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Degrees for unicorns… where are all the category management experts?

I’ve been told I’m a “unicorn”. At first I didn’t get it (I actually had to google what it could have meant?). Then as years passed by, I’ve become acutely aware that I’m not a mythical creature, and that people with my unique combination of skills, qualifications and experience do actually exist. If that sounds arrogant, it’s not my intention. It can be lonely being a rarity in the market at times. But rest assured there is a small unicorn population out there, just like me… we’re called category management experts.

What is category management?

Category management is a collaborative process adopted by retailers and suppliers in FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) to help drive business performance, by better understanding how to deliver value to customers [1].

In a nutshell, this means selling products by category rather than by brand. There is a functional and logistical element to the process, and there also is a relational and human side to the process. The PhD I’m currently undertaking is exploring these dynamics from both a qualitative and quantitative research perspective, with the aim of trying to understand competitive retail environments. Ideally category management can be a win/win for suppliers, retailers and customers, but if that turns out to be unachievable, at least I’ll discover through my research why it’s not possible.

Learning about category management

Considering the Australian retail sector makes the highest employment contribution to the Australian economy, with 1.3 million people and 11% of the workforce[2], you may expect there would be a focus on category management as part of many popular courses studied. While I completed three degrees through one of Australia’s leading universities (in business and psychology), I didn’t learn a single thing about category management or market insights through any of them! Everything I’ve learned has been either on the job (working inside a retailer, supplier, agency and now a private consultancy), or through presentations by industry partners.

My PhD results

Four years into a six year part-time PhD journey whilst juggling two companies and a family, it’s safe to assume that achieving work/life balance is not my area of expertise (try me again in two years). However I can vouch for this: if you’re passionate about finding out the why behind something, a PhD is a pretty good vehicle to help you achieve that.

Wearing my supplier hat, I want to know why the retailers aren’t accepting our new products in development (NPD)? The generic answers provided just aren’t constructive enough. As a retailer, I question why suppliers aren’t sharing holistic category insights, instead of a tunnel-vision brand-driven sales pitch. The conversation can’t be strategic or collaborative, and simply shows they aren’t on the same page. As a research consultant I want to know why both retailers and suppliers trust me more than they trust each other? The undercurrent of past politics can block all hope for future joint business planning and innovation.

The results thus far have been fascinating, if not a little concerning for the future of our retail economy. I’m still in the midst of analysing the data, but if you’re interested in learning more when I’m able to share, send me a message on LinkedIn. Until all is revealed, here are my thoughts on what we need to do in the category management and the insights space.

A unicorn’s guide to the future of category management and customer insights

  1. Bridge the current gap between academia and industry
  2. Even better, educate our young graduates before they go into industry
  3. Better still, train and support the rare skillset of CM managers and analysts on the job
  4. Rebuild the bridge between retailers and suppliers to encourage collaboration
  5. Upskill the entire industry on category management and insights
  6. Teach the value (and difference) between big data and actionable insights
  7. Identify who to hire – are they a unicorn or just a horse with a carrot?
  8. Work together on solving this industry problem.

Soon I’ll be able to tell you the why… my next job is to figure out how.

 

Rebecca Rees presented at Slade Chats in partnership with Females in Food on Thursday 19 October 2017. Contact Stuart Carruthers, Practice Leader Consumer, Retail & Sport at Slade Executive for further information about our events, if you need assistance when hiring in these sectors or are seeking career advice.


References

  1. Gooner, Morgan & Perreault, 2011; Blattberg, Fox & Purk, 1995.
  2. ABS 2015-16, cat. no. 8155.0

 

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Challenging questions about change

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor E. Frankl

Have you ever wondered why the subject of change can provoke strong emotions?

Back in the fixed-line age of last century(!) when timed local calls were first floated by our national carrier, there was a tsunami of public rejection. Just five year later when Motorola and Nokia were offering us the new-new thing, that same ‘public’ jumped on board without questioning the fact that they would be billed on the basis of timed local calls.

