It’s like eating water. It tastes of nothing. –  Simon Cowell, The X Factor judge

Do you have the ‘X factor’? I’m not talking about the popular television show; rather, that intangible factor that motivates some humans to follow with great passion and commitment.

I often see a certain retail business model in operation that’s clearly unique, presented well, and effectively managed with clear merchandising and category management in place. These stores are visually appealing, customer navigation is in place, and their strong focus draws the eyes. And yet I start to wonder whether this business model is actually truly replicable? How much of the brand promise relies on the X factor to grow? And how much is just predicated on process, compliance and structure?

I recently wandered into one such outstanding business and the overriding feeling I was left with was the ownership and pride that emanated from their leader and was displayed by the staff in their active and passionate following.

So, what really embraces and leads change? Change is really the one constant that those with the X factor are truly able to navigate with outstanding results. What is it about the culture of one organisation that invites the X Factor and one organisation that does not?

Do the rule followers and thinkers inside the box typically inspire the change we need to see? No. Does training inspire leadership? Training helps us become better managers and perhaps direct that X factor, but it doesn’t inspire leadership.

Does command and control leadership bring out the X factor? – No, because that speaks to compliance and management by rules with appropriately contracted behaviour. Have we promoted and really built on the X factor in this context of people strategy amongst intensifying competition?

Does the building of retail networks of size and volume actually nullify this X Factor? Is this felt at its most intense level when the organisation is exposed to smarter more demanding consumers operating in more complex marketplaces? Probably.

Years ago I managed a national retailer that had a mix of franchise and company stores. We would see that a motivated, enthusiastic X factor leader would easily add 20 per cent to the sales line on average. These X factor leaders were respectfully the most challenging, driven, and generally the most charismatic amongst their peers.

They were natural leaders who only flourished when the environment catered for their X factor. They typically came from non-retail backgrounds (although not always) and they could demonstrate a life of curiosity, optimism and having mobilised and attracted people to a cause.

X factor people typically want more attention, be seen for their idea and fuelled by the motivation and success that is self-fulfilling. People inspiring other people is the great X factor undercurrent. It’s no great secret to see the X factors on display in retail success stories. They don’t hang around for long in a compliance motivated arena.

Start to rethink the aspects of your business where you are clearly losing the X factor people. Amongst that 20-30 per cent staff turnover is the cost of not catering for the X factors.

Rethink your recruitment model to engage people who are simply charismatic, and even encourage the consequences of less rigidity in approach to accommodating a more fluid, diversified environment that lives the vision.

Living the vision must tip the scales over managing the rules if you are to really make a difference. Create the X factor environment that invites, and cultivates these X dactors to achieve tomorrow’s future today.

Brian Walker is founder and CEO of retail consulting company, Retail Doctor Group. RDG builds business fitness for its clients. Interested in building your business results? Brian and his team can be contacted on (02) 9460 2882 or