Back in January of this year, Joe Castaldo published an article through Canadian Business magazine. It has a relatively innocuous title — “The Last Days of Target” — but the sub-title gives you a hint of the content…”The untold tale of Target Canada’s difficult birth, tough life and brutal death”. I didn’t see the article at the time, and I’m not even sure I would have clicked if I had. After all, wasn’t the demise of Target relatively straight-forward?
It seemed so to the casual observer. Towers, K-mart, Woolco, Zellers…all of them went down-market, bottomed out, and couldn’t make it work. Enter Target to try and tread the same path with a hopefully different ending. One more akin to Walmart. I’d been curious about Target when it opened, in the same way I am curious when I see a coffee shop open and close in a location, only to be replaced a few months later by, yes, you guessed it, another coffee shop. Particularly when it isn’t part of a chain that will sustain it through the lean start-up months…somebody else just tried the same thing in the same spot and went bust. Yet here is someone else dreaming their dream, and repeating the same process, options, and outcomes.
When I visited Target, I saw slightly better clothing options than the previous Zellers, prices were good, nothing that stood out in electronics, toys, etc. that said “buy me”. And, while I did buy a few things over time, I did notice a lot of empty shelves at times but far more importantly? Empty stores. No one was shopping there. You could shoot a cannon through the store, just as you could have through most Zellers outlets, particularly the one in the same location previously. Some people said Target would make money off the groceries and household consumables, but that’s not really a draw for me. I like shopping at PC stores or other various grocers. And Shoppers Drug Mart serves me just fine. I wasn’t their prime demographic, true, but I’m not against saving money if the place is reliable.
Yet reading Castaldo’s article is like reading a mix between a Harvard Business Case and a Stephen King horror novel. The errors and screw ups and just complete incompetent management behind the scenes are mind-boggling. Back when I was in university, we did a “practical” strategic analysis on a local recycling company. We were all young business students, wanting to help them plan their strategic future, we were going to help them figure it out, bring our academic excellence to bear. After working with them over a few weeks, it became painfully obvious — their biggest threat was their own operation. They needed to make sure they could get the big doors open at the factory reliably EVERY morning so they get the trucks on the road for pickups, long before they could start thinking, “What’s next?”. And that was our recommendation…forget the future, you got to make sure the doors are open. After reading the article, I’m left with the same reaction — forget all their business acumen, how did they even get the doors open on the first store?
The article is awesome, but here are some of the highlights:
they couldn’t figure out basic distribution from warehouse to the retail stores, and to be able to restock … basic principles stores have been doing for years yet they ended up with extensive empty shelves in stores…it even took them 2 years to figure out that dates for delivery from vendors were being interpreted as shipping dates instead of when they should arrive…2 YEARS????;
choosing SAP to integrate all their systems with a two-year window and not paying enough attention to data integrity (see this excerpt: A team assigned to investigate the problem discovered an astounding number of errors. Product dimensions would be in inches, not centimetres or entered in the wrong order: width by height by length, instead of, say, length by width by height. Sometimes the wrong currency was used. Item descriptions were vague. Important information was missing. There were myriad typos. “You name it, it was wrong,” says a former employee. “It was a disaster.”)…end result? Only 30% accuracy;
registers spit out the wrong change or charged the wrong prices or often times confirmed credit card payments that hadn’t actually gone through;
massively ambitious launch schedules; and,
insanely optimistic sales projections, particularly when they decided not to try and compete on groceries to get people into the store given the level of existing competition on groceries in Canada.
The standard explanations for the scope of the disaster are there…nobody wanted to be the bearer of bad tidings, they tried to make something work with new untested techno systems rather than adjusting working solutions, leaders were not experienced battle-tested problem solvers, over-extension happened before solidifying the basics, a lack of training…the usual suspects. All knowable though.
However, two examples really stood out for me. First, their internal business analysts switched off the “warning” indicators in their software for stock replenishment so that they wouldn’t look bad (not unlike removing the battery in your fire alarm because you don’t like the noise instead of seeing why smoke is filling your house). Second, one week they released their new flyer and every item on the first page was out of stock before the stores even opened that week.
