Managing change within retail

David Walton, director of Bestoutcome, which provides portfolio, programme and project management services and products to retailers, comments on how companies can best manage business change execution.

Whether it is new ranges, PoS roll-outs, staff training or store/branch/hotel refits, the level of change in retail is increasing.

It’s not just a case of managing the pace of change in stores, but also while the change is being implemented, making sure the stores can operate effectively and are not overwhelmed by too much change.

I have worked almost exclusively with retailers for the last 15 years and I’ve run many change programmes for them including: eCommerce, POS upgrades, retail transformation and payments systems. Change initiatives can be costly and they are designed to improve performance so it is important they are implemented successfully. From my experience, I’d say there are three key danger signs to watch out for when managing these changes :

Lack of visibility

Store managers, regional managers and retail operations need a clear, visual plan of each project that is being implemented at stores and their status. Often, retail operations don’t know how much change is being directed at individual stores or the level of resource needed at stores to implement the change is not understood.

To minimise risk but also prevent change overload, retailers need tools that provide one version of the truth, plus a clear map of projects and programmes that will affect stores.

This doesn’t have to be a NASA-level control centre – but should indicate potential risks, progress, and heat maps showing when change projects overlap.

Poor project communication

Change initiatives are often carefully planned by various head office departments, eg. operations, property or marketing. However, retail operations and stores may not have enough visibility of these change initiatives and what is expected of them. This can lead to a poor execution of a change initiative. For example, marketing may consider a promotion successfully implemented, but when a mystery shopper visits he or she finds that the promotional branding is not visible and/or the staff are not telling customers about the promotion. This may be a symptom of change overload where staff are too busy with their day-to-day activities and are overwhelmed by the change that is being asked of them.

Beyond the call

Another danger sign is a high staff turnover, where staff cannot cope with the stress of all the change hitting them resulting in the changes being poorly implemented.

We recently worked with the operations team of a national restaurant chain to implement our system, PM3, to capture all the change initiatives being directed at their restaurant sites. We were able to enter into the system a ‘change threshold’ i.e. the hours per week that was available to implement change activities, e.g promotions or the launch of new menus. The operations team knew that if this threshold was exceeded, the change was either badly implemented or trading was adversely affected. This threshold could vary by site depending on the size of the site and that site’s ability to absorb change.

Using PM3 we were then able to see which outlets were being asked to spend in excess of the ‘change threshold’ (hours per week) to implement change activities. The operations board was then able to smooth out change spikes so that the threshold per site was not exceeded. The result: reduced staff turnover and improved execution of change initiatives.

Summary

As retailers operate in an increasingly competitive market, it is imperative that change activities in stores are executed effectively and do not adversely affect staff morale or the operation of the stores.

To achieve this you need: clear communication, visibility of all changes at stores and a toolset that shows a heat map of where the ‘change threshold’ has been breached at a store.

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