From Home Furnishing Business
Why Some New Retail Innovations May Fail In Your Store
By Tom Zollar,
Last year we introduced the topic of innovation by defining it and pointing out that it can result from many different processes and activities. We also discussed the fact that change is at the core of innovation. It often involves changing the things we use, how we use them and how we think. The bottom line is that the old adage “change or die” is really true. Without change we don’t grow and without growth in our business, we could die. Therefore, “innovate or die”, would also be an accurate statement. This makes retail innovation absolutely critical to our survival as businesses selling consumers home furnishings products and services.
Every other industry that markets its products to retail consumers has changed and evolved over the last few years. Because we are competing with them for the same customer’s hard-earned dollars, so must we. There have been many wonderful new innovations to help us run the backend of our companies more efficiently and effectively. The most meaningful ones are those that enhance our ability to better provide customers with the exciting and productive shopping/buying experience they seek.
Many of these have been the result of new systems and technologies that allow us to improve communications with prospective customers and better understand their needs, even before they come in, like Perq and DesignCliq. They have allowed us to reach out to these potential clients more directly, with information they want to have about products or services we sell, plus get us better prepared for them when they do visit our store.
Others such as Dispatchtrack, have enabled us to schedule deliveries more efficiently and keep customers better informed about orders that are on the way to them. A few like Doorcounts, Trax and Who’s Up have given us valuable insight into what is happening on our sales floors so we can better understand and manage what happens there when the customer visits our store. Associated CRM functions with these and others have also given us the ability to create professional client development programs so we can build relationships through follow up with both those that buy and those that do not.
Every one of these along with many other new retail technology innovations that we have seen in the last two decades are very capable of delivering the results they promise. There is no doubt that retailer’s need what they offer, and the smart ones are usually the first to jump onboard. They invest lots of time, effort and money putting them in place, so getting a decent ROI from each one is important. Given that many have been very successful using these innovative new products and services, the biggest surprise to me has been the number of retailer’s that have failed to make one or more of them work at their stores.
Common sense dictates that if something works for one company, it should also work in others. But I have not found that to be the case, and I am pretty sure it is not news to most of our readers! Yet, I have talked with many retail store owners who have purchased programs like the ones mentioned above. Most are in love with them but as I said, a good number just shake their heads and say something like “it didn’t work for me.”
So how come what is good for one business fails to work in another? The simple answer of course is that just like people, companies are different. Some embrace change and battle through its difficulties while others do not and therefore fail to properly implement the changes that new innovative technologies and systems demand be made. Simply put, this happens because the reason companies are like people is that companies ARE people. Most of the implementation breakdowns that cause a failure to launch normally occur either at the top of the organization or with the employees who actually must use a new system. So, let’s look at what needs to happen in those two areas to successfully implement change.
The responsibility really begins with the leaders of an organization. Even if they are totally sold on a new program or system and committed to making it work for their company, if they fail to “sell” the people under them on the importance of it, then the staff support needed to make the necessary changes happen will not exist and the effort will fail. Furthermore, if they succeed in selling them but don’t train them, it will fail to be properly implemented. In fact, often if they get that far and do not continue to promote its success so that it becomes part of the company culture, it will ultimately fail to deliver the best possible results. Obviously, managers are integral to what I’m calling the leadership effort too, but for this purpose I am trying to lay out what the owners and upper management must do to lead the implementation effort.
During my research for this column I discovered many great articles about change and how to implement it in an organization. One in particular delivered some very good points about what a leader must do to successfully implement change in their company. It was written by Joyce E.A. Russell and published in the Washington Post on December 1, 2013. In her article, “How to create change in the workplace”, the author had this to say on the subject:
“People want control over the change. As organizational change expert Peter Senge noted: ‘People don’t resist change. They resist being changed!’ Employees may actually be positive to a change, but if the change is imposed on them, their reaction is often more obstinate. Leaders have to help employees feel a sense of ownership in the change process and outcomes.”
In other words, leadership must talk the talk and walk the walk throughout the process. For it to succeed, they must lead. Management will do the heavy lifting, but they need to have leadership’s visible and consistent support to make it all work.
Once Leadership has done its part in positioning and selling the change to the organization, the really hard work of implementing the change takes place. This is where the managers must step up to the task of working with the people on the staff that must use the new system or process. The biggest reason I have seen these new innovations fail to be successful has been a lack of dedication and follow through from managers with the staff members that must use it day-in and day-out.
In many stores, management has allowed staff members to “stonewall” any change they do not like for so long that it has become a part of their culture to resist new processes and systems until management gives up trying to implement them. I have actually heard salespeople say, “If we just ignore it, it will go away”. The real shame is that the people most of the innovations are designed to benefit are the very ones that fail to embrace them and make them work. Just like what we described above as the leadership effort, the management effort must begin with and carry forward selling the staff on the value of the new innovation. Below are the main steps I suggest managers complete to make the implementation of any new program, process, system or policy a success:
- Explanation and the Sell-in — Continually building an understanding related to the value of the changes being made must be reinforced by management throughout the implementation process. They must make sure that staff members know what benefits they will enjoy as a result of the change and they need to buy-in to it in order to make the effort to change.
- Training the Staff — Once the affected employees buy-in to the value of the changes being made, it becomes their manager’s responsibility to get everyone trained on any behaviors that need to change and whatever new process must be followed. This is often done with the help of outside experts, but that does not relieve the manager’s obligation to have a thorough understanding of what each person should be doing and the ability to train or retrain them if and when necessary.
- Practice and Roleplay — The old adage of “practice makes perfect” is certainly accurate when people must learn new processes and procedures. Prior to the rollout of any major change in an employee’s role, managers must oversee them going through the new steps until they are certain the staff can do what is needed consistently and accurately.
- Rollout the New Process, Procedure or System — Often called “going live”, this is when you will activate the changes you are making and must be sure everyone is doing what they are supposed to do, the way they are supposed to be doing it. It is possibly the scariest point in the process of creating major changes in your business, but if you have done all the prior preparation and planning correctly, you will make it through.
- Measurement, Observation and Accountability for Staff — As soon as the changes are activated, it is time to measure how your staff is performing under the new circumstances and hold them accountable for doing things the way you have trained them. No one is perfect so you can expect to have some bumps in the road, which is why keeping an eye on how each person is doing with the changes is so critical. Human tendency is to slip back into old habits and behaviors that will diminish or scuttle the success of whatever changes you have made. Management must catch any missteps as soon as possible and correct the behaviors in order to succeed.
- Coaching and Retraining of Staff. When a problem is discovered, in most cases managers will be able to work with the individual employees and coach them through the change process by determining what they missed during training or can’t seem to handle well even after learning it. A few people may have to go back through training on some or all of the new process, but most can be coached to success with a little added effort from the manager. Unfortunately, this is also where you may discover some individuals that just refuse to change or can’t buy-in to what is happening. In those few cases, you will need to part ways and move on.
- Celebration of Success with Staff. As with any team effort it is critical that every win is acknowledged and celebrated. Throughout the entire process, both leadership and management need to point out progress being made and call out those that deserve to be acknowledged for their achievements. At the end of every successful implementation process it is a great idea to have a company wide celebration of the entire team’s success in tackling a big change project and making it happen.
While I am not an expert in the area of systems implementation, I have seen a lot of both successes and failures. The above observations are just the common elements I have seen that separate the two. It is by no means a complete list, but I hope it is enough to get you thinking about what needs to happen the next time you make any big changes in how you run your business.