5 tips for driving organizational change in retail (from someone who’s done it)

Big organizational changes don’t happen overnight. There are a lot of stakeholders and a lot of moving pieces. Countless calls, emails and meetings. Plans made, revised and revised again. 

And through it all, there’s usually one person, or a small group of people, who are the driving force behind the change—the champions, the change agents. They give the project momentum and get everyone aligned behind a common vision. 

At Dollar General, Matthew Metzger is one of those people. As Director of Training and Development, he’s leading the charge to transform their approach to frontline training. He and his team are making personalized training in the flow of work a reality for Dollar General associates across 17,000 stores in 46 states. 

Metzger sat down with us at AxoniCom RETAIL to share his approach to change management. Read on for key insights from our conversation (or watch it for yourself on demand). 

Focus on the future—not the past 

“The need for change is not an indictment of past performance. It’s the recognition that what got us here won’t get us there,” Metzger said. 

He recommended a reframe to avoid the blame game and keep the conversation focused on future value:  

“Every single thing we have in place today—every system, every process, everything—it’s yesterday’s decision based on even older information. Every single thing. There’s nothing sacred. It’s incumbent upon us to be able to build upon what anybody has done and realize that, because nothing is perfect, that means there are vast opportunities to create more value.”

Get clear on the vision

Once you’ve identified the value, it’s time to paint the picture of what this change will look like for your key stakeholders and the business as a whole. 

“We worked hard to create a vision for what training should be at Dollar General. And for us, it’s encapsulated by the statement that we were going to create personalized, scalable training that fits within the flow of work, engages employees and demonstrably supports the business while reducing time related to training,” said Metzger. 

“The whole idea is that we wanted training to be something that doesn’t pull away from somebody’s experience, but it’s additive and brings value into an individual’s experience but also brings value to the business itself.”

Don’t be afraid to show the pain 

When you articulate the vision, you’re explaining how the business will benefit from change. But it’s also important to show the flipside—the impact of not changing.  

“Pain actually moves the urgency of change. For a long time, we were masking and hiding the pain that [our previous learning management] system was causing in our network. The reality is, in a retail environment, there are so many priorities, so many fires to put out on any given day. If you mask the pain, if you hide it, it will not rise to the top of the priority list. It won’t even get on it,” said Metzger. “So part of what we did was really to elevate the awareness of the pain.”

It’s easier said than done—but it’s critical to getting your project on the radar of decision-makers.

“In any phone call or any conversation with executives, I would unabashedly let folks know what we were experiencing with the system,” said Metzger. “When you admit to something under your purview being broken, that can be hard, because that can reflect badly on you. For me, that was part of it: Standing up to say, ‘Yeah, this thing that my team owns, it’s absolutely broken, and it will continue to be broken.’”

Think beyond the bullet points when telling the story

As you build the business case for change, you’ll probably lean on hard data and research. But don’t overlook the power of a good visual to get your point across. 

To capture the challenge of an outdated LMS struggling to keep pace with the scale of the business, Metzger used an image of a bicycle courier piled high with packages of different shapes and sizes. This metaphor really clicked.

 “I think sometimes we feel like we have to bullet point it out and tell the story in a very corporate way,” he said. “But telling it through this image, even up to the highest levels, was a disarming way to quickly communicate the severity of what we’re experiencing but also avoid blaming anybody.”

Befriend objections 

Objections are inevitable as you work to get the business on board with change. Metzger’s approach? 

“The best way to overcome objections is to listen to them. And I will tell you, in a spirit of partnership, I got objections from multiple folks in different areas and operations—and rightfully so. Those objections actually were incredibly important, and they caused us to adjust and rethink how we were actually implementing this.”

Your mindset matters, too. It’s critical to remember you’re all on the same team, working towards the same goals. 

“If people have objections, you’ve got to make sure that you’re not on opposite ends of the table. You need to come alongside them and say, ‘Wow, that’s a really good question, really good thought. How do you think we could answer that?” Let’s figure this out together so that it becomes a partnership. Because we’re all looking for the same thing at the end of the day: we’re looking for value for our employees, for our customers and for our business. When you do that, it definitely changes the dynamic.”

Creating value is contagious 

Once change-making initiatives start gathering momentum, the impact can often be felt far beyond the project itself. In Metzger’s experience, the process has helped to foster an innovative culture where everyone’s always looking for better ways of doing business. 

“We have people on our team who are choosing to be distinctive, who are choosing to find areas where they can create value because it’s contagious,” said Metzger. “Once you start realizing, ‘Oh, wait, I don’t have to just follow this playbook and just do it. I can actually think meaningfully about what would be most valuable.’ All of a sudden, it gets pretty exciting.” 

Hear our full conversation with Matthew Metzger at AxoniCom RETAIL.

Lindsay Windover-Kroes has spent her career writing in the tech and education sectors. She’s passionate about helping others do their best work, from the head office to the frontlines.

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