While they fixed a lot of the issues, it was too little too late. Kind of like the classic cliché, they didn’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.
As an aside I love the reference to their decision to use SAP though…that decoding it was like peeling an onion, there were many layers and it made you want to cry.
Hard to believe that a company the size of Target could get SO many things wrong, and some of them pretty basic as well as known pitfalls to avoid.
Some of you probably saw Adam van Koeverden’s post earlier this week on his blog, as many people shared it across Facebook (http://www.vankayak.com/blog/2016/8/12/feminism-in-sport.html). It even got picked up by the Huffington Post, which guaranteed a lot more clicks and sharings.
And when I saw the theme, I really wanted to like it. The basic premise is he had seen an interview between Ron McLean and Adam Kleek on CBC, and in the interview, Kleek had criticised Eugenie Bouchard’s focus at the Olympics. So van Koeverden was writing to take Kleek to task for what he perceived to be sexist commentary, with the backing principle that men should call out men when they do this. It shouldn’t just be women saying, “Hey…..”.
I love the premise. I do. And so I saw the headlines, jumped on the click, started reading, and then faltered. Because as so often is the case with these things, the blog entry makes a few claims that are seem to me to be sweeping generalizations that weaken the call-out. You can read the original post linked above, so I don’t have to repeat it here. Let me instead summarize the argument into a few key points so you’ll see where my hesitancy lies.
Kleek shouldn’t comment on tennis as he isn’t an expert.
Kleek shouldn’t judge “focus” or “commitment” by a person’s social media presence, etc.
Kleek suggested she may have a stronger desire to be a media darling.
Kleek did a “girlish impression”
Three Olympian women objected to the commentary.
Symbolic of other sexist behaviour, such as asking her to “twirl” (Australian reporter faux pas) or the Sun calling Penny Oleksiak “Pretty Penny”.
Men should call out men, not just leave it to women to object
Men don’t get asked these terrible questions.
Men don’t get asked about performance vs. social media distraction
It’s generational, perhaps….digital millenialism.
Eugenie is doing amazing so no basis for criticism.
If three women object, accept their view and apologise. If they’re offended, apology is required.
Okay, so I summarized a little too much, too many sub-points, but you get a pretty good overview of his argument. But I’m going to deal with them in groups, and somewhat out of order. If you have read my posts before, you know I’m long-winded, so there is a nice little recap / summary at the bottom before I get to the part that actually matters.
It doesn’t happen to men (6, 8, 9) — This is the most popular line out there, since if it only happens to women, it must be sexist. Except it does happen to men. Regularly. For example, at this Olympics, what was one of the most shared images? A photo of Michael Phelps supposedly glaring at his opponent, along with EXTENSIVE commentary about the apparent social media war between them … and guess what sort of questions came with it? Oh yeah, that it might be a DISTRACTION from focusing on the races.
The number one male swimmer in the history of the Olympics, his medal count outweighs numerous country totals, and yes, they’re asking if social media distracts him from his focus. I guess too that Adam missed the comments on the CBC during London and Vancouver and Sochi about the “hotness” of some of the guys, including Canadian female Olympic athletes joking about the guys on air. And I’m certain no female commentator anywhere would have dared comment on the oiled-up Tongalese flag bearer. And certainly not on CBC. Oh wait.
I don’t want to be too harsh though, as most people perpetuate this “myth” that it is exclusively only happening to women. It shows up in politics — Hillary questioned about her wardrobe but never Trump. Why? Because the media spent two months discussing his hair and the size of his penis.
It shows up in Hollywood, with red carpet divas objecting to fashion questions when they are wearing tens of thousands of dollars worth of accessories, greater than many viewers’ annual income, for one night of the year where they go for high glamour and glitz and sparkle. But that should be off-limits because no one (except the 1000s who buy fashion mags and tabloid coverage of the events) could ever care about such silly topics on such an important day as Hollywood paying expensive tribute to itself. Of course, if you followed that line of logic, you should also probably never comment on a bride’s dress on her wedding day because that’s incidental to the importance of her making a gigantic personal commitment to someone.
