Propelling change requires innovation, talent and technology

| by Lori Mitchell-Keller
Propelling change requires innovation, talent and technology

It’s hard to change someone’s mind once they have it made up, right? In fact, sometimes it’s impossible. But, retailers expect this every day. We expect shoppers to change brands and behaviors, and we expect employees to change and embrace new ways of communicating with customers to promote our products.

So how do we support and encourage innovation in our business without feeling like we’ve hit a brick wall? I find inspiration in companies, such as Brookshire Grocery Company, Coca-Cola Enterprises, and Brooks Brothers Group. Let me share a few examples from these companies to illustrate how you can successfully manage talent, increase employee engagement and foster collaboration.

The Changing Workforce

We all know of the seismic shift underway that is impacting nearly every aspect of how retailers run and manage business. Growing number of millennial employees, global urbanization and more diversity in the workforce will all impact how we hire, manage and collaborate with our workforce and our consumer audiences.

Results from an Oxford Economics and SAP survey on workforce management indicate 58 percent of high-profit-margin-growth companies have made workforce management strategies a board-level issue. This is indicative of how critical workforce management is to achieving business goals. Let’s take a look at some customer case studies to learn more about how retail and consumer product companies are addressing these challenges.

Talent Management: Brookshire Grocery Company Case Study

Managing employee expectations can have a huge impact on customer relationships. Employees are the eyes and ears of the brand. Employees can tell us – better than any spreadsheet or sales figure – how customers are responding to change within the business. But employees are also the face of the brand. If they’re unmotivated, stressed or struggling with change, customers can sense this and shift their attention to other brands. 

To digital natives in younger generations “a magazine is an iPad that is not working,” said Ginger McCullough, Brookshire Grocery Company’s VP of training and change management in her talk at SuccessConnect 2014. With more than 150 stores and 57 percent of their workforce comprised of millenial employees, Brookshire Grocery Company’s workforce management strategy has produced training attendance improvements of 80 percent and more. “Anybody can put in an LMS (learning management system), but if you’re not ready for it with the resources, a plan, and the foundation and solid structure for the technology, you’re not setting yourself up for success,” says McCullough.

Employee Engagement: Coca-Cola Enterprises Case Study

About 60 percent of retail companies with above-average revenue growth say the changing nature of employment requires an increased investment in training and development. Successful change needs strong leadership to help dictate when training is needed. If leaders don’t lay out a path for change and offer development tools, negativity and uncertainty can spread. Without strong leadership and guidance, people fall back into old ways. Most importantly, this commitment to offering resources must be visible and ever present.

Coca-Cola Enterprises, which is responsible for the production and distribution of their products, has standardized their human resources processes within its European division. Lisa Schendelaar, manager of HRIS production support at Coca-Cola Enterprises, explained in a recent talk “there has been a big impact on our internal HR center of expertise. Our focus is more on strategy rather than operations. The performance management is better; it’s easier for an employee to go in and know how they can develop in their career; and a manager can go in and see how they can develop a team.”

Fostering Collaboration: Brooks Brothers Group Case Study

Don’t dictate change to employees, but make them part of the journey from the beginning. Get employees excited, listen to their concerns, invite them to share ideas and feedback – and give them the proper means by which to do so, openly and honestly. Employees have unique business and customer insight – they know why change needs to happen. Then, encourage collaboration across stakeholders that need to embrace a new technology or process.

Justin Watras, director of talent, management and organizational effectiveness at Brooks Brothers, shared their vision during a recent talk. “We wanted to eliminate and re-purpose a lot of roles. We positioned this as much more than a software implementation. It was a redefinition of responsibilities – an easier, better way to get work done, making the organization better and people’s lives easier.”

Ready for change?

Retail and consumer product organizations have already worked through decades of changes that have impacted the way we interact with consumers, how we market and how we manage our businesses. But it’s not over. Consumer industries are competing on customer intimacy, and this is driven by rapid innovation cycles. 

Innovation, by definition, means change. Our workforce dynamics and consumers will continue to influence the next wave of change – pushing business toward more personalized self-service tools, mobile-everywhere and omnichannel service. How we respond to this need for change, and how we leverage innovative technologies as part of the solution, will determine which brands take the lead going forward.

Topics: Consumer Behavior, Customer Experience, Loyalty Programs

Lori Mitchell-Keller
Lori Mitchell-Keller is executive vice president and global general manager of Consumer Industries at SAP, leading the Retail, Wholesale Distribution, Consumer Products and Life Sciences Industries. View Lori Mitchell-Keller's profile on LinkedIn

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