Disrupting Retail: What Will Happen?

What do you do when you’re “marked” for execution? You can either adapt – and possibly live for another day – or find ways to significantly change the game. Unfortunately, in the retail business, most of the disruption is taking place by the disrupter itself, and not those marked for extinction.

Several years ago the Bespoke Investment Group, created a listed of companies which it believed were marked for “Death By Amazon” (AMZN)  and created an index of these stocks. It includes such swell known companies as Best Buy (BBY), Barnes & Noble (BKS), Wal-Mart Stores (WMT), and Macy’s (M). As we noted in my classes this week (I teach business strategy for CUNY), several additional companies recently announced closings of physical stores  – including the entire chain (e.g., Bebe, Payless, Radio Shack). As I understand it, the projection is for over 8000 retail stores being closed this year about four times last year’s number.

So the challenge is how to change the retail model.  Many companies are looking to integrate e-commerce into its operation – as the proposed $300M purchase of men’s clothier Bonobos would do for Walmart. Target and other bigger stores are working on shrinking their stores to increase productivity and profit per square foot. Many are adapting customer-friendly  practices to optimize the number of customers still using their stores; omnibus marketing strategies, collaborating with manufacturers to improve margins and cut costs, embracing social issues that customers care about, and increasing end-customer personalization. Whether these will result in long-term success remains to be seen.

The final challenge is who can do it better and faster. Will these individual and/or cumulative changes enable the retail stores to reverse their sales and profits slide, or will Amazon, with its potentially transformative approaches to retail (e.g., Amazon Go) give it a competitive advantage.  For people with creative new ideas on how to transform purchasing and selling practices that integrate online and physical shopping, these can be exciting times.  What are your ideas?

Create a Culture of Execution

The hardest part of strategy is execution. To implement a strategy, people need to change their behaviors and/or values and consistently act in support of the strategic priorities. In other words, you need to create a culture of execution to support individual’s implementation strategies. Recently, I was asked to contrast two approaches to execution, and realized that both “operating systems” complement each other very well.

The 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX) is a new and popular approach to achieving corporate goals. Developed by three consultants, Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling, it’s founded on the premise that the greatest distraction to adopting new goals is the need to cope with the “whirlwind” of activities and responsibilities of ongoing activities. Thus, the four disciplines are:

  1. Focus on the Wildly Important Goals (WIGs). Since the whirlwind keeps you from doing all the things you might want to do, focus on a few WIGs and leverage their achievement to accomplish more.  o
  2. Act on Lead Measures. All actions aren’t equal; therefore focus your energies on those that lead to the goals (e.g., prospecting leads to sales presentations which leads to closing sales), rather than lag indicators which report on the final result (e.g., total sales).
  3. Keep a Compelling Scorecard. People need to see how they are doing to stay engaged in achieving a goal. Create a scorecard to give them feedback on how they are doing.
  4. Create a Cadence of Accountability, which means hold people accountable for the actions they commit to do by reviewing progress regularly, such as at brief weekly meetings. Otherwise, you’ll get be distracted by the normal whirlwind of activities, and use that as an excuse for missing the goals.

Evaluate To Win was developed by a CEO (Lee Benson) who wanted to increase the extent to which all employees focus on and achieve corporate strategic priorities. Articulating corporate strategy isn’t enough; effective execution only takes place when corporate values and goals are translated into specific employee behaviors that can be measured, and when reviewed, used for spur continuous improvement.

The heart of ETW is a computer based tool used by managers and their employees to identify, create scoring criteria, measure achievement (e.g., 1-10 scale) monitor and evaluate improvement over time when it comes to those things that will:

  • Increase alignment with the company’s value system and mission
  • Improve employees’ performance in taking actions which will achieve the strategic priorities
  • Enhance leaders’ skills in getting people to focus on and achieve the strategic priorities

Each manager-employee identifies the best criteria and scoring system for evaluating employee’s actions. Progress is monitored regularly (e.g., monthly, quarterly, annually), so each employee knows what’s necessary for improvement, and then reset the scoring system. Since data are computerized, it provides senior management with benchmarks for judging teams and people for future job positions.

The result has been six consecutive years of 20%+ plus growth. Jack Welch (former GE CEO) endorsed the system, and Lee decided to make it available to others. (

4DX focuses on implementing new strategic priorities (WIGs) management wants the company to achieve, in the face of the whirlwind; ETW focuses on ongoing day-to-day execution of strategic priorities whether they are new or ongoing. But from there, they share similar perspectives of what’s necessary to execute effectively:

  • Both with senior management identifying the strategic priorities of the company and articulating what behaviors will be needed to achieve the goals.
  • Both require that the employee’s behaviors (lead indicators) that produce desired consequences be identified and criteria and a scoring system for measuring them..
  • Both recognize the importance of constant communication for accountability and improvement( 4DX has weekly meetings; ETW has formal reviews and projections of changes needed in the future which are documented.)

What’s your biggest challenge with execution? Is it introducing a new set of strategic priorities while maintaining the business? Is it getting everyone from top to bottom, focused on how they can improve on meeting the strategic priorities and adhering to the corporate values?  Share your experiences with us?

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