This week I had the pleasure of attending TXT Maple-Lake’s Thinking Retail Event in NYC. It was a great opportunity to hear what retail planning experts are thinking and feeling. There was a palpable sense of apprehension in the room. Not that they didn’t get what was required. Retail is changing faster than ever but many in the executive suites don’t understand what’s happening. In fact the rapid pace of change will overwhelm many retailers. The question was how to get senior executives to buy in and to provide long term support for implementing merchandising technology. Change is daunting and when you are dealing with merchandising, the very heart of retail and with expensive technologies added on top, what can a manager, director or VP of planning or merchandising do?
There have been times in my career where I could see the handwriting on the wall and yet my boss was oblivious. At those times you can feel powerless and frustrated. I remember well a time where I was attending an event at a major retailer as a representative of a manufacturer. The CFO of that retailer sought me out to tell me that someone needed to do something about the chairman of our company (he was unbalanced it must be said) before we lost all our business with them. Talk about an awkward situation. I was a VP, but 2 layers or so below the executive suite. I had no idea what to do so I said nothing. Eventually we lost the business and the company ultimately went bankrupt, in fact no longer exists. This is of course an extreme situation but I have never forgotten it.
As I told the audience this week without a real organizational change many retailers will cease to exist. Bottom up change is difficult granted, but is it impossible to lead from the middle? I wonder just how many JCPenney associates were afraid to confront Ron Johnson, instead opting for change that was dramatic but not well thought out. We have to be ready to speak to authority when the opportunity presents itself. I have studied change management a good deal during my career as I am an early adopter of new technology and trends. I have learned the hard way what doesn’t work. Preparation is the key. So what can you do to help facilitate change?
• Stay abreast of changing trends
• Educate others in subtle ways
• Build consensus
• Don’t get caught up with every shiny new thing
• Ask why 5 times
• Listen to the ideas of others
• Don’t get discouraged
• Don’t let people off the hook
• Look for partners
• Forget the word “I”