Target’s Internal Problems

by Harry Sheff
Target CMO Jeff Jones
Target CMO Jeff Jones

As if the data breach late last year and the subsequent firing of its CEO weren’t enough, Target is now fending off some internal attacks on its corporate culture that have forced its CMO to respond publicly.

An anonymous employee at Target’s corporate headquarters in Minneapolis sent a letter to the blog Gawker venting about what he or she describes as a passive-aggressive and provincial culture, constant unproductive meetings and slow, consensus-based decision making:

Target HQ is in bad shape and in desperate need of help, direction and vision, starting from the top down. [Former CEO] Greg Steinhafel getting fired was a good step, along with the CIO being fired a few months ago, but it’s not enough. The entire executive team with the exception of the CMO Jeff Jones needs to go. Why? Because everyone was homegrown and “Targetized” and has no concept of how to run a 21st century business. They still think it’s 1996 and you can keep throwing up Target stores and suburban moms will love them. They pay lip service to how retail is evolving but it when it comes to actually making good decisions, they do horribly.

Jeff Jones, Target’s chief marketing officer since 2012, posted a response on LinkedIn Tuesday titled “The Truth Hurts.” In it, he acknowledges problems:

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.

Gawker posted its snarky response to the response today: “The fact that Target executive Jeff Jones wrote a public response to an employee who complained to Gawker is considered so extraordinarily bold that it merits its own story in Ad Age. Take a moment to contemplate how low the bar for heroism in corporate communications must be.”

To put this into perspective, Gawker, a New York-based gossip blog, has been critical of Target, particularly its anti-union efforts, for years.

And Target isn’t the only major retailer that has disgruntled corporate workers firing off bitter missives to Gawker. A couple weeks ago, Gawker started publishing a series of alleged insider critiques of Amazon’s culture. A post titled “I Do Not Know One Person Who Is Happy at Amazon”, in which a worker complains about a culture that puts the customer first to the detriment of the employees, was followed by one called “Working at Amazon Is ‘a Soul-Crushing Experience'” and then “At Amazon, Even the Part-Timers Are Miserable”. The last of a fleet of posts criticizing Walmart was posted in February.

What are consumers and the retail industry to make of all this? Are these three retail giants miserable places to work? Is that the cost of being the biggest or do they just make large targets for the media?