Falling profits, a disastrous IT transformation strategy, disenfranchised staff and disgruntled customers were the norm when Justin King (pictured) took over as CEO of UK supermarket giant Sainsbury's back in 2004.
Under King's stewardship, and following some controversial decisions, by January 2008 the now 149-year-old firm had announced 12 consecutive quarters of sales growth and smashed its sales growth targets three months ahead of schedule.
Speaking as the feature keynote at the CRN European Channel Leadership Forum (ECLF) at the Mondrian in London, King shared some of his learnings along the way and what channel firms should do when taking their customers and themselves through their own transformation journey.
"You have to have control of your stock before you implement IT, you have to have control of your labour schedule before you put IT on top; IT cannot solve fundamental operational failure. I see that lesson not learned time and time again," King said.
He explained it was essential to ask questions of people that you don't want to hear the answer from, when going through a transformational process.
"This happens in a lot of IT system changes," King said. "The only people consulted are the people who have already embraced the idea. What you need to do is go and find people that haven't embraced the idea. The difficult answers mean you execute better.
"When going through a change programme - this is where you invest a disproportionate amount of time - the people at the coalface of the organisation. They will tell you how it is. Too often you only speak to people who speak for these people or claim to speak to them," he said.
King explained the type of people in most organisations can be split into three - internal terrorists - who try and get in the way of any change but are never seen to be doing that; evangelicals - who told the previous management that they were geniuses, will tell the current ones the same and will also tell the next management team exactly the same thing; and finally the doubters.
"These people [doubters] metaphorically put their hands up and say "It's not going well". Time and time again I see the people with their hands up being shot down. These are actually the most valuable people to keep and should be listened to."
He also advised that communication was key - and however much communication a company thinks it is doing during a transformation programme - it is not enough.
Another tip for those in the room, was that the key to a successful IT implementation was speed of fulfilment.
"Get quickly to day one, and invest disproportionate energy to make sure you can catch any errors and put them right quickly," he said.
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