How retail leaders are moving from response mode to mission mode

The retail industry has faced many upheavals over the past two years. There will be more to come. The business outlook remains highly uncertain, with supply chain and labor disruptions in particular keeping executives up at night.

Conference rooms have to get used to a period of significant and rapid change, with no obvious end in sight. As such, the challenges facing their businesses are vastly different than they were just a few years ago.

In fact, it’s no longer enough to just focus on running a retail business. Leaders must now consider, understand and make informed predictions on a range of issues that go beyond their traditional remit – from foreign affairs and environmental factors to public policy and social issues.

Moreover, they face a rate of change that has not been seen for a generation. The level of business uncertainty created by the pandemic has put retailers in a constant state of “response mode”. There was no time to debate business decisions at length – it was a matter of “just doing it” in the face of each new disruption.

But in the years since, this fast and furious pace of change has not slowed. Consider how quickly consumer priorities and behaviors have shifted this year. Until recently, personal health concerns trumped economic concerns in the minds of consumers.

Now more people are concerned about their finances – a significant turnaround from last year. In fact, 80% of consumers rank inflation and the cost of living as their top economic concerns.

At the same time, companies must redefine their workforce models for a labor market that looks very different from a few years ago. Meeting changing customer and employee expectations requires a much more adaptive workforce – a digital, empowered, flexible and diverse workforce.

Retailers must also explore new ways to serve the consumer, as the emergence of new technologies and channels drives rapid advances in consumer automation and personalization.

The metaverse, for example, is a fertile space for retail to explore. But it requires a culture of cutting-edge experimentation and consumer-driven innovation – qualities that many companies still need to reinforce.

What does all this complex change mean for retail leaders? This requires a new kind of CEO skill set – a passionate, entrepreneurial leadership style combined with an innovative “outside-in” mindset to drive growth.

This new breed of leaders will be mission-driven, focused on achieving specific goals rather than general management. They will also have to operate in dual mode, focusing on business and operations on the one hand, while paying particular attention to the macro level (consumers, geopolitics, climate change, etc.) on the other.

For these reasons, we should expect to see the next generation of retail leaders from broader backgrounds – fields such as venture capital, serial entrepreneurship and law.

This new blood will need to be passionate about the purpose of their brands and relentlessly focused on related issues such as sustainability. They will need to be data-driven and collaborative, thinking beyond simply defining a business vision and instead seeking to inspire employees and customers with an outward-looking entrepreneurial spirit.

They will also need to move away from the traditional “command and control” approach and start managing the business in a more facilitative and empowering way. This means cultivating an environment of “constant resetting”, constantly questioning, learning and reinventing business practices.

It also means understanding the importance of taking thoughtful risks, while protecting the core business. It is not easy. Leaders need to be as focused on deep analysis and thoughtful decision-making as the previous generation was on motivation and expression.

More than anything, as five great forces continue to sweep across all industries – the metaverse, shifts in talent, technology, sustainability and business reinvention – the next generation of leaders will be those who create companies that can sense , to shape and respond to market conditions. in near real time.

About Timothy Cheatham

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