Last week Sears reported that it will close up to 120 Sears and Kmart stores. I found it to be another sad chapter in the story of a fallen giant. For me, Sears is akin to a giant sequoia tree—a mammoth, standing stable generation after generation. Unfortunately the retailer continues to erode its foundation a bit almost every year.
Let’s travel back in time for a moment. Many of you may not be aware that in the late 1950s to early 1980s considerable work on employee selection took place, primarily at Standard Oil Company, AT&T, and Sears. These organizations spent considerable time and money to determine how to select individuals most likely to be successful in their organizations. V. J. Bentz and L. L. Thurstone pioneered the efforts at Sears. Those studies became the basis for today’s selection instruments. Their efforts paid off.
Sears was the big Kahuna of retail. But it didn’t last as complacency and arrogance set in. Arrogance can blind you to new competitors, and I’ll give you a personal example. Many years ago I gave a presentation to a company regarding technology industry customer support. I listed WordPerfect (remember them?) and PCs Limited as exemplars. Before I could move past the slide one of the executives couldn’t pass up the chance to sneer at the name PCs Limited. “Who are those guys? They’re nothing.” was the comment. My retort was a simple, “Well, they may be nothing today but if they keep up the good service they’ll be something some day.” We do know them today—Dell. And the company I was presenting to, well, I’ll withhold comment.
Sears failed to adapt to changing market conditions as specialty retailers and big box stores left them in the dust. While Sears continues to be a strong retailer (number 10 last year) those with superior market strategies have prevailed.
• Use well-validated employee selection methods
• Remain adaptable to market conditions
• Never, ever become complacent or arrogant—maintain a healthy fear of competitors
Keywords: leadership, employee selection, complacency, adaptability
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• Bentz, V. J. (1968). The Sears experience in the investigation, description, and prediction of executive behavior. In J. A. Myers (Ed.), Predicting managerial success (pp. 59-152). Ann Arbor, Michigan: Foundation for Research on Human Behavior.
• Bentz, V. J. (1985). Research findings from personality assessment of executives. In J. H. Bernardin & D. A. Bownas (Eds.), Personality assessment in organizations (pp. 82–144). New York: Praeger Publishers.
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• Bray, D. W., Campbell, R. J., & Grant, D. L. (1974). Formative years in business: A long-term AT&T study of managerial lives. New York: Wiley-Interscience.
• Sparks, C. P. (1970). Validity of psychological tests. Personnel Psychology, 23(1), 39–46.
• Sparks, C. P. (1983). Paper and pencil measures of potential. In G. F. Dreher & P. R. Sackett (Eds.), Perspectives on employee staffing and selection (pp. 349–368). Homewood, Illinois: Richard D. irwin, Inc.
• Sparks, C. P. (1990). Testing for management potential. In K. E. Clark & M. B. Clark (Eds.), Measures of leadership (pp. 103-112).