Retail is not dying, it is simply changing.

There are many doom and gloom articles about the pending death of retail. It’s a vastly overstated premise. Much like how Apple and Android disrupted Nokia and Blackberry in the mobile phone industry, Amazon and other e-commerce companies are disrupting traditional brick and mortar retailers. This does not mean that retail is dying, but it does mean some traditional retailers will continue to fade.

Take a look at the retail process of yesterday and it looks very similar to what it is today.

  1. A customer goes looking for something that they want. Use to be in a store, now it occurs in a browser.
  2. The customer either purchases the item the first place they find it or price matches at competitors.
  3. Item is transported to the customer’s final destination. Use to be by the consumer direct, now often through parcel/post.

The retail process is unchanged to what shoppers want, the only difference is that technology has disintermediated the process from where it used to take place. Big box retailers used to have a monopoly on shopper attention and information. If you wanted to purchase a TV you had to go to Wal-Mart or Best Buy to compare them. Now you can go to any number of websites that compare the newest models in depth and even have fairly robust images, videos, and reviews of them. You actually get more information about what you want to buy by NOT going to a brick and mortar store.

For groceries, the brick and mortar store still remains king for now but even that is starting to change. The key differentiator for the grocery store is the ability to guarantee the freshness of hot/baked goods and produce. However, as supply chains further mature and advance even this starts to change. How much further do we need to go before shipping fresh food to a customers front door is more efficient than shipping to the store?

Retail is a great example of the poor of the information age disrupting legacy industries. The fundamentals haven’t really changed once you dig in but it certainly appears to be fundamentally different to the traditional players.

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Don’t forget steps 1 through 3.

When working on something you feel comfortable with, it can be easy to look into the future at what you expect the final outcome to be. If you are simply trying to get through the process as quickly as possible it can be easy to just jump straight to what you think the final answer will be. There is danger here.

People are always a variable in a change process. People you aren’t familiar with will likely bring ideas with them you don’t have quick answers to. If you have a large team, you will have a large set of requirements and goals. If your team hasn’t worked together before, there will be a significant element around figuring out roles and responsibilities.

When projects go VERY wrong, it’s often because they forgot to do Steps 1 through 3 in the process plan.

  1. Figure out what you are really trying to achieve.
  2. Define the team, roles, and responsibilities for how you will get there and get buy-in from each.
  3. Define what success will look like at the end.

These may seem really basic (because they are) but the basics are what usually win the day. In sports, the players with the strongest fundamentals have the longest careers even if their upside isn’t the greatest. If you get the fundamentals right every time, your speed to a solution will go way up.

Note that this also applies even when working with teams you are familiar with on projects you’ve done a thousand times. People change and their goals change. At some point, people feel ready to take on more responsibility or have a life event which limits the time they can invest in this new one. Doing the blocking and tackling up front ensures you are focused on everyone you need to be.

Continue riding the horse that brought you or move to something new?

Over my career, I’ve had the privilege of creating some really cool tools. I’ve built a headcount forecasting model that was accurate to within 2% over 4 years. I’ve built financial models that have made complicated numbers seem simple. I’ve designed business intelligence applications for more uses than I can remember. I’ve designed software, created websites, implemented tools, and learned more than a few client systems.

But there is one that always comes back to me as the one I loved most. It was one that I had spent a year designing, pitching internally and then finally getting off the ground and released to clients. I brought it out from nothing and made it something. Unfortunately, a year later I no longer had an influencer role with it.

Selfishly, I can look at the trajectory and feel like I could have done much better than those that inherited it after me. It wouldn’t have been hard. Then again, hindsight is always 20/20.

Fundamentally, technology is hard. Getting an idea into implementation is hard. Getting implementation complete is even harder. Getting a client to use it is even harder. Getting traction to need to scale and then scaling is hardest of all. Building online systems is simply one of the toughest things in business.

I say this because it’s worth managers understanding what makes things successful. Some concept of “the market” is great but doesn’t do anything on its own. An “outside expert” may not grasp the vision of what is needed. Changing teams to encourage new ideas sometimes only introduces bad ideas. Sometimes the best horse to ride is the one that got you there.

Your macro-level thinking changes when your role changes.

