The greatest challenge facing the use of a new “Best Practice” is … successfully implementing it in the field.
Whether you are developing a new “Best Practice” approach to update an existing process, or you are introducing an entirely new process, you will face the daunting task of transferring the finalized program to the field. As most store operations veterans know, the successful transfer of a large initiative is by far the most difficult part of the entire challenge. In retrospect, most store executives will admit the initial process development and testing were simple when compared to the effort required to properly install those changes in the stores.
Despite retailers’ best intentions, many of the transfer programs attempted are less than effective. Most operations executives regretfully admit that they have had more than their share of incomplete or totally ineffective transfer efforts. Even worse, some of the transfer efforts are so poorly conceived that they make a second attempt far more difficult than the first, as the field is jaded and poised to thwart the next attempt.
Observations of this phenomenon over the years have indicated repeating patterns of transfer efforts that were less than successful. Many of these mediocre efforts displayed the following related characteristics that negatively affected the transfer process:
- Leaders of the change were influenced by everyday pressures of their jobs and there was insufficient time to focus on new processes
- More experienced staff were needed in the field to properly train the store associates on the new processes
- Little or no change management expertise and direction was employed during the planning and execution of the transfer effort
- Due to a late start, insufficient time existed to manage the transfer process correctly before the Christmas season, and the ensuing rush overshadowed the transfer effort
- Other major initiatives were in place at the time of the transfer, and those initiatives took precedence
- The “Project of the Month” syndrome kept the field from believing that this process was important like the many other programs that preceded the transfer
- Not enough management support and focus was given and management attention to other activities drew the attention of the associates away, substantially weakening the transfer process
So how can you accomplish a successful transfer Process? Despite the fact that transferring a new process or a combination of process changes is a big task, operations management can significantly increase the odds of making their programs more successful by using the following recommendations:
- Ensure your new processes are properly tested in model stores and you have a few “cheerleaders” you can count on to vouch for proven benefits
- Build upper management awareness and support before you start the rollout to the field
- Select your initial transfer locations carefully. If the new processes don’t take hold properly in these early transfer stores, latter locations may resist the changes
- Never underestimate the need for training and we recommend that most initial training estimates be doubled
- Don’t try to transfer to too many stores at once. The following graphic depicts a “cascade style” rollout technique that has proven to be one of, if not the best, methodology to transfer new processes to stores.
- Organizational cultures are stronger than one executive or even an entire department. Assess your culture to determine how the characteristics of your culture will most likely affect the transfer of the new processes, and take proactive steps to amplify the positive aspects and counter the anticipated negative influences
- Ensure you have enough staff in the field to properly train and support/visit all the locations undergoing change. Most retailers write new procedures or make a video to describe desired changes, regardless of how important they are. Almost all these organizations will tell you that using that approach just doesn’t work. Despite the financial leverage afforded by media and e-training, these techniques alone are not enough
- Manage the number of changes being rolled out at one time. Major process changes that occur monthly will overwhelm the stores. Carefully sequence your process change rollouts, and group changes together, permitting more time on one big transfer effort versus multiple smaller ones
- Avoid transferring during the Christmas season. Ideally, most transfer efforts should be started in late January or early February, and should work through the summer – ending in late September. If you don’t have all of your process changes rolled out by that time, wait until next year to resume
- Celebrate your early successes. Communicate the early “good news” to all of your stores so they will have a more positive expectation of results before they are slated for introduction of the desired changes
- Expect that 15% of your stores will readily adopt the changes, 70% will need a little hand-holding (but will eventually be on-board), and 15% will resist the changes (either actively or passively)
- Employ quantitative metrics to properly measure the impact of the changes being rolled out. These also go a long way toward documenting the value of the new processes