People might argue though that these are isolated incidents, I need more evidence. Okay, let’s take women out of the equation for the moment. Even Olympics. Let’s look at a widely covered sport like football in the NFL. If “focus” and “outside distractions” commentary only happen to women, there would be no mention anywhere in NFL coverage. Right? That’s the logic. Except every year there are multiple stories about this running back or that wide receiver, often rookies with money in their pockets for the first time, often with the bright lights of the big show in their eyes, not being able to focus on the game. That their off-field behaviour is a “distraction” from their “job” of competing at the highest level. Every single year. And yes, lots of references to social media as part of the “problem”.
If the blog said said we do it MORE to women, I would be happy to agree. I think we still have a sexist society, and I think it is reflected in journalism and particularly sports journalism. Saying it is “only” women is pretty selective interpretation.
If it was “sexist” to question Eugenie about social media because Kleek was male, should Andi Petrillo apologize to Phelps for any on air discussion of the social media stuff he was involved in? Does the CBC owe an apology to Tonga?
I’ll come back to the “twirl” issue later.
Don’t comment on tennis / Eugenie is doing great (1,11) — This one is hard to get behind on any level. There’s this little thing called freedom of speech and it lets you comment on any topic you want. Usually, if you do, and you sound like an idiot, it’s pretty obvious. And people cough, turn away, and ignore the idiot. I find it hard to think it benefits anyone to “call anyone out” because they don’t know something. Particularly when you start by saying “Hey, I don’t know anything about the topic either.” Okay then, if so, maybe you should shut yourself too, if you’re calling someone else out about it.
And if we want our talking heads of any form to always know what they’re talking about, there are going to be a lot fewer employed talking heads and a lot of dead air coverage of some sports. Not necessarily a bad thing, just that I have some sympathy for those paid to be on air for a lot of hours with a microphone and no script. And Kleek may not know anything about tennis, but he does know what it is like to be a professional athlete, to get ready for big events, to try and focus on a competition while the world swirls around you asking you to do silly things like 30 second interviews to tell people “what it’s like to win/lose/compete”.
Digitalism/Social media presence is poor evidence (2, 3, 10) — On this point, I agree wholeheartedly with van Koeverden. Generations view it differently, just as younger people traveling often want to check in on FB while older people often are like “relax, unplug!”. It’s part of their digital life. And if van Koeverden wants to say Kleek is out of touch with modern life, sure go ahead. I won’t join in the piling on, for a simple reason. If I have to respect a younger generation for valuing social media, I have to respect the older person for not doing so. Doesn’t strike me as a reason to “call someone out”, nor in such an aggressive fashion. Not to mention there are already 1000s of articles out there about generation gaps and how the older generation doesn’t understand horseless carriages / rock ‘n ‘roll / drugs / sex / digital worlds.
Three women objected, he should apologize (5, 12) — If his mom taught him that, he should go back and have a chat about how people end up being doormats. Cuz that is the same attitude that force many women to stay with abusive husbands. It’s their duty to apologize because, well, the other person says so. No, that’s not how life works, except in the world of “we have to be politically correct all the time”.
Sure, we have a stereotype out there that if someone bumps into a Canadian, the Canadian will apologize. And I don’t disagree that it would be a “good” thing for him to do. Nice. Canadian even. But that’s not what the blog says. It says he SHOULD do it, i.e. there’s a right from women to an apology and whether he was right/wrong/entitled to express an opinion, he has a duty to render the apology.
So I’m offended by the post implying that men do this to women all the time. And that if I don’t agree, I’m part of the problem. Well, I don’t agree to his lines of argument, does that mean he owes me an apology? No. It means we disagree.
The test isn’t simply if you feel offended, that’s your subjective bias. If that was the test, everyone everywhere would have to apologize for everything ever said on TV as there is someone somewhere who will take offense. It happens. And lots of times we shake our heads at them and think, “What a whackjob, that isn’t what that means”.
The test isn’t who objects, it is what was said and to whom. Kleek didn’t comment on the three women who objected. He commented on Bouchard. So, the question is does he owe an apology to HER and HER ALONE, not all women everywhere who might be offended on her behalf.