Over the past few months, I’ve watched as the posts here have become more philosophical and less tactical. I spend little time talking about technology, UI, UX and day-to-day activities and more time talking about the role of management, decision making, and planning. My role is not anything like what I’ve done over the past year and it is leading me to think thoughts I haven’t focused on previously.

This shift in perspective is purely due to this change in role. It’s allowed me to discard some biases I previously held (or was forced to hold by the nature of my previous position) and adopt new ones. Biases are not, in themselves, good or bad things. They are simple truths we hold on faith with little question. For example, I used to believe that data and analytics could make any real estate organization stronger and better. I now understand that to not even regularly be the case.

If I was to go back to the role I had been in 9 months ago, I’d immediately adopt an entire solution modeled around supporting real estate organizations that have no data and limited formal processes. These are the real opportunities. They also happen to be really hard to work with.

It’s worth thinking about how your way of thinking changes based on your place in the world. Big events change you simply by those events occurring.

Do you remember the iPhone release and how the world changed?

Probably not, because the world did not change with the release of the iPhone. There was no immediate shift in ability. There was no sudden realization that the world was different. In fact, many thought that the initial iPhone was a very imperfect device (which history has proved out). It was only years later that the world really started to noticeably shift. The iPhone was the lever that enabled the shift but the lever was pulled by others.

The world rarely changes overnight. Even when war is declared, it was usually a long time coming. America’s Declaration of Independence is celebrated every year as a day that the world changed but, again, the act was a long time in coming. It did not simply spring into existence.

In real estate, this is truer than in most other areas. Any act we make usually has months or years of planning behind it. Any sudden reaction could have been foreseen with the right information to hand. Our world is one where change is slow and hard fought.

But when change starts in slow moving fields, it comes all the stronger when the lever finally gains purchase.

As I look out at the real estate landscape, I see the move of agile working to be changing the world. Slowly the definition of what corporate real estate is is changing. Our world in 10 years will be almost unrecognizable from 10 years ago.

The emotional/rational journey caused by change.

Responses to change occur on a spectrum between emotional and rational. Based on how much experience they have with the particular type of change they are being faced with, they may respond out of fear or out of inquiry.

During the course of any change event, people will change their response type as they learn more. Sometimes they will move from rational to emotional because they suddenly realize there may actually be an impact to their job. Other times (and hopefully usually) they move from emotional to rational as they realize there will be less impact to them than they originally expected.

Knowing where your audience is on this spectrum will allow you to better communicate with them. Never share messages targeted at managing emotion at a rational audience. They will simply see a message that implies they should be concerned and start to wonder why they aren’t. Similarly, rational messages targeting an emotional audience will be completely ignored because it isn’t addressing the concerns that people are feeling.

Communications are the key to successful project outcomes. Effective communications start from understanding not just the audience but the audience’s state of mind. When both components are brought together, you will be in a much better position to drive your change project to a successful conclusion.

Managers often don’t realize the working habits of their team. #WorkplaceWednesday

I’ve been involved in a few workplace transformation projects in my career and all of them (without exception) begin with managers saying that it will never work for their team. “Sure, in principle, it could work for everyone else, but my team is different. We are all in the office every day, we’re already collaborative and changing how we do things will cost the company money.”

Whether managers intentionally don’t know the habits of their team or simply misunderstand how the work gets done, I’ve never encountered an initial meeting that went any other way. Even project sponsors and champions will fall back on the theory for their own “small” teams. It is an infallible rule of the workplace.

I’ve come to believe that most of this thinking comes down to incentives and expectations (don’t most things in life?). If a manager says that half of their team works from home 3 days a week yet there isn’t a work from home policy they could get in trouble from their bosses above them. If they delegate so much that they themselves work from home 4 days a week and don’t actually know how things happen in the office you get the same effect. Similarly, many teams may disguise their work patterns because they don’t want their boss to realize how often they work from places other than the office.

Much of it can also come down to the office safety net. Many people believe that as long as they have a desk with pictures of their family, pets, and vacations they have job security. Surely it is easier to lay off someone who isn’t assigned to a desk than someone who has a permanent seat? By keeping all the seats (regardless of impact on performance) they are protecting their people.

What they refuse to realize until after it is all said and done is that new workplaces often support teams better and create more flexibility. They don’t realize that refusing to participate comes off like they are going against corporate strategy (what real estate group drives through a workplace transformation without executive blessing?).