Retailers navigating hybrid work environments and rapid shifts in the way people shop in the wake of the pandemic now find themselves facing a potential economic slowdown and increasingly volatile swings in consumer demand. However, the path to retail success doesn’t rest solely on creating the perfect post-COVID plan or developing a long-range strategy for a recession. Retailers can act now by capitalizing on the resources they already have.
These three practical actions can promote retail success in the present:
- Sharing expertise across the business to maximize opportunity.
- Supporting career development by democratizing learning and development.
- Promoting flexible approaches to hybrid work that prioritize connection over rigid protocols.
Build Operating Models That Elevate Capability Expertise
In the last two years, retailers have focused on creating and evolving new customer channels, improving data capabilities, and implementing a host of technology solutions and partnerships. At the same time, companies were also radically shifting planning and delivery calendars and revamping go-to-market strategies.
This cascade of new capabilities and processes often results in a proliferation of verticals, increasing the risk of informational silos within an organization. Geographic distinctions can multiply this effect. Pitfalls include underutilizing technology, duplicating capabilities across multiple products, and missing opportunities to scale.
To identify trouble spots, look for spaces in your business where expertise is deep and valuable but not easily leveraged beyond its initial scope or remains invisible from the broader organization.
- For example, your sales department implements a new customer relationship management (CRM) system, but doesn’t realize there are relevant products for marketing and enterprise data teams. As a result, each segment implements a different product.
- In another case, a regional group of stores started using a local delivery service to improve last-mile speed and quality — not realizing the same provider was available in other regions, thus losing opportunities to negotiate better contracts or consolidate partnerships.
To optimize existing capabilities, retailers must create operating models that elevate expertise and connect them through clearly defined horizontal structures. Bridging the gap across these new areas of expertise will allow businesses to truly scale.
Democratize Your Approach to Learning and Development
Retailers now have a host of tools in their learning and development toolbox to help solve for remote and hybrid ways of working. Companies are augmenting training by using online providers such as LinkedIn Learning and Corsera. Retailers are also taking a mobile-led and modular approach, turning to on-demand training that appeals to both in-store employees and office workers, who may also prefer listening to a training while commuting or on break.
These new paths for employee development give workers re-skilling and upskilling opportunities while also letting them share their own expertise back out across the business. For example, if a material designer discovers a way to query data to identify excess raw material, sharing that insight creates a sustainability opportunity for other material designers within the organization.
This customized approach to learning and development can help retain workers in a competitive talent market while also empowering employees to own their career paths, increasing engagement and loyalty. For example, where a store employee may not have previously had access to training on office tools (such as Excel or Tableau), new learning platforms remove those barriers, increasing the potential for transitioning from retail positions to roles in inventory planning and other areas.
Instead of operating learning and development departments as a funnel for all communication and training, retailers are shifting to curate resources and experiences, while involving experts from across the organization. For instance, at a global footwear manufacturer, a core team of learning professionals is establishing a common set of tools and best practices, while also empowering others in the company to generate and share new training and development resources.
Take a Flexible Approach to Hybrid Ways of Working
Whether you're elevating pockets of expertise or democratizing your learning programs, understanding how to engage a hybrid workforce is a critical factor for retail success.
Leading retail organizations are focusing not on rules but on guiding principles, including an emphasis on flexibility, prioritizing mental well-being, and minimizing the need for overly prescriptive structures. That means letting teams work together, test approaches, and find out what works best for them. Retailers can offer principles on collaboration tools, such as Zoom or virtual whiteboards. Therefore, in hybrid meetings everyone, even those in the room, might turn their cameras on so everyone can see who is talking. Attendees can also engage employee virtual whiteboards so that participants can drop comments, notes, and other inputs into a space other than chat, which is often not archived. Virtual whiteboards also provide space for attendees to post follow-up thoughts or questions.
Lastly, the hybrid workplace has pushed retailers and other employers to find new ways to stay connected — Zoom fatigue notwithstanding. While stores can leverage their pre-shift huddles, office employees are finding ways to reinvent the water cooler, including by agreeing on set “events” to attend in the office vs. committing for a full day. Retailers that have taken this more flexible approach say that employees are finding more ways to connect and new ways to collaborate. For instance, a small working group comes into the office once a week for a specific brainstorming session, or the team holds weekly virtual retrospectives and Agile coffees to keep teammates connected.
Forward-looking retailers see a host of potential challenges before them — none of which are easy to predict or to truly prepare for. However, those that invest in understanding and evolving their present capabilities can help their organizations retain the agility they’ve developed, while also positioning themselves to navigate whatever may come next.
Annie Lyons is a principal consultant at Propeller, a nationally recognized consulting firm that helps clients bring simpler, more efficient solutions to their business challenges. Propeller consultants work alongside client teams to deliver project management, business consulting, and change management results that help them nimbly negotiate rapidly evolving business demands.