Whether or not you’re the type of person who starts the new year with resolutions - chances are at some point you’ve probably made a list of some things you want to accomplish, and you checked in later down the line, only to find you hadn’t gotten there (or anywhere close). I know firsthand - those jeans from pre-startup years are still taunting me from the deep recesses of my closet.
The same follows for retail, and I know that this article likely catches you mid-stride, rolling out your plans for 2018. Yet with all of the ongoing tumult in the industry, it’d probably do us all some good to cut to curtains closing on 2018, in order to reverse-engineer what might trip us up on our way to delivering upon the goals we’ve set out to accomplish.
You get distracted.
Try as I might, I’ve never been able to really do the meditation thing. The ping-pong ball in my brain stops bouncing for no one. (I’m a creative! As I’ve been writing this, I have bought myself a new shirt, paid a bill, and checked airfares to Europe.) But in all seriousness, when it comes to getting things done, the only thing that’s going to get you there, is crystal-clear focus on what it is you need to accomplish and the resources required to get you there. Sure, you need to take in the externalities of the competitive landscape, your customer base, and the mechanisms of your internal organization, but don’t let what’s not central to your ultimate goal siphon off any of the resources and energy you need to achieve your goals.
And I have a pretty informed inkling about what some of those distractions might look like for retailers this year. Amazon, for starters. What are they going to do next? Are they going to steal market share from us? Or what about the latest sexy technology - yes, it’s going to be game-changing - but have you implemented the less headline-worthy, but equally transformative behind-the-scenes tools to begin measuring and attributing the changes underway? I’m not saying bury your head in the sand - take all these factors into account in your planning and execution - but don’t wait for these external shifts to happen to make your own move.
You think it’s all or nothing.
In our start-up world, we launch products using the MVP concept. The MVP (not in the sporting sense), is the Minimum Viable Product. It’s an imperfect but usable product or service that is going to be refined and developed as we gain customer feedback around what does and doesn’t work for them.
It’s a concept that we know makes brands and retailers with millions of shoppers and onlookers a bit nervous. I mean, it’s your brand, and if something isn’t perfect, someone’s going to spot it and call it out immediately, right? Well, here’s the magic of the MVP approach to launching new products and services - it can happen faster (because it was never meant to be perfect) - and it gives you a direct line of communication to your best customers (you present it to them and gain their valuable feedback).
We know the real catch here is how large organizations handle (and oftentimes mis-handle) MVPs. The product gets passed up and down the chain of command, until so much time has passed that this MVP morphs into something that has everyone’s two cents and now weighs two tons. So here’s how to get around this: organize MVP teams, keep them small, and give them the autonomy and authority to get these products and services in front of your customers quickly.
In 2018, perfection is highly overrated.
You forget the little changes done consistently add up to something major.
We’d all love to fast forward to the day when we’ve finally saved up all that money, stuck with that fitness regimen, or finished writing that book. The challenge is that end goal requires daily decisions that are the building blocks of success. In business, it’s easy to lose faith that change is possible because you don’t see results fast enough, while ironically, around you, the landscape and consumers continue to move and evolve at unprecedented speeds. (Not to mention that you will face resistance internally, lose key stakeholders along the way, and get slammed by the market.)
One retail turnaround that has been the result of systematic, incremental, and consistent changes is Best Buy. When they launched their ‘Renew Blue’ turnaround plan in 2012, things were looking grim; sales were down and the state of the consumer electronics industry was very much in upheaval. Their multi-faceted yet disciplined approach to reversing their decline entailed investing heavily in employee training, adjustments to their retail locations to enable expedited local delivery, and slowly closing the doors of under-performing locations. With four years of positive comps under their belt, the hard work - five year’s worth of it - has certainly paid off.
So how to keep the faith in 2018? Put one foot in front of the other, demonstrate consistency, and bring in others to support you - today and every day to follow.
You think transformation is a finite process.
The Best Buy turnaround story is the perfect segue to the notion that change is a one-and-done process. It’s not. Five years after deploying a strategy that was about crawling back from the brink - they have to look forward - and are in the process of their next transformation. For every story of historic retail transformation, there seems to be an undoing of it at some point. It’s a keen reminder, as Hubert Joly, Best Buy’s CEO aptly put it, “Once you’ve had a near-death experience, arrogance, if you had it in your bones, has disappeared forever.”
It’s an uncomfortable reality - that no matter how much we accomplish - there’s going to be more change required of us if we’re to become the businesses (and people) we have the potential to become.
So whether you’re looking one week, month, or year out, let’s collectively resolve to be in a better place when we next see each other here.