“Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a changin’”
Bob Dylan wrote these lyrics as part of his classic 1960’s ballad, “The Times They Are a Changin’” to warn of the changes coming and how everyone needed to pay heed and be ready. But really, what has changed? How about ‘nothing?’ Not to channel your inner Dylan and drive your thoughts toward the social and political implications here; but rather we should ask, how will we face the future of innovation in the consumer chain? More specifically, I am referring to the disruption to business processes as we move further toward the transformation of our analog systems into digital technology.
We have already seen the massive cause and effect of moving old processes and systems that run our businesses to powerful ERP technologies throughout the 80’s and 90’s, and the utter chaos it caused in every aspect of the business and personal life of the employee. Definitions, terms, processes, documents, rules and even the very way companies went to market were in total upheaval. Supply chains were halted, production was backed up, raw materials orders and payments were delayed, and the books could not be balanced. Stock prices plummeted, customers revolted, good employees quit and C-level executives were jettisoned like chaff in a dogfight. Much has been written about those times, and yet I wonder if we really learned the painful lessons – especially about change management.
From what I see, change management, as a priority directive, still seems to be an afterthought. I hope I am wrong.
I have really enjoyed the vendor briefings we are conducting for our upcoming 2018 Trade Promotion Vendor Technology Study (Expected delivery in October). What I am seeing is an amazing array of technology that will enable a sea change in how revenue growth, pricing, promotion and execution will be managed. It is truly inspiring to see the results of some very brilliant visionaries and some downright common sense based development of solutions around these high priority business processes. All the thought, design, testing and implementation of these new solutions assure me that we are truly heading into a time of incredible capability around sensing, responding and fulfilling the consumer’s demand.
But as I consider all the hundreds of RFP’s I’ve seen over the past few years, I can only think of a handful that had, as a requirement, recommended Change Management actions to support the new technology. I am not just talking about training, but rather how a company fundamentally changes its way of doing business in advance of, during implementation of and ongoing operation of a new solution. This is especially true if the technology is significantly different than current systems, processes are changed, or there is a direct impact on employee positions.
For the most part, these solutions we are seeing elevate the speed, accuracy and user experience of the same basic processes we have had for a hundred years. That is not altogether bad – we need the ability to do our jobs better. However, some of these solutions are changing the way the job is done, especially where we are seeing overlaps in pricing with promotion, trade promotion planning with demand planning, merchandising and assortment planning with category planning and management. Soon, we will see direct-to-consumer marketing begin to leverage trade funds and, therefore, engage the corporate marketing, sales and category buyer teams in the creation of a single top-to-bottom “consumer trade deal/event” where there are going to be even more blurry lines between consumer direct and trade promotion. In fact, already we see initiatives led by both retailers and CPG manufacturers where this is happening. It has already happened in fashion, automotive aftermarket, and hardware/DIY. And it’s coming around the bend for consumer packaged goods.
You should be thinking about the impact of change here, to be sure. Every RFP that is created must have, as a leading requirement the mandate to show how the vendor will work within the company’s existing infrastructure to define and execute change management. This will include training, of course, but old habits die hard, so there must be a component of education around how this new technology will change the way things are done. For example, some of the more sophisticated analytics tools will enable a much wider range of data to be considered in planning and forecasting.
The sales rep in a typically siloed CPG company is just now beginning to use POS data in a more broadly-based context than simply a result of the promotion. Being able to use the sophisticated tools we are seeing on the market now like promotion and price optimization that can expose cannibalization, halo effect, and pantry loading often means a change of procedure and, to no small degree, a more pronounced education into what these key metrics mean. Go one step further, then. Think of how it is going to be when, soon (and sooner than you think by the technology we are now seeing!), consumer marketing, social media analytics, eCommerce shopping and service satisfaction data – mostly unstructured, begins to figure into the planning. Now you are talking about a new paradigm for planning that requires a new way of thinking to go along with this new way of doing business.
Collaboration is gaining traction in the trade promotion planning space. Both retail buyers and manufacturer reps need to step up their games to ensure a smooth dialogue that leads to a successful promotion plan. This is not going to happen purely as a result of new technology. More important than even the technology itself is the ability of the user to understand the dynamics of the data and how to use it to ensure the most effective promotion. In fact, even defining success now is going be different.
I can go on; but suffice it to say that with all this talk of technology platforms, perhaps we need to begin including the Change Management Platform with every proposal. This ‘platform’ could contain both the training and education elements of a change management strategy; but it will also need to include an entire infrastructure that includes top to bottom redefinition and support of these new digital transformations we like to so proudly hail. Needless to say, it deserves its own place in the transformation; and it can’t wait.
I will receive hundreds of comments on this post, to be sure; but among them will no doubt be numerous consultants who will tout their abilities to manage change. And no doubt they do that well. However, the message here is to point out that the job of digital transformation is not done until the people, processes and governance are aligned and transformed along with it.
The times (and technology)…well they are “a changin;'” but you need to make sure you change with them.
My two cents…
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