June 05, 2014

Commerce Nightmares: Wrap-Up

You're probably wondering why I spent a week-and-a-half talking about Commerce Nightmares?

Well, something changed in the past two years. Or maybe I just got older. Regardless, the challenges I see in 2014 are different than when I founded my consulting practice in 2007. The first four years of my practice were all about responding to an economic collapse. By 2011, it was clear that there were generational issues that were going to fundamentally re-shape our businesses - I created personas (Judy, Jennifer, Jasmine) to address the changes - the marketing community focused similarly on Millenials / Social / Mobile (the latter two are the tactical outcomes of the shift in generational focus).

What I observed in marketing in 2011 is spilling over into workplace dynamics, as we march toward 2015. Jasmine is about to turn 30. This means that Jasmine is moving into Manager/Director positions.

There were two comments that changed my thinking, both uttered to me earlier this year, both uttered on numerous occasions by numerous individuals.
  • Jasmine = "Why won't my Executive Team listen to me? They are so old-school. All they want to do is the same thing they've always done. I can help them. I don't think they want help."
  • Judy = "I only have six years to go before I retire. I just need to keep the wheels on this thing, then I don't care what happens."
It's the comment from Judy that has changed over the past three years.

See, I thought that the Judy / Jennifer / Jasmine issue was a business / marketing issue. Maybe I was right. But the Judy / Jennifer / Jasmine issue is becoming much more of a Management issue than a Marketing issue. The marketing issue is going to resolve itself in Darwinian fashion.

The Management issue will resolve itself as well. We, however, get to choose whether it resolves itself in a painful manner or not.

When you watch Kitchen Nightmares, you see what a difference an Owner can make when the Owner is open to change. When the Owner is willing to change the menu, change the decor, and change work processes, employees are happier, and team chemistry improves dramatically.

A few weeks ago, a young analyst asked me on Twitter, "Where has leadership gone to?" Just think about the tone of that question for a moment ...

Too often, leadership is just trying to hang on. Imagine being a 55 year old Director-level person at a retail brand, e-commerce organization, or cataloger. What do you do when you get fired? Who is going to hire you? Certainly not a startup that only respects knowledge from folks under the age of 32. Certainly not a peer company, because the peer company has to look to the future, and the future is Jasmine - the peer company is going to develop Jasmine at a salary of $70,000 a year before they take a chance on a 55 year old requiring a salary of $150,000 a year.

This reality explains, to some extent, where leadership has gone. Sure, leadership should be consistent regardless of reality - but this is what I'm observing - and it is troubling.

If I'm Jasmine, I'm going to fill the leadership void myself. Is it hard work? Yes. Is it thankless work? Yes. But in ten years, demographics will take care of the leadership void - in 2014, you'll want to have ten years of practicing leadership principles in a difficult environment.

And if I'm Judy? Well, it is time to do what Mr. Ramsey would want you to do on an episode of Kitchen Nightmares. He'd demand that you change. Or don't change, and just realize that there will be more friction than is necessary.

This brings me to a thought. Somebody made an interesting comment at a conference I spoke at ... this guy, clearly in Judy's generation, said to me ... "I just don't understand why Jasmine won't embrace our traditions. How do we train Jasmine to embrace what we love?"

Now we're getting somewhere.

We have Judy's generation pushing in two directions ... trying to remain gainfully employed through to retirement ... and trying to get Jasmine to maintain Judy's traditions. Meanwhile, we have Jasmine, using technology and communication techniques that Judy understands but didn't grow up with, pushing for change. This causes a Commerce Nightmare.

I know, I know. You are Judy, and you are wondering why I let Jennifer off the hook? You think I am picking on you.

Jennifer's case is an interesting one. She's currently 45 - in other words, she's a Gen-X person who is caught in the middle. She's mid-career, she's been bossed around by Judy in the workplace for two decades, and she's being swamped by a generation of Jasmine-esque individuals with very different habits and values. Yup, Jennifer is caught in the middle. And worse, Jennifer is not part of the catalog generation, and is not part of the social/mobile generation. Jennifer is the Amazon-centric shopper that only Amazon seems to appreciate.

But in the workplace, Jennifer is the bridge between generations.

In other words, Jennifer, leadership opportunities have been thrust upon you. It's time for you to, as Judy likes to say, "step up".

The thing that has changed since 2011 is the emergence of Jasmine in the workplace. Jasmine is in her late 20s to early 30s, and her world is fundamentally different than Judy's world. Jasmine is moving into Manager/Director positions, while Judy is now closing in on retirement. This conflict seems, in my opinion only, to be causing Commerce Nightmares - it is causing conflict.

We may need three things to happen.
  1. Judy may need to embrace change.
  2. Jennifer may need to be a leader who bridges generations, embracing Jasmine's ideas while protecting Judy.
  3. Jasmine may need to become a leader faster, and may need to become really good at teaching.
What do you think?