6 Strategies for Unleashing a Culture of Innovation in a Changing Retail Landscape

Consumers have altered how they shop. Retail executives, however, are not necessarily changing how they run their day-to-day operations to deal with the disruptions they know are affecting their industry. To survive the shifts, however, will take creative solutions that make shopping easier and more exciting. Retailers need to move from awareness and acknowledgment of the challenges to action with the right strategic and cultural response.

“Even if you as an executive recognize the change and set the strategy, if your staff is not seeking opportunities to innovate, then the strategy becomes merely potential on a page,” says YPO member Peter Sheahan, CEO of Karrikins Group, a behavior change company, and author of “Matter: Move Beyond the Competition, Create More Value and Become the Obvious Choice,

At a recent Geniecast during the second annual YPO Innovation Week, Sheahan shared strategies for creating a culture capable of executing new ideas, scaling new business models, and innovating in the face of change and disruption in the retail industry.

It’s not enough to want to change

“The single most critical difference between organizations that not only survive disruption but thrive in the market is the quality of the assumptions they make about what is changing,” says Sheahan. Leaders have to respond in the right way at the right time. While this may sound daunting, keep in mind that “nothing ever changes in an industry that nobody predicted.” Disruptors tend to work on the periphery of an industry for several years before they gain momentum, as did both Uber and Airbnb. “The reason people make bad decisions is not because they failed to see what was around them, but because change is initially really slow — and then it’s not, leaving companies scrambling to catch up when it accelerates” says Sheahan. “The single biggest destroyer of value during times of disruption is the quality of the assumptions that the executive makes.”

The sooner you adapt, the smaller risks you have to take

Most businesses wait until change has arrived before they begin to invest in innovation. As a result, they lose significant market share or momentum in creating the next version of their business. Sheahan recommends taking controlled risks with the partnerships you form, the channels you embrace, the operating models you use or the products and services you develop. The goal: “to create models for what the world is going to look like versus what the world used to look like and go through the necessary learning curve while the risks are manageable.”

Enhance the brick-and-mortar shopping experience

Retailers are reimagining what brick-and-mortar can be. Burberry, for example, reinvented its London flagship store to compete with its top competitor, online stores, which can sell products for up to 25 percent less. Rather than cut prices, Burberry sought to create an in-person experience that was worth the extra cost. “The research tells us the issue we face with online competition isn’t just price,” says Sheahan. “It’s actually that there is convenience, more choice, more availability, the ability to shop around and transparency, and as Burberry discovered, the ability for a more customized experience.” As a result, Burberry created in-store customer alerts for staff, recommendations based on availability and ever-changing catwalk displays based on the cumulative buying history of the customers in the store at that moment.

Get the clarity piece right

Innovation is not about trying anything and everything. There are many ways to innovate and it will come together differently for each organization. “Get clarity as to how you intend to win,” says Sheahan. “If you haven’t given any direction as to where you want ideas to come from and what value they are ultimately supposed to serve, if you get any ideas at all, they’ll be all over the map and useless.” Once you know how you want to differentiate yourself, there are specific steps you can take to get there.

Be willing to invest and take risks

To build a culture of innovation, you have to have the right mindset – the willingness to invest in innovation. If you are unwilling to take a risk on employees’ ideas, then you are actually sending a message to your employees to maintain the status quo and “you will eventually condition your people not to be innovative,” says Sheahan. “You’re not taking a risk if you’re not putting time, effort and capital behind it.”

Create a culture that is open to more changes to come

There are five key drivers that a leader can change to influence the culture of an organization: objective, emotional, structural, habitual and social. “Within social context are the rituals you perpetuate, the stories you tell and the language you use, the standards you set and the symbols and messages you send through your own behavior,” says Sheahan. “Going after those four levers and those related to the other four drivers will enable you to intentionally create a culture which triggers and supports the behaviors that lead to innovation.”

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