Podcast

Three ways brands can navigate changes in the c-suite

One common concern among brands attending the 2020 Global Pet Expo are the staggering rates of CEO and CMO turnover. Changes in the c-suite of national retailers can wreak havoc in an organization and brands can find it difficult to navigate changes after they have made plans and built up momentum with a previous team. In this podcast, Kristin Demel, retail strategist at Callahan, outlines three ways brands can navigate changes in the c-suite:

  1. View the glass as half-full – see working with a new team as an opportunity
  2. Let data be your historian – make sure you have the right data and right insights to inform strategy
  3. Let your experience be a benefit to you, not baggage

Learn more about these three ways to navigate change and be a contributor to the retail strategy success.

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Welcome to Callahan’s Uncovering Aha! podcast. We talk about a range of topics for marketing decision-makers, with a special focus on how to uncover insights in data to drive brand strategy and inspire creativity. Featuring Kristin Demel and Jan-Eric Anderson.

Jan-Eric:
Hi, I’m Jan-Eric Anderson, chief strategy officer at Callahan.

Kristin:
Hi, I’m Kristin Demel, retail strategy director at Callahan.

Jan-Eric:
Kristin, thanks for joining on the podcast today. So today’s topic is going to be a topic of change and it seems like it’s a relevant thing to be talking about. Everything’s always changing. It’s certainly a timeless topic and things that we can, something we can always be talking about and change comes in many forms.

Jan-Eric:
Today’s topic of change though that I really want to hone in on and pick your brain on is the type of change when there is turnover within an organization or key personnel or key people leave an organization. And there’s turnover, say it’s in the chief marketing officer or the CEO role, a VP of marketing role, those types of things.

Jan-Eric:
And I think this is a relevant topic. We’ve had a couple of conversations, but certainly as we look at our own clients at Callahan, we’ve seen a significant amount of change in key client personnel or key roles that the people, the turnover has been pretty significant over the last year. And then even in this new year in 2020 we’re a couple months in, we’ve seen quite a bit of turnover. And I know that you then kind of took that and ran with it to say, well, is this an anomaly to what we’re experiencing? Is this a bigger thing? So what did you find?

Kristin:
Yeah, I had been hearing a lot of rumblings about leadership changeovers, but I was reading an article from Retail Dive that said 2019 had the highest number of CEO exits and the next highest year was 2008. And we all know the financial situation we were in as a country in 2008 2009 and so for 2019 to have that rate of CEO turnovers. It’s pretty staggering.

Kristin:
And then when you think about what happens after a CEO turnover, you start to see that trickle down into the rest of the C-suite down into the SVP VP level. I’ve read a recent article also that says that CMOs now are starting to have that next high rate of turnover coming off the year of 2019.

Jan-Eric:
Yeah. Change ends up kind of wreaking havoc in an organization for a period of time after that. Right? Especially if it’s a significant change such as a CEO change. A new CMO, or CEO rather, she’s going to come in and maybe want to restructure a team around who she knows, right? Or who she trusts and who she wants to bring in.

Jan-Eric:
It’s not always the case, but sometimes CEO changes are due to bad performance within an organization. A business performance is not where it, where a board expected it to be. So it could be that there was change made seeking better performance. In that case, typically, a CEO is going to come in and make changes across the C-suite to make sure that there’s kind of a shuffle up with the team, right? To get the right people in place. So that’s sort of would be expected that you would continue to see those changes kind of trickle throughout the C-suite. Right? Trying to find a team that’s like-minded to what the CEO is trying to accomplish.

Kristin:
Yeah. Typically, with a new CEO comes either a revised or a totally different strategy as it relates to the business. And then that’s where the evaluation of the rest of that team starts to come into play. Is this team that I have inherited going to get me to next level and going to achieve the strategy and objectives that ultimately we owe to our stakeholders as a company.

Jan-Eric:
Yeah. A good CEO is going to come in and probably come in with an open mind to say, Hey let’s make sure that, let’s give everybody a fair chance. Let’s evaluate who we’re dealing with here and are the people in place the right cast members for what we’re trying to, what we’re trying to accomplish and what the vision is that this CEO has?

Jan-Eric:
But man, when change like that happens, it can create quite a bit of stress, right? And there’s plenty of documentation around how the havoc that change creates for people in our professional lives as well as in our personal lives. It’s difficult to navigate changes, at times. So I would imagine it can become a bigger distraction.

Jan-Eric:
But you were also recently at an industry event and this topic came up as well. Kind of serendipitously, I guess, you heard about this theme was coming back, right? So where were you and what were you hearing?

Kristin:
Yeah, so I was at Global Pet Expo, which is a pet industry trade show. There are two large pet trade shows a year. This is the first of the year down in Orlando. And tying with the theme that we’ve seen with our clients and the theme that we’ve read in articles about leadership change, the pet industry has not been shielded from that.

Kristin:
There’s been a lot of leadership changes happening in a couple of the key retailers, which trickles and impacts the brands, the manufacturers, even the teams on those retailers. So I heard every conversation I was in was questioning what I’d heard about the changes, giving me their perspective on it and wanting to understand a little bit of what this change could mean to their role.

