Changing Times

Almost by definition, progress brings change. It requires trading old habits for new, improved ways of doing business.

For Sierra Meat and Seafood in Reno, Nev., a new open-atmosphere office space accompanied a new focus on collaboration. And for Penske Truck Leasing, growing demand for fresh foods has meant new priorities for its 13,750 warehouse, logistics and transportation workers.

In each case, workers from multiple departments had to pull together for the change to stick and the company to achieve its objectives. Accomplishing the new goals required persuasive leadership because many workers are reluctant to shed the comfort of the status quo. Yet standing still is the surest way to fall behind the competition.

"At the end, it's still all about leadership. If you've got incredibly strong leaders, and you've got great clarity of your strategy, you're going to be successful–unless you miss the externals," says Michael Musso, managing director at Conway MacKenzie management consultancy in Atlanta, and leader of the firm's Consumer Packaged Goods Advisory Services.

Just about every facet of a retailer's business has added technology, and with it has come a new way of managing a task. Throughout the supply chain and in many corporate divisions, a renewed focus on efficiency and customer service is driving many business decisions. It requires teamwork, communication and leadership both within corporations and in conjunction with suppliers.

"If there's not clarity, you've got to go back upstream now and see where it broke down."

Conway MacKenzie


"Being an outsourced provider, we're always involved in change management," says Joe Carlier, senior vice president at Penske Truck Leasing, which manages logistics and delivery to retailers.

Changes in store design and the amount of fresh food stocked are affecting how Penske Truck Leasing gets new products into grocery stores. "When we're making a significant change, when we're introducing a new service or assuring a new level of responsibility, we take a very disciplined approach to sitting down (with the customer). We go through a pretty rigorous process," Carlier says.

Collaboration can bring efficiencies when players agree to adopt a common set of standards, such as GS1 product bar codes. By using a common language or interface, partners can eliminate misunderstandings and incompatibilities. GS1's most recent initiative involves setting a standard for images, so brands and retailers can easily share them with their trading partners, says Angela Fernandez, vice president, grocery retail and food for GS1 US.

"Execution is going to come very quickly," Fernandez says. But encouraging all 300,000 members to adopt the new protocol for images will require "over-communication," she says. "We try to utilize every channel available," she says, including webinars, newsletters and third-party technology.

"As online sales and new marketing approaches interrupt business as usual, getting employees across the board to promote the new programs can be a challenge," says Rodney Mason, group vice president of marketing at Blackhawk Engagement Solutions, which acquired Achievers Corp. in June 2015 to expand its incentives business. The cloud-based Achievers' Employee Success Platform is designed to encourage employee engagement and provide a platform for communication and employee recognition.

As a side benefit, Achievers can be useful when grocers are communicating a change in strategy or way of conducting business, such as a move into rebates, Mason says. The platform provide a ways to tell employees, "Be on the lookout for rebates; we're going to be running them in the store," he says. In addition, key objectives can shift from the performance of a single department to the whole store.

"Have senior management stand up and tell the company, ‘We need to do this, this is important. We're doing it to be competitive in the changing environment.' "

Blackhawk Engagement Solutions


Durham Ranch and Sierra Meat and Seafood Co. have moved to an open office layout, where only the conference room and glassed-in "fish bowl" have walls, to encourage idea sharing and eliminate the silos often found in offices with high walls.

"We designed it to get collaboration and feedback from teammates. We work really hard to be as transparent as possible," says Tom Ryan, senior vice president, sales and marketing, at Durham Ranch and Sierra Meat and Seafood Co., which sell to Sprouts and other specialty grocers.

The company also uses collaborative software like OneNote to involve as many people as possible in meetings and discussions. And managers are trained to focus on the positive. "You want to give out three ‘atta boys' for every ‘uh-oh,'" Ryan says. "The reason change is so hard, it's fear," he said. "Often they're afraid they're going to fail or disappoint their leader or boss."

With a goal of adding more sausage and other consumer packaged food items to its roster of bison, elk and wagyu beef, the company acquired Flocchini Sausage in May 2015. In the course of developing new labels for ground wild game meat, a mistake was made on the labels. Instead of dwelling on the negative, the workers were encouraged to correct the labels and move on. The company has built trust by reassuring workers, saying, "We're happy you're trying. If you make a mistake, we'll fix it and move on."

"We do our very best not to pooh-pooh an idea," Ryan says. "The worst thing you can do is create one of those gotcha cultures. That's the exact opposite of what we strive for."

"The worst thing you can do is create one of those gotcha cultures. That's the exact opposite of what we strive for."

Durham Ranch and Sierra Meat and Seafood Co.


Negative news can provide an opportunity for executives to build trust through honest communication. When Musso was involved in resurrecting a bankrupt company so it could be sold, he kept workers informed about the process because he was aware that withholding information creates uncertainty. "People don't want to be in the dark. Even if the news is bad, they want to know," Musso says.

It's important to keep them informed if you want their involvement and buy-in. "People want to communicate, and in the absence of good information, they create their own," Musso says. The result can be as many story lines as workers in the dark.

Whether you are launching a new product line, switching to a new software system or integrating a newly acquired business, you can expect a few bumps before the new operations run smoothly.

But you also can prevent those molehill-size bumps from turning into mountainous obstacles through effective, proactive management techniques. "The most important thing is you have buy-in at the very top, and clear communication as to why you are making these changes," Mason says.

Experts offer the following tips for executives to encourage workers and vendors to work together toward a common goal:

1. Listen. Leaders who dictate a new strategy without considering what the rest of the company has to say about it risk a backlash, Musso says. Strategy is about people, so involve people in the process.

2. Encourage open communication. To get others working toward the objective, hold what Musso calls a "calibration" meeting. Allow people to raise concerns and offer solutions.

3. Set the strategy. Write the message down, and include objectives and benchmarks. But don't stop with a written communication.

4. Hold large group meetings followed by small group meetings to announce the new strategy or program. Then, "Have senior management stand up and tell the company, ‘We need to do this, this is important. We're doing it to be competitive in the changing environment,'" Mason says.

5. Add face-to-face meetings with key workers and vendors. Explain the new strategy and its positive implications for them, Mason says. "Be sure they're in lockstep, and have everybody's strategies aligned."

6. Hold an annual vendor review to set up partnership requirements, establish service standards and explain where the supplier fits into the larger picture of the company. "I think having key vendors or partners in the loop ensures that the proper message is being communicated outside the company," Musso says.

Encourage them to present strategies for cost savings or new business. "We want to know how you are going to help us achieve our goals," Musso says.

7. Avoid e-mail announcements of changes. "E-mail is never a substitute for personal communication when the stakes are high," Musso says. Instead, he recommends "walking-around leadership," where managers stop by to talk informally with workers to solicit information. But regular meetings and written status reports also are important as a motivator to get people to stay on task.

To communicate with employees and suppliers who aren't in the same office, Musso says to use Skype or other collaborative communication tools. But he also encourages getting on a plane for a face-to-face meeting. The price of a plane ticket could more than pay off if it encourages others to embrace the change. Allowing people to not just hear what you say, but how you say it, can reinforce your message.

8. Motivate change with rewards and recognition. Team bonuses can align the interests of a group, but the bonuses don't always have to be monetary. "People work for money, but they strive for recognition," Musso says.

9. Reinforce the message. Never be afraid to ask your team, "What do you think we're trying to do here?" Musso says. "It's a pretty easy question." But it often stumps workers. "If there's not clarity, you've got to go back upstream now ... and see where it broke down."

10. Over-communicate. Good focus comes from repeating the same message over and over again, and then listening to the feedback.