I shared this message with Target’s team members moments ago. As I told them, the truth hurts, but it can also set you free.
To say that the last five months at Target have been difficult is an extraordinary understatement.
The data breach we suffered rocked consumer confidence and ignited a nationwide discussion about phishing, cyber-security and the realities of living in today’s data-enabled world. Thanks in large part to social media, it looks like this will have been one of the most covered business crises in American history.
And just last week, our CEO stepped down after six years in position and 35 years at Target. His departure has already spawned over 6,000 articles wondering and speculating about what happened.
You’d think that these two incidents alone would create enough pain to last a brand a lifetime but one of the most challenging things that has happened, in my opinion, have been reports, some attributed to unnamed team members, that paint a picture of a culture that is in crisis. When a recent post on a well-known blog called me out by name, it only felt right that I should respond.
In reading this account of life at Target, I’ve gone through a range of emotions – first anger, then wondering why any team member would say what they said. And while it was difficult for me to read this account for many reasons, the reality is that our team members speaking with honesty is a gift. Because much of what they are saying is true. While we would have preferred to have a conversation like this with the team member directly, speaking openly and honestly, and challenging norms is exactly what we need to be doing today and every day going forward.
To quote French novelist Emile Zola, “If you shut up truth and bury it under the ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way.”
Target is not the first brand in history to hit a rough patch. And we won’t be the last brand to do what it takes to recover. I’m reminded of Apple and Harley-Davidson, both near bankruptcy in the late 1990s and mid-1980s respectively. Or Starbucks that lost its way forgetting the power of the “third place” and the coffee experience. Or J.Crew, Lego, Disney, Wendy’s and Ford, which are all incredible brands that struggled at some time in their history. I’m also acutely familiar with the brands that did not recover and I am not interested in tempting this fate.
But the very real fact of the matter remains, we have hard work to do. The kind of work that is unafraid to challenge what we’ve known and what has worked in the past. The kind of work that expects more than ever from our team, and ourselves. The kind of work that will be uncomfortable, in order to make Target irresistible. Just this week I had a very open conversation with my marketing leaders and the gist was this…
Even on our worst day, we have assets most brands would covet. Tens of millions of consumers each week share their love for Target with their wallets and their voices. Hundreds of thousands of team members show up every single day to serve our guests and represents the best team in retail. We are taking bold risks and innovating like never before. But it is not enough.
The work ahead will unite us like never before because our guest is our bullseye, and our common enemy is apathy and indifference.
If you don’t believe this. If you are not reinvigorated at this very important moment in time. If you are too tired or too cynical for this work, please leave.
The culture of Target is an enormous strength and might be our current Achilles heel. In the coming days and weeks we will embrace the critiques of Target, -- whether it’s from outsiders or our own team -- like an athletics team puts the negative press on the wall in the locker room.
We are accelerating our innovation pipeline.
We are simplifying how decisions are made.
We are exploding cultural symbols of bad behavior.
We are searching for a new CEO…but in the meantime, we’re not standing still.
Yes, the truth hurts. But it will also set you free.
Our job now is to create a new truth and that is exactly what we are doing.