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Ever get the feeling you are talking to a brick wall?

As many of my colleagues are aware, I am in the midst of doing a double major in Psychology and Sociology. The purpose of going back to school is to ultimately conduct a major piece of research loosely called The Economic Impact of Retail Crime. As I am now in the final stages, I have been exposed to many great opportunities (okay, let’s be frank, I am writing a bunch of essays for classes) to prepare myself for that final daunting task.

Recently I have reviewed restorative justice as a viable alternative to criminal prosecution, as well as deviant behaviour and the rationale used by seemingly honest people. In doing some of this research I have often come across great studies that I feel may have received credit at the academic level, but did not grab the attention of business leaders. 

The one in particular that I wanted to share today is on Education. If you want to review the entire qualitative study, the link is below.

To recap the study, the authors were testing the barriers they felt were preventing students from receiving feedback from their University level Professors. Before I summarize 2 keys sets of findings, I need to explain why I am posting this to a forum visited primarily by retail leaders. 

As I reviewed the study I could not stop thinking about how much it applied to the management/worker relationship. It has all of the elements of (1) failure to execute, (2) policy violations, (3) administrative error, and the big one (4) root cause of high shrink! 

The 2 components are the barriers that prevent feedback from being received, and strategies on how best to convey the message the sender wants the receiver to understand.

The researcher found 4 key processes that are overlooked in the communication process. Awareness: Is the language used by the sender understood. Meaning are there terms or jargon used that the sender assumes the receiver understands? 


Does the receiver have the mental know how to adapt the feedback to their performance or behaviour?


Does the receiver believe they can apply the feedback and make a difference?


Is the receiver motivated to apply the feedback to improve behaviour or performance?

That’s it in a nutshell.

Now for the Bottom Line!

Every review I have ever conducted over my time in Loss Prevention boils down to this same issue. Failure to execute, which caused a gap or breach, resulting in a loss, as a direct function of the human element.

There was a barrier between the sender, or management, and the receiver, the person responsible to execute the plan.

And it boils down to these same three components;

Did they understand?

Did they know how?

Did they believe?

Did they want to?

The researchers conducted qualitative studies and came up with the list below which I think will make a difference to your bottom line.

* These tips were developed as a result of interviews with university-level undergrads who discussed reasons why they do not read feedback given on work products they submit for grading. This is my interpretation and recommendation given are from me in the context of operational execution.

When giving direction or feedback;

Be understandable

The person receiving feedback needs to understand what you are saying. Don’t use acronyms that are not out in the public domain, the ones certain retailers make up within their own company. It takes months to figure out what somebody means sometimes. You can’t just google “iyadwyadywagwyag”…but I saw that on an evaluation one year.

Be specific

Don’t beat around the bush. tell it like it is. Respect is coaching for improvement, not holding back at the risk of failure. Spit it out, they can take it.

Be deliberate

No hallway or sidewalk chats. That’s informal and I have found, rarely works. Set the time aside, devote attention to the subject and give understandable specific feedback. if you start the discussion with, “oh, and by the way…” they’ve mentally moved ion and you may as well not talk.

State the expected behaviour

Criticism is negative unless it is bound by instruction. If you find somebody doing something wrong, call it out, but tell them the right way, otherwise, they simply chalk it up to “I got my ass ripped”.

Convey controllable action

Make sure they instruction and direction are within the capacity of the individual to execute. If you are simply venting and ask Jimmy to perform something because somebody else didn’t do it and he is not trained, you are putting him at risk to fail, or he may simply dismiss it as, “there she goes on a rant again”.

Ensure direction is actionable

Not only should you consider if the person is qualified, but the performance or behaviour itself should be considered. Can it be accomplished?

Be assertive

If the feedback or direction is important to convey to improve a persons performance or behaviour, then the sender has an obligation to make sure the message is sent loud and clear. That takes assertiveness, not bullying, just a direct and deliberate level of confidence on the senders part.

Be inviting

Students commented that they were intimidated when receiving feedback after all the sender is more qualified than they are. As such make it a comforting environment that they feel is inviting.

Ensure the receiver is attentive

look for clues; the most obvious is cell phone usage and texting, but there are other signs that might lead you to believe the receiver is thinking about other things – like …say Getting Fired! 

Be trusting

When giving direction or feedback you are being read. You are under scrutiny and your honesty is being assessed by the receiver. Remember to be genuine. Your tone and rhetoric will be the underpinning of your conversation

Be welcoming

This is all about the environment. If there is value to having the discussion, make sure the interaction is welcoming. The idea of welcoming also falls on the part of the receiver. They have to be open and welcoming of the feedback or direction.

Close the loop!

Make it a conversation, not one-sided. Make sure you circle back verbally and mentally with the person to make sure that what you said is what they heard.

If that is all too much just remember this one thing a mentor of mine believes in. He had a sign on his desk and it had one word…



Read the Full Study here

Hello, I'm Stephen O'Keefe. The information you read here is intended to help businesses answer some of the tough questions about everyday events in the retail environment. After spending over 3 decades in this industry we've seen a lot!
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About Stephen O'Keefe

As an independent consultant I leverage my experience and knowledge to help a number of companies achieve results. Clients range from non-retailers looking for guidance to serve their retail customer, to retailers looking for quick solutions to unique and costly problems, right to the Industry Association. Bottom line Matters!

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