Jan-Eric:
Interesting. So the predominant theme was change the, or changing people. So there’s a new person in a key role that’s different than probably, Whoa. I guess I should ask. I’m assuming. Is that different than what the normal topics are you would be hearing? The big themes that you’d normally be hearing is this an omnipresent kind of thing?

Kristin:
Yeah. Normally, I would be hearing things like, “Did you check out the new product? Did you see this new vendor booth? Do you think that’s going to be infringing on my consumer, my shelf space? What are your thoughts on private label and how should I work with private label either with it, can I fight against it as a national brand?” So yes, very different conversations that I had this year.

Jan-Eric:
Those are probably pretty expected and traditional recurring kinds of topics. But those have all been, are playing second fiddle today to change in personnel.

Jan-Eric:
So what do you tell somebody? If you’re in a role as a retail strategist and you’re talking to somebody who’s trying to navigate this type of change, what types of tips or advice would you give to somebody who is facing this kind of situation?

Kristin:
So I’ve got three pieces of advice. These are not going to be revolutionary. These are not things that probably no one else has thought about. But I would really just like to bring them top of mind as everyone’s dealing with change in the industry.

Kristin:
The first thing I would say is let’s be glass half full. This is an opportunity. There’s a new leadership team that doesn’t know your brand, that doesn’t necessarily know the history, but probably has some passion for the business. Think about the first time that you were working the business that you’re on today, how excited were you? You were probably thinking outside the box. You were ready to try something new. You were ready to really take this business to the next level. So as a brand, this is a great opportunity for you to get in on that excitement, help educate them on the history, help educate them on opportunities, and really grow a strong partnership.

Jan-Eric:
Yeah, they say change can be good. I think that’s kind of what you’re speaking to you, right? So I think about how we navigate that, even within the agency when there is a change like this, you can turn it into an opportunity to recharge your battery and get excited about the business again and maybe even check some bad habits at the door and kind of renew your vows, if you will, toward wanting to charge up the hill to do that. So that is a great one. Change can be good. So try to find the opportunity.

Jan-Eric:
What else?

Kristin:
I did hear a lot from the brands and manufacturers that, they get frustrated because they might lose traction. We were just on this great role with this leader and we had built up all this momentum. We had these things planned to hit either late 2020 early 2021 and now it feels at jeopardy.

Kristin:
And so what I would say for tip number 2 is let data be your historian. So as you’re approaching this new leadership, do you have the right data to inform and drive the strategy? Do you have the consumer insights to educate them on how your consumer is behaving? Why are they making the purchase choices that they’re making? And ultimately, if you have the data and you have the consumer insights, that’s going to give you a leg up on making sure that the initiatives that you had planned, the products that you had thought would hit shelves, would continue to hit shelves.

Jan-Eric:
Yeah. And perhaps it’s opportunity to tighten your story as well, right? So if you’ve gained the momentum, you can understand what has worked for you in the past to get that momentum going on that story. But if you feel like you’ve got to start over now, you don’t have to start over. You’ve got the data as your friend to help to push initiatives to create the types of projects or progress you were pursuing at that time. But it’s an opportunity really to kind of fill in the gaps and try to make it a better story.

Kristin:
For sure. It’s not easy though, because you do, to your point, you have to tighten that story. You have to make sure you play devil’s advocate in your data and make sure that you don’t have a one-sided story that just moves your brand forward. Really be the category captain.

Jan-Eric:
Yeah. This is a really good tip because somebody who is fresh to the business will, and it’s certainly relatable if you, when you’ve changed jobs, sometimes it gets referred to as the honeymoon phase, right? Where you’ve got about, well I guess it kind of depends on the environment you’re going into. You may have six weeks to six months to just wreck things. Ask the dumb obvious questions. You can play dumb and ask a challenge assumptions and things that everybody in the room already just automatically knows that sometimes those things aren’t substantiated.

Jan-Eric:
Myths can be repeated enough times and then they become fact. And that can happen within organizations. And so this is really a good time to step back and say, Hey, if I can embrace data and facts as my friend, I can tighten my story. And actually, in the process you’re probably going to build your own brand. I’m talking about as an individual, you’re building your own brand and building credibility within the organization by being able to kind of tighten your story.

Kristin:
100%. Data is not just your historian, but to your point, it’s your MythBuster. And really becomes, hey, let’s all level set on the data and what we know to be true so that we can figure out how best to win moving forward together.

Jan-Eric:
Yeah, and there’s probably some, what would be the right word for it, some relief that comes from some honesty, some real honest conversations about stuff that you know and that you don’t know.

Jan-Eric:
And again, it may actually be a form of relief to be able to say, we don’t know who our core target is. It’s a gap in our knowledge. Whereas you may not have felt the freedom to say that before because you’ve been in an organization long enough. Well, hey, if you use it, if you look around and say, we don’t really know who our core target is, and a new CEO who is worth her salary, she’s going to pick a hole in this and she’s going to expose the truth pretty quick.