I’ve heard individuals describe themselves in interviews as either good or bad at handling change. Typically it’s not as black and white as that, as we all respond to change differently, and how change per se is introduced to us, can impact our emotional and cognitive response.

  1. Do you understand your response to change?

When reflecting on your past responses to change, both in your personal and professional spheres, are you aware of what underpins your behaviour? A move interstate, a teenager pushing back, a new housing development going up next door, a relationship breakup, a new boss, a bad accident? In ‘work speak’, I’m alluding to our motivators, those forces that drive our individual and team responses to change that impact productivity.

This is a great question to ponder separately, not only when you’re interviewing a potential candidate for your organisation. Consider how you personally affect change in your organisation, how change affects your team, or broadly others in your workplace.

I often challenge candidates by asking: “When you do decide to embrace change, are you pretty loyal to that change… particularly when you are convinced it is the right decision?” I might also pose a behavioural question such as, “What is your best example of a time when you have embraced a significant change, only to discover that you might have been better off taking a more measured approach?” This is a great way of helping an individual recognise that of course, whichever way they manage change, it’s likely they handle it differently to others.

When you challenge yourself on this question, you might also find it helpful to consider how your motivations are orientated. For example, are they past, present or future orientated? What impact might that have on how you embrace change and help others embrace it as well?

  1. Talk it over or lose the advantage

When we remember that we each hold different motivators, it helps us to understand how we respond to change differently. Research such as that presented by Abraham Maslow and Deci & Ryan, also tells us that what you expect and believe are critical to your ability to embrace or reject change. Your experience, skills, knowledge and sense of self-esteem are also important factors.

Do you know what truly motivates you when it comes to change? What about your team members? Most of us think we know what motivates our behaviour and therefore, how to motivate others we work with. I wonder if we do really know, or just think we know.

Having insight into your own personality, in turn helps you to understand others, particularly on the subject of adaptability to change. At the senior leadership level it goes much deeper than personality profiling; research by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan suggests personality informs approximately 30% of how we are motivated at any given moment. Context is ‘king’ when we talk about change, which means deeply exploring the situation in our conversations with candidates or colleagues.

How do others rate you and your team when it comes to leading or embracing change? What assumptions might you or others be making, and how do these impact the wider organisation?

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Thinking of asking for part-time hours? Read this first!

Having spent the last eight years working three days per week, I have firsthand experience of the benefits of part-time working arrangements, particularly when raising three young children. Those pesky medical, tradesperson and personal appointments can be slotted into my ‘off’ days, I save on childcare and travel costs and it’s great to only have to wear corporate attire for three days!

BUT there are key considerations when contemplating a move to part-time hours, which often are only realised after you’ve already moved to a part-time role.

You are likely to still need to ‘check-in’ on your non-working days

This is particularly relevant if you are providing a service to clients (internal or external) and/or you perform a time critical function that requires a timely response to achieve the desired outcomes. Even if you job-share your role, unless you have airtight handover discussions with your job partner on a weekly basis, expect the inevitable calls or emails. Often the fact that work emails and phone messages still accumulate on your ‘off’ days means that you may need to check-in spasmodically, at least to alleviate the workload when you return.  People considering part-time hours may fantasise about switching off their mobiles when they leave and having a clear break (similar to an Easter long weekend), but given that work still comes in, the reality is quite different.

You are unlikely to get promoted

Like a Faustian-type bargain, most part-timers that I have met have reported that career advancement chances have reduced in favour of their permanent counterparts, particularly if they work less than four days per week. A fellow part-time peer was told by their manager that leading teams, especially if they are full-time predominantly, was better suited to a full time manager. Whilst agile working practices and technology have started to change perceptions that employees always need to be present in the office to be productive, from a leadership and promotion perspective, there is still a long way to go.

