The top 3 mistakes and opportunities for corporate consultants

In my last couple of blog posts, I’ve been exploring the future of work and future of procurement (how big businesses source and negotiate contracts with 3rd party suppliers and consultants) and the opportunities for consultants to obtain lucrative contracts in the future global economy.

Carrying on with the subject of sourcing and procurement, I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Ed Johnston, former VP of Sourcing and Sustainability at Canadian Tire Corp.

ed johnsonAbout Ed: Ed is a Retail Merchandising and International Responsible Sourcing Consultant, sought out for his expertise in the end-to-end retail value chain. He is also Board Member and Chair of the Finance Committee for the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety and Board Member and Chair of the Corporate Standards Committee for TFO Canada.

Ed gave me some in-depth insights about the future of sourcing and the future of business and trade from his retail industry perspective. He also provided his top 3 telling mistakes consultants make when trying to do business with large retail organizations as well as their 3 biggest opportunities.

First, a little background (and excerpt from my interview with Ed).

How globalization, technology and talent are changing the business landscape

There will always be trade in our world, the art and science of buying and selling. What will constantly change, however is the 5 Ws (what, who, where, when…) and the How. In terms of “where”, globalization continues to play a big role in how retailers continually seek competitive advantage and explore new countries to source from and how they engage with vendors.  Globalization also impacts the social-cultural landscape in that it’s making developing countries better because they need to improve conditions in-country to win/retain retail contracts and build manufacturing businesses.

One key challenge that large retail organizations are facing, is that since they are outsourcing manufacturing from outside countries, and in an increasing age of transparency, they need to keep a “watchful eye” on best practices in order to protect their brand through managing quality inclusive of corporate social and environmental integrity.

In fact, this is an opportune area where consultants can help companies create win-win situations that embrace diverse outsourcing strategies. By helping suppliers keep abreast of their extended workforce conditions—as they pertain to human factors such as fair wages and safety—retailers can uphold a strong reputation through transparency while functioning as a cohesive whole.

On the technology front, products and services will change as companies engage with customers and their evolving needs and wants in the digital era. The successful retailers (and other organizations) of the future must continually innovate in order to stay competitive. For example, organizations in the Department Store sector, must find new ways to engage with their customers and sell their products on-line otherwise risk losing to the newer digital leaders (known as the Amazon or Wayfair factor!)

Corporations must smartly use data and analytics and speed to their competitive advantage in terms of translating the voice of consumer into products and services. At the same time, encouraging people to weigh in on marketable ideas is also a good move. Canvassing employees, for instance, particularly digitally-oriented Millennials, is vital to innovation while embracing this “socially-purposeful” generation.

On the talent front, keeping up and ahead of what roles are required to lead in their industry, i.e. managing and integrating both traditional retail and new digital retail functions, is critical. There is also a big opportunity to create a culture of change and innovation where role changes, redeployment and retraining of talent, are seen as a positive and inspiring.

As corporations navigate the sweeping digital changes in an increasingly stringent regulatory and evolving investor environment, they are being forced to become more transparent, take more ownership of what they’re doing, and embrace the diversity of a multi-generational workforce.

This is an exciting juncture where consultants can become known as trusted advisors for companies and leaders who are busy trying to balance these crucial areas of the business. But consultants, too, have to ensure they develop their own set of best practices that can quickly align with the multi-layered needs corporations have or risk not getting the gig, or worse, a bad reputation for sub-par performance.

Following are the 3 biggest mistakes Ed has seen consultants make when he was an executive in Retail:

  1. Not quickly learning their client/customer’s value chain and related organizational structure as a way to understand integration points and areas of greatest pain and highest value.
  2. Not working at the right levels in the organization to ensure solutions can be adopted and implemented, i.e. starting with the right top leadership to understand highest issues and priorities.
  3. Not offering a simple practical roadmap on how to implement turnkey solutions and help overcome complexity and organizational silos.

Following are the 3 biggest opportunities that Ed envisions for consultants who want to work with retailers:

  1. Retail Human Resources (Talent component): help employee development along with retention/attrition and employee turnover – focus on retailers brand to attract millennial talent through top universities,
  2. Technology & Data (Smart data): understand what it means for organizations to integrate and enable analytics and increase the speed of decision-making,
  3. Vendor focus: Think and act like a manufacturer as part of bringing the value chain closer, i.e. Home Depot recruited senior leaders of manufacturing to be their merchants, talent that has a comprehensive understanding and may have lived on factory floor.

Consultants need to be seen as reliable, flexible, engaged and highly-experienced problem-solvers. They must encourage organizations they consult with to move with urgency and speed because of the accelerated pace of change, i.e. adoption of digital is vital to a company’s success. They also need to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to key performance indicators, industry trends, regulations, and what the “hot new roles” are.

In essence, consultants must work and “think” like an organization and its top leaders while maintaining an objective perspective so they can advise accordingly. By truly understanding an organization’s goals, its operating structure and what it needs to survive in the digital era, consultants can make a name for themselves while becoming the solution provider of choice.

For more on Ed’s background and experience, please visit his profile on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ed-johnston/

To learn more from Ed, you can register for our upcoming Trailblazer Forum where Ed will be on a panel of experts discussing the topic of how consultants “can land the big corporate fish”.

Please share your comments below about your experience with procurement and the impact of technology on business.

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