By Trish Young, Partner

I’m pondering a thought and would love to know what others think. I have read a few articles on how consumer goods (CG) companies should start acting more like retailers. This was primarily on how they establish a closer relationships with their consumers and their presence on social media. All good and likely true, however I have a theory in how I wonder if Retailers from an operations sense could actually benefit in acting more like CG organizations. My view is from a people perspective, with employees and even suppliers.

I stumbled across this idea when looking deeper at an article I read about the 10 worst companies to work for in the UK. I got curious and went and did some research to see what kind of employee ratings these companies were getting and why, then started down industry specific research of what kind of ratings retailers were getting. Mostly abysmal. It isn’t a secret that working in retail can be very hard work, but does it have to breed unhappiness? How could we make it better?

I ‘grew up’ in CG having worked in manufacturing and across the supply chain for electronics and food goods early in my career. This was also hard work, but I remember those days incredibly fondly and often yearn to go back. What was different? This got me to start looking at employee ratings for CG companies. I couldn’t find a single one that was below 3 of 5 overall stars. I kept searching as this intrigued me. Nothing. All CPG companies of scale that I could think of in EU were solidly rated by employees and well recommended to peers. Confidence in leadership and strategy, check! Work/life balance and development opportunities, check! Well that rang true of my experience too… but why?

CG life still consists of shift work, overtime, long days and a great amount of stress to meet performance expectations. Sometimes it is grubby and workplace environments are not always ideal. But, expectations are almost always clear. Hmm, maybe that is it. That reminded me of some other research I did for a BRC article about how one of the biggest sources of unhappiness for employees in the workplace is ambiguity about role. Do these relate? If an employee or supplier does not know their role or how to be successful, does it create such an unhappiness that it magnifies the less glamorous aspects? Maybe retail employees don’t really have it any better, it just feels like they do because they don’t know when they are winning and don’t feel they can change the score?

I like to know how to win. I like to know the rules, the success criteria, and the reward if I pass it. I learned that in board games and playing sports growing up. Yes, I am competitive, but not overly so. I like all of us to win (well, unless we are playing Mario Kart – then move out of my way). I enhanced this behavior in my time in CG. When we won and surmounted obstacles, it was amazing. As an Operations Manager, I got to stand on a national stage and receive awards for my teams as we were the best in the country at what we did through dedication to continuous improvement every day, every hour. Moments I will never forget.

When I moved into IT and retail, I often felt frustrated because success became harder to identify and track. Sure, there were still great moments of winning together, but they were long and far between and inconsistent. Where were my regular KPI’s and my balanced scorecards? Where were my daily/weekly/monthly efficiency reports? How would I know if I was winning every day?? My poor consulting teams over the years got to put up with this as I put in place monthly scorecards and practice reviews – any reading this will now understand where that came from! I wanted us to know if we were winning, and for us to know when we needed to change the score, together.

I wonder if other employees and suppliers feel the same when they work with and for retailers. Business intelligence (reporting) and data are much more sparsely distributed and definitions of success in the form of scorecards with continuous improvement plans and champions are rare. What if they weren’t? What if employees from each branch saw how they, their team, their department and their branch were performing when ranked against others? I wonder how retail suppliers would react if they saw they were amber on a supplier scorecard? If planners could see their forecast improvement numbers on a regular basis as compared with all the others, and even benchmarked with the industry? Imagine the world of possibilities in positive enforcement and opening the doors to process improvement as a nature of what people do every single day. Ah, yes, this is the part of CG I miss. Knowing the score, and knowing every day I could make it better. The sense of accomplishment and spirit of CG was deep.

Maybe, just maybe, retail could take a page out of their operations handbook and trade across the table with CG companies in this case? I know some retailers where this is happening and I do see results from it, especially with supplier scorecards. Agile teams and continuous improvement squads are other areas that seem to work. It is similarly interesting when I see an executive switch from CG into retail and watch them wonder what they just walked into. For many it feels like chaos, lack of control and disorder. I understand that feeling. When you go from regiment to fluidity, it is a tough transition. But I grow convinced that somewhere in the middle is workplace engagement and performance nirvana.

What do you think? Any stories or thoughts that add or challenge my theory?