For those individuals who do hold key leadership roles and work part-time, has it been easy or difficult to achieve? I’d love to hear from you to gauge whether there are any trends arising across sectors or numbers of days worked.  

Time will not be your friend

Unless you job share, squeezing all your work into your shortened week will be a constant consideration. On a positive note, you will (hopefully) evolve to be more efficient in your work practices, but the casualty can often be the casual interactions that you have with your work colleagues, which help build personal relationships and can improve the team culture. You are likely to be moving from one appointment, obligation or deadline to another with minimal downtime, which can also result in burnout and forfeit the benefits of part-time work in the first place.

Events and functions won’t always suit your schedule

Unfortunately, it is highly likely that there will be events, conferences, training, company meetings and/or team building events that won’t fall into your set work days. There will be a need to attend some of these functions and you may not get paid for your attendance.

All-in-all, I’m still a fan

Despite the above, I am a strong advocate of the benefits of part-time work, as it does facilitate quality time with family, whilst still balancing a stimulating role and work environment. Whilst generally people reflect on the financial repercussions and broad work/lifestyle aspects of part-time employment, consideration needs to be given to the above factors when determining whether it is truly your own employment nirvana.

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EVP now means a partnership, with flexibility and the opportunity to contribute to a bigger picture

We’ve moved on from the Employee Value Proposition (EVP). Certainly a great working environment, progressive organisation culture, and the right level of remuneration with associated benefits are attractive to highly talented individuals. However, more and more I am seeing both organisations and candidates searching for the ultimate partnership between employer and employee.

Organisations want talent who can deliver, no matter what the situation. At executive level, there’s an expectation of availability (or at least to be contactable) 24/7, no matter what time zone and what time of the year… my New Year’s Eve phone calls are still ringing in my ears! Top performers are keen to have greater flexibility and accountability, including the hours, locations, scope of work and the projects they have the opportunity to work on. Working together embraces all of these ideals and both parties have a critical responsibility to adapt their approach to work in today’s marketplace.

Increasingly our life is more about want-want-want – just ask my teenage kids who want more than I can provide! As a consumer society, we often lose focus on the importance of empathy, compassion and giving. Nevertheless I believe we all want something that we can connect with, whether that be emotional, spiritual, financial or another reason. Going to work every day for a higher purpose is fulfilling. I am literally hearing from candidates the need to work in an environment where “I know I can make a difference”. To facilitate this, you must have an environment that places the bigger picture at the heart of its purpose, right?

Last year Salesforce was awarded the highest honour of #1 Best Place to Work in Australia. It’s worth asking, what do they do differently? The company adopts the Hawaiian spirit of Ohana (meaning ‘family’), which obviously resonates if you’ve ever met someone that works there or read some of their employee testimonials. Along with their 1-1-1 Corporate Philanthropy Model, where 1% of tech staff are allocated to supporting not-for-profit enterprises in Australia, Salesforce has also taken a stand on social issues, including gender equality and marriage equality.

Let’s not forget that understanding the customer is also paramount. We should aspire to achieve great partnerships with our clients, as well as our colleagues and our employer. Observing an organisation who values both the needs of customers and its own people will attract like-minded talent who are also a good cultural fit. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

If you’re a candidate, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there on what your real EVP looks like (I’m hinting it’s probably not a slide in the office). Employers, give and you shall receive in spades.

What’s unique about your value proposition as a candidate or an employer? How has your organisation adapted to these changing dynamics in the world @work?

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The nuances of effective feedback

When Robyn, a great candidate referred by a trusted source, crashed and burned in an interview, I asked if she might be open to discussing how she felt about the interview. “Yes please!” This led to a great two-way conversation. But what if I had said, “You were terrible at interview and you have to take on the feedback I’m about to give you.”?

One of the most important skills we can all acquire is the gift of masterful feedback, both giving it and receiving it.

