Chasing the tail of change management

Change management is a fundamental part of our lives. The accelerating need to manage change is ubiquitous. Global issues such as climate change, COVID-19, consumer health, rapidly developing technology, competitor activity, social media etc. all drive the need for us to manage change.

In some cases, legislation sets the timing (plastics, palm oil, sugar tax, etc.) and in others it might be corporate reputation with the desire to keep ahead of the competition.

This stems from customer demand which may be for:

  • Product sourcing and traceability - local or maybe trusted sourcing for animal welfare reasons (for example halal, the traffic light system and the red tractor mark)
  • Nutritional content (for allergies or for other health reasons)
  • Ethical beliefs (vegan, Fair Trade, environmentally responsible packaging)

but the common theme here is to fully implement the change.

However, it is not just about what we do but how we work with all of our suppliers to do it. To achieve transformation across our whole business or our complete own brand product portfolio requires an inclusive approach, which means including all suppliers.

We understand the phases of change and the psychology of change which helps us to make a very good start with each change. We most often start with our larger suppliers who are geared up to access and supply information and indeed to make changes themselves. But it is that infamous 20% of our products, the ‘tail end’ (which are from a significantly greater percentage of our supply base by number) that present us with the real resource challenge. This need to engage suppliers, at scale and pace. Our smaller suppliers generally require far greater time and effort to provide us with the timely information that we need to reach our 100% compliance. 

So, why is the tail end so much more resource intensive and what can we do? I remember my early personal experiences of change leadership in grocery and my involvement with things like the first horse meat scandal way back in 2003, when we needed fast access to full traceability of suppliers at a time where information systems were just not good enough to quickly trace sources. At that time, we were also initiating local sourcing as a trial within several stores in Cumbria. This added considerably to supplier data challenges (some of our smallest suppliers were operating out of old dairy buildings in Cumbria at that time and had zero connective technology, only non-smart phones). Not only the above, but we were also leading the way by removing confectionary items (beyond a certain level of sugar) from checkouts, which meant we needed to readily know what the sugar content of each item was.

This was my first real exposure to the implications of shortcomings in traceability and the importance of both systems and communication expertise to get it right. It particularly highlighted the need to be able to manage the tail end of change and the crucial need for a way to engage all suppliers.

I am pleased to say that, now, as a Non-Executive Director at S4RB which is led by people who have not only helped organisations that I have previously worked with to achieve the illusive 100% on several occasions. But have moved onto develop more advanced software and processes that have helped many other organisations in the USA, UK and Australia with information compliance reporting (such as tracing sustainable vs. non sustainable palm oil and reducing plastic etc.).

I am proud of the work that S4RB continue to do because it is worthwhile supporting sustainability reporting, as well as necessary. It helps organisations to collate and interpret compliance information quickly and easily using expert systems, skills and knowledge providing the platform for retailers to engage suppliers at pace and scale. Allowing precious retail and manufacturing resource to minimise their involvement and stick to what they are best at. No more chasing the tail!

Penny Coates

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