Fundamentals of category management, 5: Invest in quality thinking

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Fmcg and grocery retailing has long been considered a dynamic sector and it is true that we have always been reasonably “busy” in the way we work. This “busy-ness” has escalated dramatically in the past 10 years, with the key driver being technology. We become aware almost instantaneously of industry developments. Most of us are plugged in 24/7 to our bosses, our teams, our customers and our stakeholders, via email, LinkedIn and other news feeds. The merry-go-round spins faster and faster.

All this sound and fury can threaten the ability to do quality thinking. Our industry is full of change and challenge - discounter growth, blurring of grocery and foodservice, the fast-developing health agenda. With all this change going on, what practical steps can you take in order to think well, so that you get your response right? So that you are proactive and do the right things at the right time?

One thing you can do is create the right environment for quality thinking. People respond to their surroundings. They do better thinking in a better environment.

First, optimise your work space. We can’t all have offices like Unilever, Graze or Diageo, but we can make the most of what we have. Maximise any natural light you can get, invest in decent furniture and decoration, keep things clean and tidy. It sounds obvious, but just because it’s common sense doesn’t mean it’s common practice.

Fundamentals of category management, 6: Get some perspective

Second, get outside your workplace. Most of us would agree that Steve Jobs was a brilliant businessman. Did you know that many of his important meetings were conducted walking around the hills of Cupertino in California? He didn’t feel any imperative to be sitting at a desk to be doing great thinking. If you look in any Starbucks store, you will see how many business meetings these days take place in that kind of a ‘third place’, removing unhelpful formality and even hierarchy.

Third, get to the coal face. That means the point of purchase or consumption. The best operators find the time - Justin King at Sainsbury’s visited four stores every single Friday. So if you have a big retailer meeting coming up, don’t get everyone together in ‘meeting room three’, go to one of the retailer’s stores.

Fourth, keep up with the outside world. Above all, that means technologically. If it isn’t the norm for you to be using Instagram, ApplePay and Alexa, then make a conscious effort, because if you don’t understand how people are living, your strategy will suffer.

So, the first step to quality thinking is to manage your environment. Optimise your work space, get outside the work place, get to the coal face and keep up with the outside world.

Jeremy Garlick is a partner of Insight Traction

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