Instructive feedback encompasses both constructive feedback and informative feedback. The most useful feedback is both mindful and effective in empowering and influencing others. It is honest, unbiased and requested, rather than being thrust upon you. When you receive effective feedback, with no personal attachments and no hint of persuasion, it is all the more credible and importantly, able to be embraced and or even acted upon.

Uninvited feedback on the other hand, resulting from a reaction or response, can interrupt thoughts, kill motivation, learning and/or be annoying or even destructive, as it erodes trust and builds barriers. It can be particularly hurtful when it is directed at the other person’s values and beliefs or their judgements.

“The only fully legitimate feedback we can give a speaker is information about the state of our own cage.” – Mackay (1994)

Uninvited feedback can come from well-meaning friends, family or work colleagues, who believe it’s somehow their duty to tell you their observations or opinions to help you. Consciously they are trying to change you or maybe even communicate something about themselves, how they feel, think or respond. Subconsciously they may also be trying to sell their ideas, their experiences or get you to like them and be influenced by them.

It’s hard to accept uninvited feedback and take stock of the messages people dish out.  Receiving effective feedback is very different.

Effective feedback is provided in the most appropriate way so other person finds it useful and beneficial. A leader coaching their team or a peer, may use effective feedback to project back a particular perception, emotion, word, or experience observed. This could simply entail repeating back a certain word or phrase using active listening and recording a conversation.

When we clarify to capture meaning it also assists in the feedback process. It’s a bit like having another set of eyes and ears to help you gauge the message behind your words, your tone and feelings. Science tells us that we tend to operate more in the subconscious mind, than our conscious mind.  It’s clear that many of us go through life not being very aware of how we are perceived, the power of our thoughts and words, or their translation by others.

Successful executive coaching is underpinned by the use of effective feedback for this very reason; it creates increased clarity, trust, confidence and support. When a leader is able to regularly engage with feedback that is positive, that’s acknowledgement. When a leader is relaying feedback that has a negative effect, this can be referred to as feedback with judgement, which can often be received as criticism.

The more you pay conscious attention to how you and others provide effective feedback (clarification and or questioning without a tone of judgement) the further you empower others and yourself in your role. When you create a positive mindset for ongoing feedback in all its forms, you create greater synergy, trust and awareness.

How are you engaging in effective feedback in your world @work?

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EOFY – trivia, observations and reflections

I’ve just finished an interview with an accountant… (insert your joke or comment of choice)… for a Financial Controller role. Actually it’s a great opportunity with a small private investment company.

I generally start an interview with an easy general question like, “How’s work?” In this case the response was, “Flat-out! I’m super busy because of EOFY (End of Financial Year).” Makes sense and I’m sure there are thousands of accountants around Australia who are saying the same thing.

According to that font of all modern wisdom, Wikipedia, Australia is one of only a small list of countries that use 1 July to 30 June as the financial year. Others include New Zealand, Japan and Egypt. In comparison the US use 1 January to 31 December and the UK is more unusual, being 1 April to 31 March for government. UK businesses can choose any 12 month period.

Given that much of Australian law and business practices have British origins, you might expect that we would have a similar EOFY. Some sources suggest that our reverse seasons compared to the Northern Hemisphere mean more Australians are on holiday in January and at work in the winter months. I’m not a Mythbuster, so I’ll just say that is plausible.

In my patch of the recruitment world, financial services, three out of four major Australian banks have changed to 30 September as their EOFY. Most other financial services organisations that I work with ie. industry superannuation funds, fund managers, smaller banks, investment consultants and private wealth managers, use 30 June as EOFY.

What I’ve seen in the last few months is lots of strategic planning for next financial year and establishment of budgets. Generally I’d say recruitment intentions are quite positive.

For many of us EOFY is a busy time, trying to complete work. Now is a chance for a quick spot of reflection and strategy refinement: What worked, what didn’t and how can we improve?

OK reflection done, there’s calls to be made!

