Groupthink causes a group to make faulty decisions due to a number of group pressures and being insulated from outside opinions. In retail, this can occur when a leader such as a Manager has too much power over the group and does not consider alternatives to traditional methods or suggestions from employees. Open-minded leadership is the key to preventing a damaging groupthink situation in retail.
Groupthink in Retail
Working as a temporary salesperson in retail for a large department store offered me a firsthand view of groupthink in action. The “crisis” that the group was facing was plummeting sales. Each morning before the store opened, Managers and Sales Associates gathered for a meeting in which Associates received praise for good work and directions were given concerning the enforcement of sales protocol.
The prime speaker at the meeting was the overall store Manager. She was known as a person whom no one should upset, since displeasing her could mean having work hours cut or demerits in employee files, which could lead to failure to get a raise or even loss of the job. This was effective in causing most employees to self-censor any criticism and dissenters from offering alternative ideas they may have helped in solving problems. The illusion of invulnerability came from the fact that the sales methods we were taught had worked for a long time for this store, and the belief in the inherent morality of the group came from the idea that our store was the best store of its kind. This last fact was easy for many employees to believe, since quite a few had several positions in retail stores before this current job. Because no one was willing to speak against the Manager, there was an illusion of unanimity. The Department Managers worked as self-appointed “mindguards,” perhaps because they, too, wanted to protect their jobs. Sales continued to plummet and the lowly Sales Associates were usually considered the culprits.
As Tetlock et. al wrote, “Group leaders appear to have considerable latitude in setting the cognitive norms that regulate information search, policy discussion, and decision making” (1992, 418). This was especially true in the situation of the retail store where our main Manager was completely in charge of hours and conditions for every employee. The Manager was under heavy pressure to increase sales, and she was following the store’s traditional methods to try to enforce success. The situation fulfilled enough antecedents in the Groupthink Theoretical Framework in order for observable consequences to be expected (Groupthink n.pag). This included having a cohesive group of decision makers (the Managers), the insulation of the group (no exposure to outside opinion), and provocative content (low sales and low self-esteem of sales people who were being held accountable).
One way groupthink could have been prevented in this situation would be for her to invite “experts” to our meetings to talk about how to increase sales; these experts could be from other branches of the same store that were experiencing more success with sales, or to invite coaches from firms specializing in training sales employees. Outside forces like a recession and changing patterns of consumer spending, including shopping on the Internet, were never considered as problems. Allowing more feedback from employees would also have helped; most people are experienced shoppers and can easily tell you what they like about their favorite stores and why they keep going back to them. However, this could only occur if the Manager did not wield hour-cutting or firing like weapons so casually over employees and chose to listen to ideas presented to her. Our groupthink situation could only have been prevented by the Manager becoming more open minded and allowing more input from a group of employees who felt captive to the job by a declining job market.
Groupthink Theoretical Framework (n.d.). Professor Chun Wei Choo Homepage. Retrieved April 7, 2012 from http://choo.fis.utoronto.ca/FIS/Courses/LIS2149/Groupthink.html
Tetlock, P. E., Peterson, R. S., McGuire, C., Chang, S., & Feld, P. (1992). Assessing Political Group Dynamics: A Test of the Groupthink Model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63(3), 403-425.
What is Groupthink? (n.d.). Psychologists For Social Responsibility. Retrieved April 7, 2012 from http://www.psysr.org/about/pubs_resources/groupthink%20overview.htm