Archived Target Manager: "If You Weren't Cheating, You Weren't Trying"

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Red-tinted retail monster Target is having a hard time translating its popularity in the U.S. into foreign markets. Under the principle of kicking them while they're down, we now bring you this former Target manager's story of the "reprehensible" things he did in order to keep his job.

Though Walmart's shady business practices draw much of our attention, we've also carried many, many tales of Target's own union-busting and terrible workplace conditions. The following email (which we received this week in response to our recent series of Walmart posts) comes from someone who has worked as a manager at Walmart, Target, and other retailers. Here is a peek inside the "dog and pony show" of retail management:

Retail management can be separated into tiers. The lower tier is made up of your Sears, Walmart, Kmart. The middle is made up of the Target, Macys, and Best Buys and the Upper tier is the Saks, Nordstrom, Nieman Marcus. The next step for me would be to move up to the middle tier. Target was one of the first retail Companys to recruit heavily from the Military and College, So many of the managers running the companies' stores were doing so as a first job. On top of that it was highly known that Target would not hire you unless you were in your 20's and "hot"; or as they called it Target Brand, a principle taken from Abercrombie and Fitch. The Target Managers from the outside looking in seemed like the popular kids this made it very appealing to me. I joined Target as an Executive Team Leader –Guest Experience a fancy title for a Customer Service Assistant Manager.

Target for being a retailer is a very high tech company, everything in the company was highly researched and metrics constantly developed to try and grow the company. So much so that the company at times cared more about the metrics than whether the stores made their sales goals. Stores we're measured on very ridiculous things such as how many plastic bags were used, how long it took a team member to pick up a phone, if the store had to order more merchandise. All these plus many more caused the store teams to just cheat or make bad business decisions for fear of the metrics dropping below the goal.

The main focus of my job was to get people to sign up for Target Redcards. Why? Because Target made a killing off those that owned one of those cards. With that in mind Target established goals that every week 2% of the stores customers had to sign for a Card. That equaled about 150-200 Cards a week, if we did not reach the goal there would be consequences. The fear of being written up or possibly fired kept everyone on their toes so most us would cheat the system anyway we could. Some of these things included signing up homeless guys. Creating fake people with fake addresses and fake social securities, or even worse we would call the card a rewards card so that people with no credit or people with low income levels would sign up for the credit card. Looking back at it now the things we did just to reach a goal were terrible and beyond reprehensible but when confronted with keeping your job you do what you have to do especially if it felt like upper management subtly encouraged it. Of course actions like these would come back to hurt Target in the future. Another metric which belonged to my department was Guest Survey and Customer Complaints. Ouch! In retail this is by far one of the hardest things to control. People would complain about everything, the Starbucks coffee was too warm, to cold, not enough Caramel. The shopping carts were wet, the store to cold, an employee was following them, the bathroom was filled with shit etc. So what did we do, of course, we cheated, as the saying went if you weren't cheating you weren't trying.

Target regards its Human Resources among the best in retail, and I would have to say that like everything Target does, on paper it sounds great but the reality is a horror story. The company had an employee survey dubiously named "Best team Survey." The month leading up to it every management team did everything in their power to influence results such as firing disgruntled or boisterous employees, buying the store lunch with our charge cards, being extremely nice anything to get a good result. Failing would result being put on the focus store list which meant more store visits from upper management. Target also had an "anonymous" employee line where employees could call and complain or tell an outside company if they were being mistreated. Once again this didn't work, as the store managers would be contacted every time someone called and we could all figure out who called and the suggestion was always to find a way to either get rid of them or keep them from calling again.

Anyone who works in retail knows that store leadership visits are a joke. Actually a dog and pony show, the store usually looks like crap leading up the visit, and then the calvary gets called in 24hrs prior to the district manager showing up. The reason is due to limited payroll and if the district manager doesn't see perfection expect someone to lose their job.

The reason why I wrote this wasn't for sympathy or for attention but moreso to change the perception of the retail manager as some old guy who sits in a back office. These days' retail managers are more than likely young to middle aged highly educated professionals stuck in retail due to the economy.

Aug 19, 2013
I remember when they first made shoving the red cards a thing. For the 6 months or so, the GSTLs made goal by inputting fake applications. It didn't matter how many cards were approved, just that we had "people" signing up for them. They frequently cheat the call button system by taking down one of the cheap ones that are mounted on a bracket and have clerical spend 30 minutes to an hour pushing and clearing it.

This year, they are holding a contest for a free lunch for whatever store in our district has the highest Great Team Survey score. "So make sure you rate everything highly so you don't let the rest of us down!"


Scary Socialist
Oct 24, 2013
I'm good friends with our cosmetics brand team member. They barely give her hours in cosmetics, so she can't help guests. As a result, scores in the area dropped. She has her sisters fill out a bunch of fake surveys every so often to keep the score up.
Jun 13, 2011
Their was a time when the metrics were just a guide to help you manage the store. Then stores ETLs and STLs were a different breed. STLs were not hired outside of the stores, they had to go through the ETL rotations first. ETLs were not fresh out of college and were not just randomly hired on the cheap. When Target started going cheap and lowering the quality of its stores leaders they could no longer count on them to do things on their own. Now every thing had to have a best practice and metric to measure it by. So of course when they became how a store was rated then of course people started cheating. When I started as a team lead you were expected to know the weekly sales of your end caps, the profit margins on them and the justify keeping them or switching them to something else. Only about half were company mandated. Now of course if an end cap dies without a HQ replacement people fill it with something quick and easy because they do not have the time to do anything else. Now it is all a big illusion and with everybody cheating, problems are always hidden and that leads to bad things.


Former Signing Ninja
Staff member
Jun 10, 2011
Metrics are never supposed to be a thing in and of themselves.
They are supposed to be used as a guideline, a way to judge and adjust, to teach, and plan.
The problem is, just like in education with test scores, for bad administrators and managers they become the only solid definition of reality.

This is what happens when you have people with no big picture skills, no ability to deal with employees as individuals, no patience for giving instruction and who are only interested in the most immediate results.
So you get employees jobs being judged on minutia they can't control, just like stupid politicians want to tie teacher pay checks to test scores and crappy ETLs threaten to fire cashiers if they don't get enough red cards.
Of course people are going to cheat under that kind of pressure.
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Bored Food Aver

FORMER Food Aver
May 12, 2013
So what did we do, of course, we cheated, as the saying went "If you weren't cheating, you weren't trying."

This sounds like it was a rejected catchphrase from Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. The movie wouldn't have been the same! :)

If you ain't first, you're last!
Sep 15, 2011
Free lunch? Ha! You mean cheap pizza that will be cold/gone for anyone who doesn't take their lunch at noon? Pass.

lol this is partly true at our store except our leadership is actually awesome enough to bring in more at 4-5 or so.

Rock Lobster

Executive Team Leader
Jun 11, 2011
This post refers to the worst types of leaders. Target last year removed the group rankings for this very reason on many metrics. If you are green you will show as first in the group because green is the threshold. Too many stores wasted payroll on things like scans with locs % to try and be first with the metric. Target does not want 0% for this because they know there are errors in logistics. You are wasting payroll if you attempt a 0%.
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