I said I would come back to the “twirl” example, and this is where it comes in. Just as van Koeverden says he doesn’t need to defend all women, they can do so themselves, so can Bouchard. When the Australian reporter, for whatever stupid reason, asked her do a little twirl to show off how cute she was, Bouchard had a choice to make. She could object and say no. She could object and explain why. She could walk away. She’s a big girl, more than capable of taking care of herself. And what did she do? She laughed it off, did the twirl in a cheeky little fashion (which to my mind was done as much to mock the reporter, not satisfy him), and went on with her life. Was it the most “feminist” response? Was it the best response? Not me to judge. Her life, her choice.
Was she offended? I have no idea. Just as with this one. While it is fine for van Koeverden, or any of the three Olympian women, to take issue with the statement and suggest it was inappropriate, the only person who can truly say if it was offending is Bouchard. And if so, then we move to an analysis, somewhat more objective than the rhetoric of van Koeverden’s blog, to say, “Does the evidence (like in the blog) suggest there is something there?”
Quick recap — criticising focus or digitalism happens to men and women, it is not inherently sexist. The fact Kleek was a man and Bouchard a woman didn’t make it so either. Sexism requires it to be BECAUSE Bouchard is a woman, not just of the opposite sex. It’s a symptom, perhaps, but not the basis. Equally, commenting without expert knowledge of social media or tennis isn’t inherently sexist either.
So, if all that is true in my mind, why would I want to support the blog?
Because Kleek didn’t just question her focus or media or commitment.
He did a “girlish impression” that was meant to be demeaning and belittling. Because “girlish” was bad. That “girls” worried about hair styles and fashion. Because it meant she wasn’t a real athlete. And that it was a way to mock her, that her sex made her less.
That is sexism pure and simple.
And if van Koeverden wants to call out anyone for doing THAT, without the other misplaced rhetoric, more power to him. Or anyone. Male or female. Because that kind of behaviour is unacceptable.
And it deserves not only an apology from Kleek, it deserves an apology from CBC for allowing it to air and once aired, not immediately denouncing it and banning Kleek from all future broadcasts.
You shouldn’t get a second chance to make a lasting sexist impression on the millions of Canadians tuned to watch the best the world has to offer, not the worst.
I find most of the articles on the net about ebooks vs. paper to be wrong-headed and mostly silly. Passionate paper people who claim that anyone using an e-reader to be woefully uninformed, of low culture, and possibly impotent vs. all digital, all the time people who claim anyone reading paper is clearly a Luddite. Personally, I don’t care the format. Paper, ink, e-ink, pixels, back of a napkin, side of a serial box, pamphlet, newspaper, ceiling of a dentist’s office…I’ll read anything anywhere anytime. And usually it doesn’t take much time before I disconnect from the physical format and immerse myself in the story. So when I saw yet another “I’m going to read paper” post, I just about blew past it with a yawn. However, I didn’t, I clicked, and I find Michael Hyatt’s take kind of interesting (Why I’m Putting Ebooks on the Shelf for 2016 – Michael Hyatt).
One thing he notes that for him, “e-books are out of sight and out of mind” whereas the paper books loom in front of him on the shelf waiting to be read, and reminding him to read. Kind of an interesting idea, I think, partly because I have found the same at times. I carry my e-reader with me, but if I don’t physically “see” it, I often grab my tablet or something else first. He also finds the physical stack comforting when he’s done reading them…I see his point, but the concern with a library overwhelming the house negates that pleasure pretty quick for me.
A second item I like is that he finds the bookmarking and taking of notes less effective for him, something he enjoys doing easily with physical books. I certainly find that for non-fiction, less concerned with it for fiction.
The third item that resonated with me was about how he doesn’t get the same sense of accomplishment when he finishes an e-book as a paper book. I have found that too…in paper, I close the book. I might literally feel a sense of closure, but it’s also a moment to reflect for a second or two on what I have read, to savour the ending, to digest the story arc. On my e-book reader, particularly if I’m reading a series, I will go on to the next one almost immediately and be well into Chapter 1 without taking the time to really savour the flavour of the previous meal. That’s not really about the e-book though, that’s about my personal reading style with e-books. Nothing would stop me from savouring it the way a closing of a book does.
