Learning at the Speed of Change
Our featured speaker at the 2012 Direct Tech Users Conference, Dr. Conrad Gottfredson, who is the chief learning strategist at global performance support solutions provider Ontuitive, had a profound message for anyone seeking to optimize their inventory planning: "Learn at the speed of change. Your survival depends on it."
To be frank, Dr. Gottfredson's remarks weren't exclusively aimed at inventory planners; his advice applies to most business disciplines. Still, I found it directly relevant to the rapidly evolving issues our Direct Tech customers (and any company pursuing inventory optimization) face every day. Specifically, they include the following:
- the increasing complexity of selling through multiple channels;
- ever-increasing promotional offerings that erode margins and affect product demand;
- the changing economics of where goods are sourced;
- the spiraling cost of freight to move goods; and
- agile competitors nipping at your heels.
Such challenges will inevitably require new approaches to planning. Whether you're installing a whole new inventory system or simply adapting processes to incorporate current best practices, the onus will be on your people to get up to speed quickly. That will require extraordinary effort — i.e., they'll need to become highly engaged — as they move from one way of doing things to another. As Dr. Gottfredson put it, "How fast are you at unlearning?"
In effect, he said, while a company can provide a strong learning environment, each individual is ultimately responsible for their own learning. They must quickly "abandon what's obsolete, embrace what's real and shape what's possible" within their sphere in order to become highly engaged contributors. Team members will need to connect with one another in shared rapid learning, individually and collectively stretching their capabilities to achieve at a higher level.
All in all, Dr. Gottfredson's remarks were well received by our User Conference attendees. I saw heads nodding in agreement throughout his presentation. It was clear that inventory managers (like others in a company) face a daunting set of challenges, including keeping up with rapidly accelerating change in cross-channel retailing, and getting their troops on board and up to speed.
We can all take heart in knowing that solutions are available. While change may be occurring faster than ever, retail by nature has always embraced change. This is just another opportunity to "unlearn" the old and learn the new.
At the end of the day, as Dr. Gottfredson demonstrated, successful inventory management is really about people. Job one for any inventory optimization effort should be to get your people highly engaged and "learning at the speed of change." As noted above, if you can do that, everything else will take care of itself.
Joe is Vice President of Product Solutions at Software Paradigms International (SPI), an award-winning provider of technology solutions, including merchandise planning applications, mobile applications, eCommerce development and hosting and integration services, to retailers for more than 20 years.
Joe is a 34-year veteran of the retail industry with hands-on experience in marketing, merchandising, inventory management and business development at multichannel retail companies including Lands’ End, LifeSketch.com, Nordstrom.com and Duluth Trading Company. At SPI, Joe uses his experience to help customers and prospects understand how to improve sales and profits through applying industry best practices in merchandise planning and inventory management systems and processes.