Elevation Forum event focuses on how elite organizations adapt

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Elevation Forum event focuses on how elite organizations adapt

By Seth Mendelson - 09/30/2019
Sam's Club's Sean Jackson and Dan Mack
Sam's Club senior vice president of consumables and OTC Sean Jackson with Mack Elevation founder Dan Mack

Change is vital to the success of any retail operation. Are the top executives at major chains helping or hurting their teams as they implement these transformations? That was the discussion at the most recent Elevation Forum, held in mid-September in Rogers, Ark., where a group of 35 health, wellness and beauty executives gathered to talk about the future of the mass retail industry.

“About 75% of change initiatives fail, and 8-in-10 leaders state the biggest barrier to growth is internal alignment,” said Dan Mack, founder of the Chicago-based Elevation Forum, which meets three times per year to discuss industry, leadership and organizational development growth initiatives. “Change isn’t the problem, it’s a leader’s fear of change, which is the bottleneck in most organizations.” 

The event began with a discussion on the drivers of leading a cultural transformation. “Managing change requires leaders to deal effectively with both the structural and the human dynamics of a corporate shift,” Mack said. “It’s no secret that high-performing teams have three times more positively energized leaders than the average organization. This philosophy allows them the credibility to help their team embrace change and to play loose as they transition the culture.”

Mack also said that elite organizations understand how to encourage business evolution. They are internally motivated and are adept at managing the emotionally taxing process of reshaping a business, he said, adding that they earn trust in their organizations and install keystone habits that help drive transformation throughout the culture.

Among the conclusions the forum arrived at, Mack said, was that highly adaptive teams are guided by cohesive internal leadership, holding the center of the organization accountable — especially when times are difficult. Teams that lead change well have defined a straightforward yet compelling vision, and celebrate quick wins, measure success accurately and are emotionally safe. Having fun along the way helps a lot too, Mack said.

The forum’s keynote speaker was Sean Jackson, Sam’s Club’s senior vice president of consumables and OTC. Jackson shared his vision and how the organization is evolving through a business transformation. Sam’s Club is radically simplifying many parts of its business, he said, adding that speed and transparency are essential parts of the company’s DNA.

“True relationship transparency means we are honestly collaborating, and it’s not punitive if we disagree,” Jackson said. “The very best Sam’s Club vendor partnerships focus on proactive product innovation with the merchandising teams. They share tenacious focus on our core business, they move fast, offer disruptive value, and have a clear expectation of what great performance actually looks like. They are companies who continue helping us lead transformation with insights that help us attract new members or expand category penetration.”

Mack later challenged the executives at the meeting with the question, “How do you have courageous discussions with your top strategic customers?”

“You will find yourself continually thwarted in your best efforts unless reality is regularly and thoroughly examined,” he said to the attendees. “We must determine whether our customer relationship assumptions match reality.”

The group discussed the top sales and negotiation challenges facing them, including managing price increases, striking win-win deals and maintaining profitable relationships. “People skilled at courageous conversations respond five times faster to financial downturns,” Mack said. “And organizations that can ask demanding questions during challenging times are twice as likely to deliver above average performance.” 

To maintain a growth culture, companies must practice courageous discussions with their top retail partners and honestly explore mutually beneficial growth plans. The group agreed that there is a direct relationship between the relationship transparency and enduring long-term growth.

Mack said that the Elevation Forum will again meet three times in 2020 with the first event taking place in Scottsdale, Ariz. on April 24, the day before the start of the NACDS Annual Meeting. For more information about these events, Mack suggested people visit mackelevationforum.com.