Whatever business you’re in, right now you’re a grocer. Grocery is the latest industry to come under intense pressure from digital disruption, as Amazon applies a host of technologies to the old corner market. And the question every business leader should ask is: Will I be ready when it’s my turn?
Amazon is turning the grocery store into another case study of an underprepared industry at a technological inflection point. Robots, cameras, sensors and artificial intelligence are transforming the checkout line, the aisles, the warehouse and the supply chain. If you’re an executive for any traditional supermarket chain, maybe that word “traditional” is starting to sound like a liability. Especially since Amazon’s recent announcement that Prime members will pay less at Whole Foods, adding a loyalty program to an acquisition that has already seen number of items per transaction increase.
There is a way to be prepared for marketplace disruption. Certainly you must look at emerging technologies and digital strategies, but you must do more than see what’s coming. You have to prepare your company to react quickly to new circumstances. More important than identifying your industry’s next “killer app,” you need to maximize your ability to embrace change on any front.
Leading Through Change
Discussions of digital disruption often center on the CEO, who ultimately owns strategy, and talk of digital transformation almost always focuses on the CIO, who owns the technology stack. But strategies are executed, and technologies adopted, by your workforce, and that’s HR’s purview. Too often, business strategy and IT strategy lack the partnership of an equally important IT workforce strategy. But strategic shifts or new tech implementations can’t succeed without a corporate culture that’s ready to execute.
Take the grocery store example to illustrate the impact innovation will have on talent strategy. Grocers have long invested in data science to optimize product placement, coupons, and inventory, but the workforce at large was mostly kept at arms’ length from the skill and competency requirements. That will have to change.
As the increasingly digital grocer prepares to fight for market share, every clerk will need to be proficient with mobile applications, prepared to assist with self-checkout kiosks, and comfortable with a host of other in-store technologies. Department managers will be expected to have a higher level of data familiarity as their staff and inventory targets are now managed on handheld devices, incorporating real-time data from the supply chain and from other stores’ sales.
Stores will have to use data to change what they stock as customers more often buy certain supermarket staples online. New offerings such as online shopping or delivery must be considered. (We’ve been promised fridges that will place an order when we’re out of milk. Will your store have an app for that?) Decision-making throughout the organization must be driven by data that’s orders of magnitude richer and more detailed than in the past, and the ability to integrate data from multiple sources—internal, consumer, partners and suppliers—is essential.
And all that data, in various on-premises and cloud systems, raises the importance of data management, analytics and data security. Every role in the organization is affected by change. And that transformative wave is coming to every industry.
Building the Culture You Want to Get the Skills You Need
You’re not starting from scratch. The necessary skills and competencies exist in pockets within a traditional business. Expand from there to bring higher levels of technical proficiency and, especially, comfort with rapid change to your entire workforce. Change management is consistently the most underestimated element of transformative projects, yet, as the Society for Human Resource Management notes, the rate of change is only increasing, despite “change fatigue” in many organizations.
Companies that put sustained effort behind a deliberate, value-driving talent strategy succeed. Look at JetBlue: The upstart airline has decided that its differentiator—its disruption—is customer service. When hiring for public-facing roles, the company puts a premium on customer service experience, and new hires are given extensive additional training on JetBlue’s idea of hospitality. The result? The airline’s performance metrics (on-time arrival, lost luggage, etc.) are solid, but not spectacular—yet JetBlue’s customer service rating beats every other airline.
Companies are making talent shifts around technology as well. Insurance company Northwestern Mutual provides a strong example of how HR and IT can work together to change how the entire company relates to technology and innovation.
The trick here is that these strategies must be data driven, and historically people data has been notoriously untrustworthy. The JetBlues and Northwestern Mutuals have built data driven, strategic workforce planning into their DNA. And, just like anything else, these companies are benchmarking themselves against industry, competitors, and market trends to identify future talent needs. Kodak failed to capture future markets because they didn’t have the skills needed to compete when cameras went digital. Had the company benchmarked its own readiness for innovation against industry, it might have had a fighting chance.
CEOs, HR leaders and CIOs can all learn from these successes:
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