As we enter the second year of transformation - focused strategic advice, Ian Jindal ponders whether a wish to be ’other’ or ’different’ fits with a the drive to be authentic, real and consistent in the eyes of customers and staff.
Looking over my editorials for the last few years I have had a couple of key themes – the need for an authentic conversation with customers, and the need for continuous adaptation of skills, culture and service to retain our customer. In recent years, the impact of digital has extended beyond those early adopters who ’faced into’ the digital changes and now affects our sector as a whole. The necessary and perhaps painful changes have led to a shared, voiced feeling that our world is changing.
’Change’ seems too small and regular a term. ’Disruption’ followed, to indicate that this pesky ’change’ was neither pleasant nor convenient, and ’transformation’ became de rigeur once we realised the ramifications of the changes – our whole organisation, all jobs, all processes, all channels are now due for review. The value–drivers in our business – previously exhibited as highly–optimised, professional silos of capability – are now more amorphous and cross–functional... Data (its collection, understanding and exploitation), services, algorithmic operation, transparent operations, customer visibility are now whole–business concerns, even as individual teams and silos have specialist contributions to make.
It’s understandable that undertaking change on this scale feels like a transformation, but that risks losing the essence of that which has made us successful in the past. To transform means to change appearance or character – we are no longer the same. A related argument was the business ’evolution’ – change to survive. I noted when this was fashionable that an individual organism adapts, it does not itself ’evolve’. Species evolve – an individual elephant will live and die an elephant, and not become a butterfly, no matter how large and pretty its ears! So what constructs do we have that help us navigate the challenging changes to how we operate and even to how we see ourselves?
H2O exists on earth as ice, water and steam. Some elements have a further plasma stage, but what we see in these three states is that the states of matter continuously change in response to thermal input, yet the matter itself is always and ever H2O. I do not for a second minimise the change to the water molecules or those around them at each of these dramatic phase transitions, but the fundamental properties are consistent and, importantly, are retained through each successive change.
The challenge for retailers to be substantially different and yet somehow always the same. To maintain the ’essence’ of what’s made us successful to date, even as we change form in response to market or technological changes.
This analogy leads us to some insights:
Standard scenario planning approaches allow us to model how we operate in each of the ’states’, and individual teams can plot their own, and collective, routes through the phase transition. Importantly, we can also discuss what’s consistent, unchanging in our offer to customers... our expertise, our products, our values, our service, our inventions, our human capital and culture.
Teams who become adept at changing without losing their identity will be always fresh, always the same, yet always relevant and new. The adaptation and change itself is no less demanding, but at least we will still be ourselves – changed, but not transformed. Fresh, but not different.