With its headline theme of ‘Business Matters’, the NMBS 2016 conference presented a stellar line-up of expert speakers from across the globe to offer their perspectives on an evolving business environment. Whilst the personalities, approach and delivery of those taking the stage differed greatly, a number of common themes emerged. PBM attempts to draw out some of the salient points.
From the humble genius of inventor and marketeer Shed Simove to the straight-talking authority of the ‘Growth Guy’ Verne Harnish, this year’s conference did not deviate from its business-focused path.
Throughout the course of a packed business programme, interlinked messages became evident — all set against a common backdrop of dramatic Change. As keynote speaker René Carayol attested, we are living in a VUCA world — one of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity — brought about by shifts in demographics and global power bases, along with ‘disruptive’ innovation to shake up the status quo.
Confronting this is the real challenge, summed up by Jonathan MacDonald citing Charles Darwin’s famous quote: “It is not the strongest of species that survives, nor the most intelligent but the ones most responsive to change”
The next key theme concerned Leadership. Verne Harnish told the room they needed to “manage less” and to “never eat alone” — make this happen by getting out and looking after your customers as “It’s what you are good at.”
René Carayol also noted the distinction between leadership and management, arguing that collaboration is the new path — that data and management in isolation isn’t sufficient and there is now a greater need to “listen to your people who are closest to your customers.”
Moving into the territory of Culture and People, Verne explained the need to truly care for your staff: “They aren’t particularly motivated by making you rich…” If you can make them feel engaged, the benefits will ripple through the organisation and be noticed by your customers.
Self-styled ‘Strategy Man’ and adventurer, Deri Llewellyn-Davis, highlighted the importance of nurturing the right ‘talent’ within a business. A mountaineer who has climbed five of the highest peaks in the world, including Everest, he described people as “the critical part of any strategy”. When it comes to it, he asked, “Would you scrimp on a Sherpa?”
Verne Harnish was once again particularly insightful in this area, challenging: “Whilst you may ask the right questions, who in your organisation is best placed to answer?” Recognising the need to realise that in many instances, “it probably isn’t you”, he stressed the importance of “Getting the right butts in the right seats — including your own.”
It is also important to recognise the Generational shift which is manifesting itself within the workplace. Many speakers commented on the fact that today’s youngsters have a very different outlook — they want to feel happy and valued; to seek out new experiences and ‘Generation Y’ is much less likely to remain in one job (or even career) for a long period.
One benefit is the notion of ‘reverse mentoring’ and actually learning skills from the younger generation, especially in areas such as the Digital arena. For example, Parker Building Supplies’ Jamie Pierce — Chair of the BMF Young Merchants group — delivered an engaging breakout session which showcased how the merchant embraced the online world to develop retail sales during the recession.
Sharing the platform with Jamie, Ice Blue Sky’s Charlotte Graham-Cumming cautioned that care must be taken with websites as many things can actually put people off making purchases online (abandonment) — for example, having to register for an account.
Shed Simove, meanwhile, highlighted the importance of video content. Having encouraged a number of conference delegates to produce their own videos for the NMBSvision app, he explained that whilst only 20% of website visitors are likely to read text in its entirety, 80% will look at a video.
Don’t be afraid to fail was another common theme. Mark Rhodes urged the need for ‘20 seconds of courage’ whilst Shed revealed he has a ‘failure fund’ which gives him the ability to effectively test out new opportunities and if they fail, you just move onto the next thing. This, he said, can be applied to any area of the business — a new product, service or marketing idea.
The final theme to touch on is a need to Look outwards.
Parkers’ Stewart Pierce directed this attitude straight at the merchant sector. On a presentation focusing on ecommerce, He cautioned that the industry has had its head in the sand about some of the threats it faces, having defined itself too rigidly and never asked enough of “Why don’t we…?”
He noted that of the top 10 online retailers, nine have a multi-channel approach (the other is Amazon, which poses a different type of threat) and whilst some merchants are already demonstrating a successful multi-channel approach, he questioned what is holding the sector back.
Perhaps most notably, in a session which certainly removed delegates from their comfort zones, Christina Harbridge discussed physiology and the need to ‘get out of your own head’. She urged the need to give yourself an ‘operating system hack’ to reset your preconceptions, saying: “We see only what we already believe — and this gets reinforced and repeated within organisations.”
Visit the NMBS website for more information.