I had coffee this morning with the Director of Store Planning for a chain of 3500 stores who worked for me years ago.  His career has been a hopscotch of planogramming, analytics, management, store planning, visual merchandising, store projects and systems.  Now, nearly all of those functions report to him and he is wondering what he does next.  In his early 40’s, he no longer gets a new job title ever couple of years and the pay raise and change in responsibility that comes with it.  His functional area is making steady efficiency and process improvements, but he wonders if there is any way to break out of his “box” as Planogram-Guy.  Gifted with an analyst mind-set and experience, he is finding himself drawn to the more creative aspects of store design and experiential branding.

    This Director is going through a very common experience nearly all functional heads navigate as they transition from Journeyman to Master. Personal development starts to stagnate compared to the past where new skills and techniques were built upon quarter after quarter.  Even new projects begin to have a feeling of familiarity.   In Space Management, the cycle of planogram changes, store merchandising calendars and seasonal changes heightens that feeling of repetition.

    There were two pieces of advice I had for this mentee to give him a new lens to think about his ongoing career growth.

    The first – and most important – was to take control of his own growth.  It is an extremely rare company that gives much thought to the ongoing development of forty-year-old middle managers. Development programs and talent identification tends to focus on the newly hired and senior executives.  Waiting for someone to recognize your talents or your possible contributions is a waste of time.   Identify where you want to learn or contribute more (in his case, the intersection of branding and store design) and look for the natural touchpoints in your current role where you can augment those experiences.

    The second – where things move from thinking to doing – is to start making connections across departments that showcase your new thinking. In his case, I suggested that he set up coffees or lunches with his counterparts in Marketing and start asking how he can help them bring their current branding strategies to life in the store.  I promised him that as he started to reach “across the aisle” and work outside of his normal circle of peers and did so in a proactive and voluntary way, people would begin to think of him differently.  They would recognize his broader, more strategic thinking and he could break out of his “Planogram-Guy” box.

    He smirked, “well, of course, I think of more than planograms and store shelves.  Why will that surprise them?”

    “Because they don’t know you.  They don’t know what you think about if you don’t start asking those kinds of questions.”

    “You make is sound easy.”

    “It is.  You just have to begin.”