Sure, he also argues that e-books don’t engage the senses, there’s lower retention and comprehension, etc., and most of the science around it is complete crap, so I’m ignoring those points. I also find no resonance with arguments about more easily distracted by e-mail or games on tablets, etc. — when I’m reading, I’m reading. Earthquakes don’t distract me. I don’t even pretend to understand his complaints about more difficulty navigating though.
Yet, as I said, I`m glad I clicked. Those three points were interesting, and quite different from what most people write on the subject.
The Drucker Forum is taking place this weekend in Europe, and I’m writing a series of posts reviewing some of the thought pieces that the various speakers provided in advance through the Harvard Business Review blogs or the forum site itself. Next up is Liviu Nedelescu’s “We should want robots to take some jobs“.
His article is prompted by the dominant theory that robots are taking higher and higher level jobs, gobbling them up faster than industry is creating other jobs, leading to stagnation of median income and growth of inequality. Not to mention the fears of creating a future AI singularity that will replace mankind.
In a more hopeful vein, the article reviews other discussions that point to alternative paradigms like the fact that task-oriented economies tend to devalue humans, but robots can free us from that to focus on open-ended, creative activities with leaps of logic in innovation and thinking that we are more suited to accomplishing.
I am not as confident that “In the 21st century, creating meaning and innovating will be democratized through technology.” But the idea that “effectiveness should be a human pursuit, while efficiency should be delegated to machines” is a strangely compelling argument. A good piece, and I will be interested to see if they publish more of his papers on the site.
The Harvard Business Review and a European conference site about the Drucker Forum are posting blogs by speakers to the Vienna conference taking place later this week, and I’m reviewing them. Back in May, Dambisa Moyo asked “Will Technology Support Global Growth?“. More specifically, Moyo asked if it would boost economic growth in developing countries, and points out two competing paradigms.
First, that transformation will transform livelihoods through info transfer, connectivity and communication leading to improvements in tech-enabled-health, education access, and expansion of use of mobile phones in gathering real-time market information.
Second, that transformation will also transform livelihoods through disruptive automation/robotics/AI leading to erosion of low-skilled jobs, reduced opportunities for young workers, and increased gaps in wages and between countries.
While those paradigms are well-argued, the conclusion is less clear i.e. that the private sector will already create new industries and opportunities on its own, so it is really public policy and government that need to pick up the pace to deal with the negative aspects of disruption.
I don’t have any real problems with the opening paradigms, but the jump from “private sector will do its part” for growth, and therefore government has to do its part to deal with the downside is extremely one-sided. Presumably private, public and not-for-profit sectors have a role to play on all the fronts. Great opening to the article, it just didn’t go anywhere interesting.
I’m reading through a series of blogs on the Harvard Business Review and a European conference site about the Drucker Forum that will happen in Vienna later this week. Steve Denning wrote back in May about how The Internet Is Finally Forcing Management to Care About People. Denning’s position is summed up pretty well by the title of the article, namely that digital transformation will help drive humanist management.
Overall, Denning starts with a lament that all the humanist ways of thinking about management over the last 40 years have pretty much led nowhere because rewarding CEOs for shareholder value creates an impetus for command-and-control management over humanism. In Denning’s view, the shift of power from seller to buyer, from producer to consumer, will create pressure to create “new and better ways to delight customers”, beyond just price and volume. He also sees the digital transformation in the workplace, as it “shreds vertical supply chains”, and forces the businesses into the world of virtual meeting places and horizontal management rather than vertical command-and-control structures. With those premises in mind, he argues:
While armies of dispirited bureaucrats, driven by command-and-control, simply can’t get this job done, the enabling management practices and metrics of humanistic management are well suited to it. When the goal is the inherently inspiring goal of delighting customers, managers don’t need to make employees do their job. With managers and workers sharing the same goal—delighting customers—the humanistic management practices of trust and collaboration become not only possible but necessary.
