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One Size Doesn't Fit All

One size doesn’t fit all.

As a kid I really enjoyed the scene in Cinderella when the step-sisters tried to shove their foot into the petite glass slipper. As an adult with a large foot, I occasionally try this strategy myself, thinking, “Maybe, just maybe this size 9 fits like a 10?”

It never does.

The same is true for business management strategies. The idea that you can apply what worked for another company to your company’s woes is nothing more than a pipe dream, a stubborn step-sister hoping through her sheer will she can make the glass slipper fit.

Perhaps one of the most glaring examples of this wrongheaded thinking is the reign of CEO Ron Johnson at JC Penney. Ron Johnson, a former Target Executive, was credited with the creation and vision of Apple’s retail stores.

In simple terms, Johnson believed he could take the success principles he used in the launch of Apple Retail Stores and apply them to the floundering retail company that all our moms shopped at when we were growing up. It didn’t work.

The Observer notes, “The Johnson era at J.C. Penney will go down in history as one of the most destructive reigns by any CEO at any company—ever.”


That’s a bold statement and an accurate one too. His vision was driven by three ideas:

  • End the use of constant markdowns on price and the reliance on coupons to generate store traffic. Instead, Johnson wanted to offer customers easy-to-understand “fair and square” pricing.

  • Turn J.C. Penney stores into a retail destination by opening as many as 100 separate boutiques filled with branded merchandise inside each J.C. Penney store with a town square in the center.

  • Reduce the focus on private label brands, even though the brands generated 50 percent of sales and billions in revenue for the company.

Johnson believed he could transfer what made for a sweeping success with Apple Retail Stores and apply these concepts to JC Penney. It didn’t work. He completely missed the mark and misunderstood JC Penney’s loyal customers who were not pleased to lose their coupons.

His experiment to turn the once retail giant around came to an abrupt end just 16 months later after a $4.3 BILLION DOLLAR loss in revenue.

In the following years, Johnson’s name became “he who shall not be spoken of” in the halls of JC Penney's Corporate Headquarters.

It is worth noting that JCPenney continues to struggle and, in the end, there may be nothing that can be done to resurrect the retailer that is looking more and more like a dinosaur. Perhaps Johnson was doomed from the start.

I highly recommend you read the article if you are interested in learning more:

With this cautionary tale in mind, it becomes even more important to have a grasp on the conditions of your organization and be thoughtful around what is working and what isn’t working. Not sure? Makes sense; after all, seeing the forest for the trees is a common condition.

I love a neatly packaged and easily implemented strategy. It simplifies the world and cuts down on the time and labor of “figuring it out”. But one-size-fits-all rarely leads to improved outcomes and, because it was pre-packaged, this approach misses key aspects of YOUR team or organization that need to be accounted for.

If you are facing a challenge, here are a few ideas to spend time with as you “find the way forward.”

  • What are the driving forces behind the challenge? Name the challenge and ask others for their input. Your analysis is just ONE possible explanation. Ask from different angles and let others weigh in.

  • Are there processes/systems in place that are creating the challenge and can they be redesigned or eliminated to clear a path to change things?

  • Does everyone on the team have CLEARLY named expectations to work with? This may be the most common issue I run into with my clients when they are struggling—the team doesn’t have clear expectations and they are just making it up as they go.

  • Is the team suffering from a siloed mentality? When people create their own fiefdoms and there is no communication or collaborations happening outside their fiefdom, this leads to problems.

  • Is communication timely and relevant? Ugh, this one makes me nuts. SO many leaders just ASSUME their people know or understand what they want or what is happening. Don’t assume, this is often not the case.

  • What does the marketplace demand and can we deliver it? Staying in lock step with the changing demographics of your consumer and their needs is a must. This means you must take the time to study and understand your client.

These questions/observations are a starting point for defining what is happening in your organization. Each one takes time and energy to answer, but what is the alternative?

Forcing a size 10 foot into a size 6 glass slipper simply won’t work.



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