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New skills will cause a shift in power

Written on 1/5/17

We know that the retail industry is changing at a pace the like of which has never been seen before.

To name just two of the trends that are driving this change: first, it is estimated that more than 15% of space will come out of the UK market over the next decade as consumers increasingly shop online, which means that the role of the store will need to be completely rethought.

Second, with mobile technology reshaping every stage of the buying experience, imagine the impact on retailers when today’s tech-savvy teenagers reach their prime earning years.

What impact will this have on the technical leadership skills that are required for success? We are likely to see role changes and power shifts within retail organisations. If KPIs for retail operations directors were once centred on cost, stores, people and process, now and in the future, objectives will focus on cross-channel performance and customer experience.

Over the last decade, in instances where leaders were hired from outside the retail sector (alas still relatively uncommon), consumer goods companies provided the main hunting ground. In the future, perhaps it will be media executives who cross over into retail, as we have recently seen with some pure-play retailers.

And what will retailers need to do differently or better in terms of their emotional leadership skills? Retail executives who are tipped to become chief executives are telling us that the ability to respond to rapid change is the biggest challenge they face as leaders.

Last week, 37 ‘next generation’ chief executives from 18 countries told us that being braver in the face of ambiguity, executing faster and better anticipating customers were the most powerful weapons in the future retail chief executive’s arsenal.

These individuals were nominated by their chief executives to attend the Retail Leadership Forum, developed by OC&C Strategy Consultants, Goldman Sachs and Korn/Ferry International to provide career development for future retail industry leaders.

This feedback ties into one of the hottest topics in leadership today, that of ‘learning agility’. People who are regarded to be high performing at certain levels within an organisation are often mistakenly believed to have the potential for promotion as a result. In fact, the greatest predictor of future career potential is to learn from experience and to apply those lessons quickly and successfully in new situations.

Chief executives of the future will need a different set of leadership skills to those of today. This will include an enhanced ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity, to be flexible to new situations, to make fresh connections to solve problems, and to be open to continuous learning.

Executives who are driving their careers through developing their ability to respond to change are constantly testing themselves by taking on roles and projects outside their comfort zone and by seeking out feedback from as many different sources as they can.

So the message to aspiring chief executives is that there are some things you can still control if you can adapt to change.