I’m not as optimistic as Denning. Command and control structures do not simply exist because it was backed by a focus on the bottom line. Command and control, generally, is a direct result of the complexity of organizations and attempts by individuals to force order on apparent chaos, to bring their internal environment to heel. Government is a perfect example — many Departments are fully seized with their “clients”, partly because there is no profit metric to measure. It’s all about the client. Yet command and control, and bureaucracies in general, are rampant throughout these organizations.
In addition, Denning argues that “Education systems must support greater entrepreneurial skills and life-long learning to prepare people for the new world of work” while “Greater support must be provided for individuals to start their own businesses.”. In some ways, these are in direct opposition to each other — one, a service provided by the state; the second, a DIY mentality for business.
He also feels that the argument for treating customers with respect is already won. In fact, I would argue the exact opposite. If Amazon’s business model has taught people anything, it is that ruthless dehumanizing of the client is incredibly profitable. Sure, they make fast delivery to “meet their needs”, but their customers are not being “respected”, just ruthlessly served because it’s profitable, particularly if you can increase volume and decrease purchase friction.
Early this past week, I came across a series of blogs on the Harvard Business Review about the Drucker Forum that will happen in Vienna later this week. HBR and some European sites are hosting guest blogs by many of the major speakers to the forum, a mini-preview of some of the issues on their mind. Each one has been awesome so far, at least in terms of my interests…management, technology, human interactivity, etc. Not surprising since the theme of this year’s forum is Claiming Our Humanity — Managing in the Digital Age. So, I thought I would take a peek at some of the blogs in a bit more depth.
The first one out of the gate was Richard Straub, who back in April wrote Managing in an Age of Winner-Take-All. The post is well-written, including allusions to computers and digital connectivity augmenting brain-led human development as much as mechanical improvements augmented brawn-led development. I’m a little more skeptical when, despite the commitment to Drucker’s management work, Straub describes the modern organization and management practices as constituting a “social technology” construct, but I don’t dispute it’s transformative nature.
With the new technology comes a lot of disruption, and while Straub sees companies like Apple, Amazon, etc. all running towards “winner-take-all”, I’m not sold on those outcomes. I think they will reap whirlwind profits, but even Apple’s music dominance is giving way to newer players like Spotify. I do however agree that old-style management theory isn’t going to work in business management that is dealing with hard-core changes:
Consider management actions such as cutting jobs and investment as a response to currency fluctuations and the resulting accounting impact of those cuts on earnings per share (EPS). These types of cuts are applauded as canny, even heroic, by stock markets — despite their damage to the longer-term value-creating capacity of the enterprise. Share buybacks are preferred to investment in innovation, entrepreneurship, and value creation. And internal innovation often obsessively targets cost cutting instead of the search for new ways to delight customers or to enable employees and partners.
The digital revolution — the “mother of all technology developments”— marks a fork in the road. One path invites us to depart from industrial-age management practices and mindsets and use the power of information-age technology to augment humanity’s role and importance in business. The other tempts us to apply the new abundance of data and expertise in creating software routines to automate the old logic of organizations, effectively hard-wiring the most dysfunctional rules managers relied on in the past.
Despite my misgivings about Straub’s constructs, I can’t disagree with his conclusions — too often, the new discussion is about “big data” or “new data” or just plain “more data”, but not whether that data tells us anything. Similarly with tools, we opt in organizations for automation without first evaluating whether the current business model that we’re automating is the one we want tomorrow, or if the tool will just anchor us to the past even further, rigidly planting our feet in cement while the world changes around us.
Where Straub leaves me behind is in the belief that private sector managers are, as Drucker put it, “society’s main leadership group”. I think they are one force, but perhaps because I am a government person first and foremost, I don’t look to the private sector to lead me anywhere I likely want to go.
But as a first blog in a series of posts on managing in the digital age, it does raise provocative questions.
I’m pretty sure if anyone asked me if I would ever have the phrase “slam poetry” as a phrase on my blog, the answer would have been a very clear, “Umm, no, sorry”. Yet Winona Linn does a pretty awesome job. And, let’s face it, who hasn’t thought Stephen Harper would be a bad lover?