Whole Foods, and other CG (consumer goods) companies considering technological transformations, should embrace these four approaches to increase their likelihood of success:
1. Go bold, not incremental, in shaping the in-store shopping experience
The ability to enter a grocery store and purchase products using an app on your phone may seem like a futuristic idea, but the introduction of tap-and-go technology at Whole Foods would demonstrate more of an incremental approach to automation and digitization, versus a bold transformation.
Cashierless technology has its advantages: namely, transactions would be faster, easier and more convenient for the shopper.
But what is being lost and given up, as a result? The personal side—the human connection. The cashier who asks about your shopping experience or offers your child a balloon. The stocker who guides you to the correct aisle because you can’t find that last item on your shopping list. The bagger who notices you might need some assistance and helps take your groceries to the car.
As these personal touchpoints fade away, becoming memories of yesterday, and are replaced with slick, automated, efficient and self-directed shopping experiences, we are challenged to envision what ‘going to the store’ will look like beyond cashierless, and more importantly, whether we will even need to go.
Therefore, grocery franchises should first reimagine the in-store shopping experience—with a focus on how technological transformation can be used to attract foot traffic and compete with rising online grocery sales.
This shift toward an experience economy will challenge CG companies to question what experiences will lure shoppers into stores, and which technologies have the greatest potential to keep them there. For example, when a tap-and-go digital application scans a bag of cherries, will it simply add the item to a cart, or will it allow the shopper to see information on the brand of cherries, and how they were sourced?
Will the app suggest recipes, pairings, and adjacent products based on the product that was scanned? Will there be customized dietary plans based off ingredients in the cart, personal health goals, or dietary restrictions? Will there be cooking classes offered to make carefully curated, craft recipes with friends?
Capabilities such as these could enable Whole Foods to provide a customized in-store shopping experience that is memorable and differentiating.
2. See both people and technology as differentiators
Cashierless technology also raises questions, such as, what happens to traditional grocery store roles, like baggers and cashiers, and what new roles might emerge and evolve as CG companies, like Whole Foods, redefine the in-store experience?
Instead of holding transactional positions at checkout counters, employees could fulfill reimagined in-store shopping experiences by providing samples, demonstrating how meals can be prepared and offering customized experiences based on digital shopper profiles. By crafting fresh, original roles that employees want to be in—as opposed to reducing headcount—CG companies could amplify the experiential aspects of grocery shopping, while delivering exceptional service.
The tap-and-go technology would also need an ecosystem of employees working on the back-end of the application to help consumers navigate the app’s interface. Depending on the app’s capabilities, this could translate into a wide array of technology, content, and personalization jobs.
As with any technological transformation, however, the real challenge for CG companies is to help employees see the opportunities ahead and then motivate and prepare them to thrive in their new roles and the new reality.
3. Democratize communications to create a culture of collaboration
I use the word “thrive” because large-scale change often causes fear, anxiety, and anger, throwing employees straight into survive mode. While it’s critical that C-suite leaders anticipate competitive threats and challenges, it’s equally important that they help employees embrace a new future by tapping into their thrive mode. This means helping employees identify personal and collective opportunities for innovation.
When introducing cashierless technology into the workforce, for example, experienced CG leaders should anticipate workers’ anxieties and concerns. If employees are feeling threatened and uncertain about job security and role changes, their primal instinct will be to question, “How is this going to impact me?” or, “Am I going to get fired?”
Instead of using internal communication as a top-down dissemination channel, CG leaders should democratize communications, creating open lines of communication to facilitate dialogue between the C-suite and employees at all levels. By leveling the playing field with clarifying conversations and collaborative messaging instead of message control, leaders can deescalate the negative emotions created by being in survive mode and invite employees to be architects of their own futures.
This sense of ownership can spur employee buy-in, while allowing individuals to imagine themselves in future roles and empowering them to acquire the skills necessary for such a transition.
4. Activate your mission, vision, and strategies with powerful, immediate movements for change
Traditionally, an organization’s mission explains who they are, what they do and what their purpose is; their vision describes where they want to be in the next 10+ years; and their strategy provides a multi-year plan to execute against. When looking to transform, many organizations rely on these three pillars of business strategy to guide meaningful change. While critical in their traditional nature, all three fail to compel the urgency needed for competitive technological transformation.
If Whole Foods were to begin integrating cashierless technology into stores, doing so with speed and agility is critical, as competitors with similar resources and capabilities could quickly follow suit. To take advantage of their first-mover position, Whole Foods would need to create urgency—engaging, aligning and mobilizing their workforce at scale and with speed to accelerate their transformation.
Organizational urgency cannot be created without a clear and immediate reason to act, and just sharing long-term goals will not provide the proper motivation. Leaders must create a movement for change by getting people excited about their mission, vision and strategies. Employees need to see a better future and envision the role they can play in it. Only then will they be inspired to action.
As companies look toward the future, leadership teams must continue to reimagine their go-to-market strategies and help employees embrace the possibilities. With Amazon at the helm, Whole Foods is already well-positioned to lead the CG industry in technological transformation. Whether they seize the opportunity is anyone’s guess. But, in the ever-evolving CG space, change is a given. The companies that succeed will be those that create a sense of urgency and encourage employees to help invent a new future.
Marla Kurz is a principal at Kotter, a leadership and strategy acceleration firm founded by Harvard Business School professor Dr. John Kotter. Marla helps lead strategy execution and transformational change in complex global organizations and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.