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The changing face of the CEO

You may think you know what a CEO looks like – those of us who regularly work with senior people in other organisations or at a strategic level within our own – can picture some of the qualities common to those individuals who have been successful in business leadership roles. Yet it strikes me as an executive recruitment consultant who is regularly engaged in the hiring process for C-Suite roles, how the expectations for a CEO’s capability has changed in recent years.

Of course there are underlying leadership behaviours that have not changed: setting the vision, developing a daily dialogue, being clear about expectations… What I’m really talking about is the changing marketplace of the consumer – customer behaviour is forcing companies to do things differently, while evolving work styles have put pressure on CEOs to alter their tack.

Looking at trends in the C-Suite over the last 20 years, PWC reports, “Another interesting trend is that disruption is increasingly prompting boards to turn to external hires, rather than internal candidates, to fill CEO positions. They hope to capitalise on the experience and skills that these individuals bring from another organisation, or even another sector.”

While that’s good news for those of us in the recruitment business, it’s a timely reminder of the need to constantly reassess our hiring practices. Here is a sample of the types of questions that are (or should be) on the table, from my recent discussions with selection panels for senior hires:

  • Can this person build relationships with stakeholders to prioritise our key objectives for the next 12 months?
  • What digital, social media and other technology capability can this person bring to the role?
  • What exposure has this person had to gender equality and other diversity initiatives when acquiring talent and team building?
  • What global network do they have to drive capability within the organisation?
  • What recent experience does this person have in engaging, managing and motivating a high performing team?
  • How much does this person know about modern performance management processes?

In the current market, intangible qualities are increasingly highly valued. As organisational culture expert John Burdett reminded me in a seminar I attended earlier this year, successful CEOs need to be effective communicators. They must be authentic, engage the whole organisation in a meaningful way, not just report at Board level. They are storytellers who can articulate how things will be achieved in detail – jargon old or new, simply won’t cut it. Enthusiasm for the job and a sense of humour won’t go astray either.

What changes have you observed in the face of senior leadership in recent years in your world @work?

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Daniel Goleman explains why Eco-intelligence is a thing

There’s EQ, there’s IQ, and now there’s Eco Intelligence. Except the ‘now’ is 10 years old and I’m late to the party.

How did I even hear about this? A few weeks ago, a bunch of us were rabbiting on about the relative EQ and IQ of a recent senior appointment, and our visiting international expert added, “And of course you’d have taken into account their Eco-Intelligence.

I nodded in zealous agreement, Yes, of course, Eco-Intelligence, at the same time my mind was shooting blanks.

Since then, I’ve done my homework. If like me you didn’t know Eco-intelligence was a thing, then let me bring you up to speed in 2 minutes.

The term, first coined by Daniel Goldman is the title of his 2009 book Ecological Intelligence. It has gained traction through consumer action, apps and websites such as GoodGuide. Where it has still to gain traction is in the hiring of senior managers who can embed eco values and an eco-culture.

Explaining it in his compelling straightforward style, Goleman has a 90 second video that’s worth viewing.

Daniel Goleman Connects Emotional and Ecological Intelligence

Daniel Goleman explains Ecological Intelligence

In it, he explains the rapport we build with other humans is ‘I-to-You’. Or we might fail to build mutual rapport because we use a command and demand approach, which is ‘I-to-It’. And that’s how we can also understand Eco-intelligence. Namely, if we are mindful of our rapport with the earth, respectful and open to giving and taking, then that’s high Eco-Intelligence. If we strip the earth of its potential, command, demand, and show no respect, then that’s low Eco-intelligence.

At a consumer level, Eco Intelligence has been brought to life with Apps and websites such as GoodGuide. GoodGuide’s mission is to provide consumers with the information they need to make better shopping decisions. Consumers can choose products that contain ingredients with fewer health concerns, while it gives retailers and manufacturers compelling incentives to make and sell better products. There are also environmental impact assessment tools too that help corporates and individuals assess their production, distribution and consumption decisions.

How do you create eco values at your world @work, and how do you embed Eco intelligence in your decision making?

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