Retail organizations today — especially those set up with more traditional structures, hiring and employment — are challenged with understanding how to foster digital innovation. In a keynote presentation at the Retail Innovation Conference, Luke Chatelain, VP of Innovation for West Elm, shared best practices for how retail leaders can tackle technological change successfully. For Chatelain, there are two noteworthy points:
1. The methods retailers use to build technology are outdated. “Things that worked a decade ago, now don’t work on an app, mobile or web,” he said.
2. The talent that supports these old methodologies is outdated. “The way the talent has been allocated or set up to do their job doesn’t work the way forward-thinking companies need to build quality digital technology and do digital innovation,” he added.
Chatelain went on to spotlight three things retailers can do:
1. Update how we think about building technology
“Secondly, when you have an IT group taking orders, they turn into mercenaries,” Chatelain added. “They don’t really care about what they build; they just care to get it out on time. We need to create missionaries: People who live to serve customers and support what the organization is trying to do. Lastly, in a marketing-led IT org, IT just gathers a bunch of requirements, usually from a committee. With product thinking, the goal of product is to discover what needs to be built.”
2. Move from outputs to outcomes
“This means instead of delivering things on time and calling them a win, deliver things that drive value to the organization,” said Chatelain. “I don’t care about timelines; I want us to get to the outcome quicker. That means getting products and digital experiences out in front of our users as quickly as possible so we can understand if this is something that is of value for our customers, and of value to West Elm’s brand.”
3. Create an environment where the right people can thrive
“I think that this is one of the more challenging ones,” noted Chatelain. “We have to address another core problem, which is retail traditionally is bad at attracting and hiring the right type of talent.”
Chatelain shared three tips on how to attract quality tech talent:
- Shift to the product methodology: “You don’t have to physically do it today. It’s about shifting the mentality.”
- Provide people with interesting challenges: “The idea of throwing a bunch of stuff at IT and making them build things is not an interesting challenge. Someone who is passionate about building quality technology and user experiences isn’t going to just come in and be told exactly what to do and do that.”
- Empower people to solve real business challenges: Tell people or let people know that by coming to your organization, you’re going to empower them to solve real business challenges. And measure them not on their output or if they delivered things on time, but on the outcomes. Did they deliver something that made you money? Or did they drive a KPI that the organization was focused on, and how did they actually get there?
To learn more from Chatelain, check out his presentation here.