Last week, NPR ran a piece on the challenges that JC Penney is facing while they shift the way they do business under (relatively) new CEO, Ron Johnson. While listening, it brought to mind some of the factors we often deal with when working with clients, management, and teams to institute new programs, processes and functions. Regardless of vision or how great we believe that change will be in the name of growth or optimization, those growing pains cannot be overlooked in either the planning or the execution.
Regardless of how strong your vision is, the ability to convey that vision to all participants is paramount. In some cases, it even requires that solutions for bypassing participant buy-in should they can not see what the company is trying to do. But, you’ve got to make sure the vision is realistic – and without taking a moment to consider any move from most sides is a recipe for disaster.
In the case of JC Penney, we don’t know how things will play out in the end. But, the NPR report highlights how the regular JC Penney customers were less than thrilled. The environment that was created for those consumers was one that they connected with emotionally – to the point you would think they’ve lost a loved one when talking about how it used to be. Though sales were down 30% in Q4 ’12 from ’11, could that be tied to disgruntled regulars? Or, is it tied to the pains of shifting from one client type to another? By reading the comments below the NPR report, you can see there are enough counter examples pointing to the change being positive for JC Penney.
Recent work with one of my clients has brought the same challenge to light. How do you bring vision, instill new processes and get buy-in from the people who are key to turning those changes into company success. Interestingly, the most important people to get buy-in from are not the C-Levels (though they do give the approval on the spend) – it is the people who will be carrying out these new processes. A broken record comes to mind when thinking about how much communication is required to convey what you are intending to do.
Sometimes the illustration of the new versus the old can offend those who are fine with the way that might not be truly effective – so you can’t just rely on illustrating the benefits in light of the situation they are now in. The element of democracy that is prevalent in the workforce these days requires something akin to a PR campaign just to put those new processes in place. Again, you can have the strongest vision and product in place, but if there’s no buy-in, you’ve wasted time and resources. Even with the installation of automated processes, if there’s a human that needs to interact with that process, you need to negotiate and guide them through those growing pains.
Hopefully, JC Penney and Johnson’s team will be given the leeway to work this transition through. Far too many changes are abandoned at the first glimmer of failure. But as with any challenge, there is a sliver of failure, you’ve just got to push through smartly. Because, ultimately, a smart vision and strategic growth always has growing pains as a byproduct. You’ve just got to guide that pain into profit and not breakage.
Posted in Ruminations
Tagged Business, Campaign, Functions, Growth, JCPenney, NPR, PR, Process, Profit, Programs, Ron Johnson, Shifts, Strategy, Vision, Workforce
If done right, individuals and corporations can tell stories to make anything seem rosier than perhaps they should. The key is that the stories remain true to the core of the “brand.” In the case of Martha Stewart, one can only marvel at how well she does this – especially when she can re-frame a 5 month prison term as an idyllic incarceration instead. This is not meant to be a slam - no matter what you think of the person - we all need to recognize that Stewart is a master of words and delivery. She (and her team) could provide a master class on the art of story-telling and image “maintenance.”
During Stewart’s promotion cycle for her 75th book, “Martha’s Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations,” I caught Linda Wertheimer’s interview with her yesterday on NPR’s Morning Edition and couldn’t help but laugh appreciatively. It was a simple and normal interview until it took a little turn for to the sublime. Wertheimer asked Stewart about a drab Nativity Scene shown in the first chapter of the book about parties at her houses over the course of a year. The following is pulled directly from the transcript:
STEWART: OK, well, it’s kind of a funny story. When I was incarcerated at Alderson in West Virginia for a five-month term, they had a ceramics class. And in the ceramics class was a storage warehouse room where I found all the molds for an entire large Nativity scene. It took me a long time to find each mold. And because I was raised a Catholic, I know the story. I know that…
WERTHEIMER: You know how many there should be.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
STEWART: I know the characters, right. I know the wise men and the camels and all of that. But it’s a big thing. I think there’s about 15 pieces and I was able to purchase enough clay with my monthly stipend. And I forgo – forwent, is that a word, forwent?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
STEWART: I didn’t get a lot of other things that I would’ve liked in that five-month period, because I bought clay instead. And I molded the entire Nativity scene and then I had to figure out how to paint it drab color, ’cause there’s no – there’s – I think there’s six different colors of paint that you could get. But I managed a fashion a drab color and it looks just like Wedgwood.