Jan-Eric:
So it’s probably better to acknowledge the gaps and be honest. And that can be very refreshing actually, to not have to carry the burden of kind of faking it as you’re going through it. So that’s a great one.

Jan-Eric:
So you said you had three, I think? Three tips. So what’s the last one?

Kristin:
So my last one is just some watch outs. As a brand, you likely have more tenure in the business than the new leadership that you’re working with. So let your experience be a benefit to you and don’t let it become baggage.

Kristin:
When you work with, when you’re a buyer or a new executive on retail and you work with brands that had been in this space for a long time, it’s really easy to hear from them, “Well, we’ve tried that before” or “That won’t work because we did this back in…” insert miscellaneous year here. And-

Jan-Eric:
We’ve all heard that. Oh my gosh.

Kristin:
While there is some truth there, I think as a brand examine why you think it won’t work because the consumer is changing every day. The retail landscape and what it takes to compete is changing. And so is the idea not going to resonate because it’s just counter to everything going on from a consumer behavior perspective in the category? Or when you tried it was the timing not right, was it not executed correctly?

Kristin:
So think about how you engage with this leadership, how you work with them on their passion for their new ideas, and don’t bring baggage to the table. Be open-minded and ready to try new things or try old things in a new way.

Jan-Eric:
His baggage can be weighing you down, but then it can also weigh down other people. If someone has come in and is ready to charge up the hill, is ready to put a lot of passion and energy and effort toward improving the business and driving the business forward. Nothing kills that energy more than someone who is going to say, ‘yeah, but,’

Jan-Eric:
So my dad always used to say, “There’s two kinds of people. There are people who will say, ‘yes, and’ and there are the type of people that say, ‘yeah, but,’ and ‘yeah, but’ will suck the air out of the room. And baggage translates into, ‘yeah, but’. There is always a reason not to do things. We’ve already tried that. Tell me more about. Here’s a different way to say something. When you say, “Yeah, we already tried that. And here’s what we learned that we would not want to repeat.”

Kristin:
This is what the data says about how this worked, didn’t work, or how it could be improved upon.

Jan-Eric:
And I have some assumptions about what drove those results, but I don’t know for a fact. But here is how we might have approached it differently knowing what we know now versus what we knew then. And that right there is a way that to manage your baggage and actually turn your baggage into useful experience and knowledge without sucking all the energy out of your new leadership or your new element, the new factor that you have in the room.

Kristin:
And look, I get it. I was in retail for 13 years. The number of CEOs, CMOs, merchandising executives, VPs that I as a buying director had to kind of live through, navigate or communicate that change to my branded partners. I get it.

Kristin:
There is a lot of change out there, but what I will say is when I first onboarded in my buying director role at PetSmart, there was a couple of key brands that stepped up to the plate. They took me off site, they educated me on the category, they educated me on the history. They approached those conversations with both data and consumer insights, leaving me a smarter and more prepared buyer to lead the strategy. And they continued to be my two main strategic relationships through my entire time there.

Jan-Eric:
Yeah. So I mean, as we’re wrapping up, something that is occurring to me as we’ve been talking about this, there’s also, we’re talking about somebody who is on it, who was an incumbent to the team where there’s a new leadership member now coming in and navigating that change. If we look at this through a lens of empathy and actually think about the new member coming to the team and what their needs are, they want to fit in, they want to contribute. They want to feel like they’re getting caught up and getting smarter on the business.

Kristin:
And they want the business to be successful.

Jan-Eric:
Certainly.

Kristin:
Ultimately, that is going to be the barometer for which they’re measured against

Jan-Eric:
And but, as a human being, they’ve got to have a healthy dose of self confidence and they’ve got to build it up and find it from other sources because they know less than anybody else in the room. I’ve been in this role before where you’re the new person in the room and it can be intimidating. Even though you don’t want to show it. In leadership positions you’re not supposed to be intimidated and you’re supposed to come in and lead, but we’re all human beings. And so as we think about this, think about navigating change also with a dose of empathy toward what that other person’s going through.

Jan-Eric:
If you have a mindset, and going back to your tips, if you go have a mindset of change can be good, find opportunity in the change, tighten your story, which really is about transferring relevant information, and then being a better version of yourself focusing on ‘yes and’ instead of ‘yeah, but’ and checking your own luggage, you’re actually putting that new person in a position to succeed. Which is the ultimate way to navigate change and get everybody, be a contributor to getting on a better path.

Jan-Eric:
Man, I feel like I’ve just improved as a person. I mean, we’ve got to get Kristin, Justin, we’ve got to get Kristin in here more often. I feel like this has been a counseling session for me. Anything else you want to mention about this?

Kristin:
I just always like to remind brands that are listening to this put yourself in a place where your buyer can’t run their business without you. And I think managing change in the ways that we’ve discussed today will definitely help you do that.

Jan-Eric:
This is great. Thanks for all the insight on this. This has been fantastic.

Kristin:
Thanks.

You’ve been listening to the Uncovering Aha! podcast. Callahan provides data savvy strategy and inspired creativity for national consumer brands. Visit us at callahan.agency to learn more.