The Flow State of Retail Leadership

Rance Poehler, President & CEO, Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions has more than 25 years of experience scaling businesses that are in a unique position to transform the industries they serve, including retail. Under his leadership, the company continues its transformation as a trusted retail commerce solutions leader.

As a leader, Poehler believes you must have a high degree of passion, intuition, and commitment that the strategic decision made will be highly successful. Then you must have fortitude to stand by those decision, listen with intent to learn, and evolve to execute and deliver profitable results. He inspires his Team with his high degree of motivation, energy, and commitment for success. His most rewarding roles are scaling businesses, resolving complex challenges, building Teams, and developing new Leaders.

He fell in love with mountain biking a number of years ago. He hopes he’ll be doing it well into his 80s! When you experience what’s called a “flow state” on the trail, you’re hooked for life. Everything clicks. You move fluidly over the bumps, make tight turns, and never worry about where your tires are. “I feel like we’re coming into a flow state now at Toshiba— coming to market with the right solutions, at the right time for our customers. And while there will certainly be some twists and turns in the road, we’re more than ready!” says Poehler.

In an interview with RetalToday, Poehler shared with Retail Today his views on leadership, team motivation and organizational growth.

You have excelled at building and scaling technology businesses at companies like Panasonic, Dell, and now Toshiba. How would you define your leadership style and why do you think it has been successful?

How do you create a culture that motivates team members to contribute to their full potential and does that reflect your leadership style?

I’ve learned over the years that the most important quality you can have as a leader is a humble, selflessness that helps you understand your own limitations, listen to others, and take in different perspectives. When you show you’re willing to listen, people really speak up. Great ideas emerge from all parts of the company.

One thing that’s been particularly inspiring is that we’ve empowered our employee resource groups to explore more ways to get involved in our community.

When I came on board in November of last year, one of the things I was most excited about was increasing investment in community initiatives and becoming more visible in the communities where our employees work and live. One of the ways we’re doing this is by empowering our employee resource groups to identify issues and organizations that we should become more involved in. We meet regularly and I am energized by their passion and commitment and always learn something new.

One of our most important initiatives is creating economic opportunity through partnership with community college and vocational programs. One great example is the new internship program we’re piloting. The program includes in-depth training and also pays for an intern’s final year of tuition. Student debt is a big burden for young people entering the workforce and really takes an emotional toll. We can play an important role in helping alleviate that burden while also providing an exciting career path.

The best thing you can do to create a thriving, dynamic company culture, is to empower people. That means you give teams responsibility, resources, and support, and then let them run. The are some best practices I’ve found that really help build and sustain that kind of organization:

  • Communicate and rally everyone around the company mission, vision, goals, and strategy. Once people know those things, it’s much easier for them to understand how they can contribute to it.

  • Believe that everyone within your team, regardless of their position, education, or experience, is capable of identifying an opportunity to help the company grow, enhance its culture, and solve problems. When people sense that their leadership believes in them, they will rise to a whole new level.

  • Break down silos! Silos are the enemy of empowerment. They close off communication and are demoralizing for creative and resourceful people. Get sales, engineering, solutions architects, marketing, ops, customer support, and product development into the same room. When people learn about each other’s challenges, they build empathy, get inspired, and come up with ideas they never thought possible.
  • Encourage people to think like entrepreneurs. Someone successfully running their own business is an inherently proactive and collaborative person. They figure out how to solve problems and make things happen. Across our organization, I see that proactive spirit thriving whether it’s creating new ways to serve customers, creating training programs for new products, or finding ways to bring new talent into the company.

How can leaders of complex organizations consistently deliver growth? What is your mantra for consistent performance?

Operational excellence, clear goals, an empowered culture, shared values—these are all things that create a high performing organization.

But when it comes to “a mantra” it’s definitely to listen to the voice of the customer and act on what you learn.

Actually, I should credit my grandmother with helping me learn that. She used to remind me, when I wasn’t listening very well, that “There’s a reason you were given two ears and one mouth. So that you can listen more than you speak!” (I think that was originally said by a Greek philosopher, but Grandma really made it her own.)

The voice of the customer (VoC) is always in the forefront of everything we do, helping to guide and inspire us, and inform our most important decisions. We’ve operationalized this into a company-wide initiative, so that their perspectives can touch every aspect of our business.

I saw the impact of our VoC program in play recently during a project session where we met to look at ways we can innovate in different areas of our business. Every single new project on the roster was inspired by the voice of the customer!

I feel like we’re coming into a flow state now at Toshiba— coming to market with the right solutions, at the right time for our customers.