Frederic Lagrange/Clarkson Potter/Random House
Now how beautifully is that response weaved? It’s even better to listen to it because her delivery adds to the aura. Stewart is great at delivering anecdotes in an authentic way that is harder to achieve than you would think.
Achieving “authentic” is truly an art form. Corporations will sometimes bring out project leads or developers who know everything there is to know about a product – and have immense passion for it. Unfortunately, that mastery is not easily conveyed in front of a crowd, on radio or on video. Sometimes its due to language issues, or nerves, or lack of focus/construct. That lack of focus or construct is one of the biggest barriers to authenticity. Many who work extensively on something or have a strong knowledge base will go to either of two extremes: believing they can shoot from the hip and then they go off course and confuse people; or, writing everything down (perhaps even practicing) and coming across as robotic. Just because an employee has been able to present something numerous times in meetings and presentations, the assumption cannot be made that they are able to achieve that successfuly in all mediums. Either companies should invest in media training for those employees or engage someone who can deliver in all environment to step in where necessary.
The ability to maintain that authentic delivery is key and not something that comes naturally for most. Fortunately for Stewart, it comes across as if it is natural. Certainly, she has had years of experience and has been able to hone her craft, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t marvel at her abilities to make anything seem to be idyllic in any circumstance.
In what is most likely just the tip of the iceberg, last week saw some serious drama play itself out between a mobile tracking company, Carrier IQ, and a security researcher, Trevor Eckhart. The software is used by a number of mobile carriers on a number of mobile phones to track information that the company says help the manufacturers and carriers refine their products. The bad thing is that most consumers have no idea what it is – and because it is tremendously hard to remove the program, its purposes and “spying” or tracking ability makes it that much scarier. It truly poses the question of whether consumers should know what they are getting into with technology or not. What really stinks is when the consumer is not given the choice to opt-out.
Added to the elevated concerns about privacy is the questionable tactics Carrier IQ took after Eckhart originally posted his findings under the name TrevE. He was served with a Cease and Desist order from Carrier IQ and the threat of a lawsuit. Perhaps they could have learned from Forever21′s misfortunes of legal responses and the negative implications they caused in the social stratosphere.
Just using YouTube as non-scientific barometer is quite telling about how big of a hit Carrier IQ (and possibly the carriers and manufacturers) is taking. The video Eckart posted has received over 1.5 million views, but anything the company has posted in response has earned views that are miniscule in comparison. Even the follow-up videos by other outlets announcing both the subsequent cease and desist and the ultimate apology garnered more views than the company’s response. Adding insult to injury, an edited mashup of the company’s response video is getting up there in views.
Now, there is buzz about this around the world and the US government has gotten involved – with Senator Al Franken calling for the same answers the general public is asking for.Whether or not there is anything malicious or unethical in the program and its findings, the fact that the information is being tracked even in relatively unconnected phones and the difficulties in removing the program or just opting out is quite disturbing. Working in the technology business, Carrier IQ should have been ahead of the curve both on the PR side as well as in the option to opt-out. To have a force quit button that does nothing is unacceptable.
Quite honestly, I had seen the App listed in my phone as HTC IQAgent when I was trying to figure out why my phone is saying it’s always at capacity. Perhaps I stupidly trusted it because it had the name HTC in front of it. The whole event causes me to trust HTC even less. I wish I knew what HTC programs were truly for my benefit and which were not. Perhaps it is time to switch to another model and even another carrier. If HTC really wanted to see what issues I was having, they could contact me and allow me to tell them what the problem is. At this point, I don’t believe that the program is just there to help fix issues automatically without bothering us as the stickiness, battery and storage issues I have been having for months still occur.
I do not plan to drop my phone in water as some YouTube vides suggest, but I definitely have more questions that I want answered and Eckhart’s 4 questions at the end of his video really only touch the surface. The time for arrogance by technologists and companies when it comes to privacy and tracking has got to be curbed – or those scary things we saw in movies and wrote them off as science fiction will become all too real…
Posted in Ruminations
Tagged Al Franken, Carrier IQ, Consumers, HTC, Management, Mobile, PR, Privacy, Tevor Eckhart, TrevE, YouTube