addressed a series of questions that guided his management philosophy:

√ What are the organization’s values? Zimmer often shared his basic philosophy with employees, “We’re not in the suit business. We’re in the people business.”

This led everyone to focus on finding win-win solutions to please customers and earn a fair profit. Adopting this “share the wealth” strategy made salespeople more responsive to filling shoppers’ needs.

√ What do we look for in new hires? Zimmer embraced a “hire for attitude, train for skill” approach. While competing retailers sought employees with relevant job experience, Zimmer’s regional managers pounced on candidates who radiated positivity and a can-do attitude—and then trained them on the technical side.

√ How will we retain people? To keep people from job-hopping, Zimmer usually promoted from within. Almost all the senior managers rose up from the ranks.

Before firing someone, the company would try to transfer the individual to another store or a different role. This ensured that everyone got a second chance to stay on board.

√ How will we empower people? Zimmer didn’t like the term “sales clerk.” Instead, he bestowed the title of “wardrobe consultant” to his salespeople. This empowered his team to consult with customers and understand their needs, rather than merely sell what’s on the racks.

√  How will we invest in people? New wardrobe consultants spent a week at the company’s “Suits University” to learn Zimmer’s views about selling and gain insights into the products and the mission of the organization.

— Adapted from How Great Leaders Think, Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal, Jossey-Bass.

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