I regularly tell people that, while I wasn’t born in Northwest Arkansas, I certainly grew up there professionally, spending 10 years serving Walmart and Sam’s Club customers in diverse ways. That experience working with Buyers and DMMs from those great organizations shaped the way I think about the business world today. More specifically, it led me to realize that innovation isn’t just about a product; it is about a mindset driven by a bias for always finding a better way to do – everything.
That early CPG-focused experience working with Walmart and, eventually, a lot of other great retailers in the U.S. and abroad, proved invaluable when I pivoted to the retail side of the industry, joining the Ahold USA organization. There I learned from a number of great mentors and leadership experiences, assisted with their Delhaize merger and eventually landed in the e-commerce arm of the organization.
While the jobs and responsibilities changed, the center-point question of “how to do it better” did not. Whatever the role, my job ultimately was to determine what aspects of the business I needed my teams focused on to uncover those improvements. That meant prioritizing 1) the right problems to solve and 2) getting the right leaders in place to innovatively improve the way we delivered those solutions.
Today, I am fortunate to spend a lot of my time working directly with two remarkable CEOs in two different but massive industries focused on the topic of transformation. Together, we are determining the path to uncovering what it will take to benefit from change over the years ahead. As an important side note, we spend very little time guessing (oops, I mean modeling a bunch of historically irrelevant data) about what that change will be.
Shaped both by recent learning and past experience, I am convinced that the transformation journey should begin with the question “what will it take to make the following metrics consistently positive over the coming weeks, months and years ahead?”
Starting here rather than focusing on the traditional metrics makes a massive difference when working to illuminate the most important areas of work:
- Learning % change, this week v previous week. This is not about classroom-related stuff but rather an institution-wide commitment to learning that drives the quality of planning, reliance on measurement and much more. When learning is focused on solving the right customer-important problems, this becomes an invisible force. And when the bias is for week over week improvement, the progress multiplies.
- Empowerment % change, this week v previous week. This is about focusing every associate on what is expected of them based on the problems being solved and having the tools and support necessary to deliver on those expectations. From there, leaders or managers work around the clock to both monitor and fuel the progress AND put better tools in the team’s hands as frequently as possible so they can move faster.
The minute leaders begin thinking about what would have to be true in order to make these positive metrics on a scorecard, they start to get a focused list of what needs to change, from the very basic, like running meetings, allocating their time, setting smarter targets and driving tighter commercial planning loops…to the seemingly more complicated, like technology, data management, embedding and leveraging AI and up-skilling. Through this process, they realize that a lot of change is necessary from where they are today.
Leaders will also find that, by focusing on all that must be true in order to move the metrics above in a consistently positive direction, the core metrics that everyone is used to seeing every Monday morning also improve. The only circumstance, under which these metrics would have a negative impact, if they are moving in a positive direction, is if leaders have installed the wrong targets. Better said, don’t blame the metric if the progress is there on both of these and sales are off – the cause is that leaders are prioritizing things that don’t correlate with actually improving customer experience.
Once the list of changes is complete, the realization about the broader benefit of this focus is clear and a thorough inventory assessment of “current’ is complete, the final step is to prioritize the waves of work that must occur to get from point A to point E. This is where the communication, the build, the grind and the governance come into play. This is the first step in the journey and what you’ll look back on as the real turning point to the consistent success your company began to enjoy.
*Executive in Residence, Office of Transformation – Inmar Intelligence
*Title and company of the author reflect their position at the time article was written.
The opinions expressed here by guest bloggers are their own, not necessarily those of Stout Executive Search.