A lesson in overcoming obstacles to jumpstart strategic, operational and organizational processes.

uncaptionedI spoke with Caryn Lerner early on in her tenure as CEO of off-price clothing retailer Daffy’s, and then again at the end of the implementation of her new leader’s 100-day action plan. While she certainly had her ups and downs, she has managed to make meaningful progress on jumpstarting her strategic, operational and organizational processes.

Background – A 50 year old family-owned, family-run business

Lerner is Daffy’s first outside CEO, brought in to turn around declining revenues. Daffy’s was filled with long-tenured employees who had been successful “with little or no process, planning and strategy” for years. But that wasn’t working any more. In recruiting Lerner, the owners were “very forthcoming” about what they needed, what their issues were “warts and all,” what they hoped Lerner would do, what she could not do, and what leadership skills she would need to be successful.

Early days – Relationships and learning

Lerner started even before day one. She learned about the competition in the off-price segment by doing intensive shopping. (There are some members of my family that enjoy intensive shopping perhaps too much.  But that’s a different story.) She had pre-meetings with the chairwoman, CFO and other board members.

On day one, Lerner met with her new executive team and with Daffy’s buyers. Then she had lunch with all the store and other managers. Over the next month she spent more time “observing” than leading, immersing herself in the business. She visited all the stores with the head of stores. She even turned herself into a dress and had herself shipped through the entire distribution chain.

Jumpstarting strategic, operational and organizational processes

To jumpstart her core processes, Lerner brought in some outside experts including:

  • Someone out of Saks and Gilt as a consultant to jumpstart Daffy’s strategic process with an emphasis on the merchandising strategy
  • An HR consultant to jumpstart Daffy’s organizational process with a focus on a performance management system, policies and procedures
  • The CFO that worked with her in her last job to jumpstart Daffy’s operational processes with an emphasis on merchandising planning on a consulting basis

Early Wins

While all this is going on, Lerner worked with her existing management team on a weekly basis to manage the current plan and drive some early wins. So far, Lerner and her team have:

  • Opened two new stores
  • Taken on new brands that sell for higher price points
  • Added event merchandising, starting with Mother’s Day
  • Added visual merchandising against key trends
  • Continued buying 50 percent of its inventory in real time

It’s paying off.  May was the first time in over a year that Daffy’s achieved financial plan!

Lessons from Caryn Lerner’s First 100-Days

Lerner both knew where she wanted to take the organization and that she did not have the team in place to get there.  So she chose to work with her existing team while supplementing its strength with outsiders. She:

  • Got everyone clear on the short-term priorities, while jumpstarting her strategic process
  • Put a short-term milestone management system in place, while revamping the overall operating process
  • Identified and delivered early wins
  • Sorted her team quickly and figured out what moves to make over time
  • Drove her communication both in what she said and what she did

This is a good example of the value of having your own New Leader’s Playbook

Leadership is about inspiring and enabling others to do their absolute best together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose.  To that end, three things make a big difference: Get a head start – Manage the message – Build the team.

Click here to read about each step in the playbook

Click here to read The New Leader’s Journal which tracks the experience of a fictional executive leading up to and through his first 100-days in a new job

Click here for YouTube videos highlighting each step


The New Leader’s Playbook includes the 10 steps that executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis uses to help new leaders and their teams get done in 100-days what would normally take six to twelve months. George Bradt is PrimeGenesis’ managing director, and co-author of The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan (Wiley, 2009). Follow him at @georgebradt or on YouTube.