Have Supermarket Retailers become the 5th Emergency Service?

supermarket retailers

For any business out there right now, the ability to react and pivot at speed is vital. The bigger the business the bigger the scale of change.

I’m always so impressed when larger businesses adapt to change so easily. A business's ability to change is also predicated on their ability to execute, which requires everyone to get behind the new direction, or even smaller task and drive it forward. The capability of people makes this happen. 

One business we’ve had the pleasure of working with, which I’ve been very impressed with, in terms of their frontline people’s appetite for change and to try new things is ASDA. So this week I thought I’d catch-up with a friend of StoryShare, ASDA’s People Team Digital Transformation Lead, Andrew Crowe to ask him just 5 questions:

1. First of all, how have the last 3 months been for you? 

“A combination of tiring, engaging and inspiring”

Like many businesses, the current state of affairs has been the catalyst for ASDA to do things differently, accelerating positive changes to ways of working. The restrictions on personal and social freedoms have made it much harder to recharge people’s energy, especially when there’s even more to do. 

“Everyone’s juggling unique personal circumstances, combined with the uncertainty on how this “ends” is incredibly draining. I’m so proud of how our colleagues in all areas of the business have served our customers and supported each other, and how as a business we’ve supported our colleagues.”


2. What have you had to change to meet the needs of the business and how easy has it been to react? 

ASDA corporate has had to move pretty much overnight to remote working, which has been embraced very successfully. Like many businesses, this can be attributed to strong Tech support.

Andrew’s team have developed bespoke reporting at pace, adjusting to tools such as Zoom to connect. 

“I’ve been really impressed with how easy this reaction has been, it is amazing what can be done when you have an imperative to deliver. The sense of common purpose to find solutions, at pace, for complex problems is infectious and incredibly rewarding. Some of the more traditional, formal processes for decision making have needed to be upgraded for more dynamic, agile ones.”

Devices-Merge-Animation-with-icons-and-no-bg3. How has the business responded positively in a way that you didn't expect? 

As ASDA has a long tradition of doing the right thing, which is rooted in its values, Andrew feels this cultural aspect has been demonstrated throughout this emergency.

“I’m very proud of how we’ve quickly developed our Online Grocery operation to increase capacity and ensure vulnerable customers’ needs are prioritised.”


4. What's going to be fundamentally different in the future for retail and how do you think this will affect the skills required? 

As we’ve all seen over this period, the rapid growth of Online Grocery, both delivery and click and collect will continue. Within the stores the adoption of applications such as Scan and Go, has fundamentally changed the way customers engage with technology. Andrew believes this brings great future opportunities to create value for customers in a digital-first world, however, this does stress the importance of employees understanding the customers new journey and how they can best support this 

“It is increasingly important for all colleagues to possess Essential Digital Skills to enable them to thrive in this environment. That’s why Asda has pledged with future.now to focus on this.”

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5. Where do you think the opportunities are for people technology moving forward and has this changed as a result of the current climate? 

“The current climate has, in my view, forced many people to engage with technology, at a very basic level to stay connected.”

The situation we’re all now in has created a more captive audience, (both internally and externally) ready and willing to discover more about the power of technology. The opportunity for “people technology” moving forward is to satisfy this need in a simple and integrated way.

“Finding relevant ways to adapt the user experience of people technology to more closely match that of the social tools we’re all used to is a big opportunity. As consumers, certain features will be conspicuous by their absence.”

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The sheer scale of businesses like ASDA makes their ability to react and adapt to changing needs such an impressive achievement. I know it might sound premature, but it’s these things that we can look back on in years to come with an enormous sense of pride and achievement.

Andrew and the entire business have had to change what they do, with adaptability to change being such a fantastic skill to build across businesses. The changing mindset and knowing how to react is a combination of core capabilities and task re-orientation. As long as companies recognise these positive changes, capture the knowledge and teach the rest of the business, they’re onto a winner. Every team needs to have a retrospective.

It’s great to hear how this situation has created a more acute solution mindset as people have been pushed outside of their comfort zone. Perhaps moving forward more businesses can invest in simulated real-life change scenarios to see how people react and learn about what the business needs to do if the simulation becomes a reality - why not throw someone from corporate into the delivery driver seat for 2 days to see what they discover.

I think the most important takeaway is about understanding the new customer journey, particularly in the digital space, that will probably be in place for a while and educating employees on what they need to do to best support this now and in the future.

Thank you to Andrew for taking the time to talk to me and I hope you enjoyed the read.