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October 05, 2006

Best Buy's Julie Gilbert and the WoLF pack's first foot prints

and now... for that second Margaret Mead Moment that is changing corporate social structure and creating a new path for other retail stores to follow.

First, I'd like to thank Julie Gilbert the Vice President of WoLF and Entrepreneurial Initiatives at Best Buy for inviting me to last week's WoLF's conference in Minneapolis. WoLF stands for Women's Leadership Forum and it's the first time I've seen real self development offered at such a high caliber. For a crash course on WoLF, go here. For a fast idea of how WoLF will change the business structure as we know it, continue reading.

Over 1600 women (and some men) took part in the 3-day event designed to boost leadership skills and foster cross-company networking opportunities between women employees. Everyone was jazzed to be there. They all knew that they were on the vanguard of something that has never been done before, not with such sincerity of purpose on a corporate level anyway.

The  workshops focused on a single mission, to let the women of Best Buy know that they matter as individuals and that Best Buy is willing to invest big money in its commitment to them. Workshops were structured to help women gain control of their personality, their personal life and with those two houses in order, their professional contributions to Best Buy. Yes, companies have been doing this for some time, but again not at this level and not for ALL women.

WoLF packs contain women cashiers, entry level sales as well as those with corporate titles and everyone had equal access to the same top notch facilitators. That kind of exposure doesn't go unnoticed or unfelt. The internal word-of-mouth buzz around Best Buy this week has to be deafening. Everyone is going to want to be part of a WoLF pack - even men.

This wasn't a rah rah party to keep the women of Best Buy happy, but a continuation of a core program started 2.5 years ago by Julie to promote internal networking and build new leaders. Why the push? First, because it's the right thing to do. Second because Best Buy has the numbers to show that the more women they have per store, the higher the sales. In stores where the staff is comprised of 5 men for every woman, the comparative store profits are up an average of  5%. When the ratio is 4 to 1, it's up 7% and when it's 3 to 1 it's up 10%.

That's stunning. As far as I know these stores didn't increase training or radically change their offerings, they simply hired more women and let them do what they do naturally on their own - be helpful. Customers responded.

If you know any women who need a part-time or full-time job, get them to a Best Buy. Besides the fact that they'll be treated with a new-found respect not known in entry level jobs, they'll have an opportunity to rise in the ranks. I met many General Managers who all told me the same thing, "I started as a cashier [or sales person] and now I'm a General Manager."

The big change from my outside eyes looking in, is that it's going from a sales-driven organization to a customer helping organization. From a company based on helping themselves (i.e. Enron), to one that's helping others. For anyone watching the retail or business-to-business scene that's a dramatic switch. It's the difference between a company that uses a commission sales structure to increase business and one that pays sales people a salary. It's what Saturn did for the car industry. When the commission structure is gone, so is the cut-throat mentality. Sales people can turn their energies into being helpful instead of selling for the sake of selling.

Ultimately, it's the customers who win under this structure, especially the women customers who thrive and buy in an atmosphere of helpfulness vs. gamemanship. Men are benefiting as well. Not all guys are born again geeks on the early adopter side of the bell curve. Many know little about electronics or appliances and need the same type of help as women, but they don't want to ask. Under the emerging Best Buy platform, neither gender will have to feel stupid while buying or using the tools to function in a techno society. They'll have a place to go for to fill in the holes in their thinking.

Was I impressed? You bet. My last brush with corporate drove me out of my own cubical and back to the sanity of the self-employed. I couldn't handle being nothing more than a cog in someone else's wheel. Selling my soul wasn't an option. Under this new Best Buy structure, however, no one has to sell their soul.  The WoLF concept is still a baby in corporate development terms, but if what I saw was sustainable outside of a conference setting, then a entry level job or a titled one can fill your soul as well as your wallet and customers go away happier than before.

Best Buy has a long way to go before the average customer will feel this change in atmosphere. When you have hundreds of stores and 120,000 employees spread all over the planet, change doesn't happen overnight. But with WoLF increasing communication through horizontal networking it will happen much faster. That's a competitive difference other companies will want to copy.

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Comments

Mary - sure sounds like a far cry from the Radio Shack culture! Just think what could happen with a little customer delight training because not all women know how to treat customers right. It also sounds like kudos should go to the HR department for hiring the right people for the job.

Toby, It's a VERY far cry. I visited their Business store two days ago. It's a store within the BB store and geared to help small business make sense of the techno mess. There is only one being tested. (in SoCal) I hope they make that part of every store's offerings.


Is this your webpage?

The book looks great. I'll order a copy, or if you sent me one signed, I'll send you a check.

125 Via Venezia
Newport Beach, Calif. 92663

I actually work at Best Buy and take part in this program. It has already made such a difference in our store and district and with the response we're getting back from it this should be a very well-known forum soon enough. And it's about time too. I couldnt be happier with how the program is going.

The WOLF program doesn't look so great when your a qualified and experienced male employee who misses opportunity for advancement when a less experieced, unqualified female gets a position because of her gender.

Joe, that isn't what WOLF is about. It is about giving a woman the confidence to go for a position that wouldn't typically be filled by a woman in electronics retail (computer sales, home theater sales, services manager, etc). Store and district teams always make the decision based on who the best candidate is - WOLF is just trying to make more of those candidates women! I hope this helps clarify.

As an employee with the company I have noticed male candidates not even be considered for positions and females being promoted by default because they are the only female remotely qualified. I fear that the intentions of WOLF will be taken to an extreme in which many stores will completely overlook qualified males. I have personally looked up applicants for hire and have noticed that there is a huge disparity in the amount of male applicants over female applicants. To overlook the large majority of qualified candidates for the sake of fulfilling a quota is absolutely wrong. Reverse discrimination is still discrimination.

I'm the Operations Supervisor at one of the Best Buy Locations. Just last week My Operations Manager said something that was discrimination and very offensive to the point where I got so upset I ran out the SDR crying. He told me that the reason he has so many issues in the department is because we are nothing but females. Another manager who was in the room that witnessed everything, could not believe he said that. We do want Best Buy to be a great place for women to shop but how can it be a great place for women to work if comments like that are made, not just by any employee, but by a member of the management team?

I too am a member of the WoLf Program and am very thankful for the companies committment and Julie's insight. With business inititives its all learn as you go. I have spoken infron of hundreds retail and corporate at a GM meeting when I would have NEVER said a word before. My network now includes corporate, district and vice president contacts. Like any "idea" its what you put into it. As far as worring "who" gets the job, male or female. The job can go to both its the person who "keeps" the job that is the right person.

Thanks for your comments Lorri. It's nice to see that WoLF is making a difference in the corporate culture.

I am a recent addition to the heartland wolf pack, and I am so excited to be. Having this opportunity is a blessing. I cannot wait to meet everyone in Boston this year!!!!

I am a recent addition to the heartland wolf pack, and I am so excited to be. Having this opportunity is a blessing. I cannot wait to meet everyone in Boston this year!!!!

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