Gary Schuman is a consulting psychologist and President of CDL Consulting, Inc. He has worked with a variety of influential organizations & CEOs including Apple, Fidelity Investments, JP Morgan/Chase, MBS Equity Partners, Viacom, NYSE, and more. At General Assembly, Gary teaches and facilitates Digital Immersion Training Programs for executive leadership teams. Gary recently sat with us to tell us more about his passion for leadership training and what he does at General Assembly.
Today’s digital world moves at a million miles an hour. As a result, teams that are slow to respond to incoming information due to organizational constraints stand to miss out on large opportunities for engaging their customer base. On the other hand, for corporate teams that are quick and agile, this spells opportunity. Smaller, agile teams are often at an advantage when it comes to responding to the needs, interests, and concerns of their customers.
Matt LeMay is a Senior Product Manager at Songza and former Head of Consumer Product at Bitly. He teaches regularly at General Assembly on topics related to product management, big data, and APIs. In this post, Matt describes how you can better understand the digital world, even if you don’t consider yourself technically savvy.
As a product manager, I spend a lot of time trying to understand what people want. The technical folks I work with are never shy to give me their opinions about what we should build, how we should build it, and why. But the feedback that truly makes or breaks a product often comes direct from its users; from the people who are invested not in how a product is made but rather in what it is (and if) it works.
General Assembly recently hosted a conversation with Scott Kirsner, columnist for The Boston Globe, and Faisal Masud, EVP of eCommerce for Staples, to discuss the evolution of the retail industry through today’s digital age.
The discussion provided exciting insight into the future of Staples, in addition to the retail industry as a whole, as they reinvent their business to adapt to the digital age.
While the conversation yielded several thought provoking insights, a few distinct highlights stood out as particularly significant for large retail business operating in the digital age. Here are a few highlights, distilled by Anand Chopra-McGowan, our Head of Enterprise New Markets.
1. On ‘Customer Centricity’: While the “omnichannel” buzzword is now omnipresent in retail, Staples is working to move away from the “channel” as the organizing principle, and think only about what the customer needs and wants. This may seem simply semantic, but represents a significant change for Staples.
2. On Physical Stores vs. Online: Retail store locations expanded too quickly in years past – adding stores that simply couldn’t see enough volume to be profitable. While many Staples stores do very well, there are a number of regions where it makes more sense to drive customers to for Staples.com instead
3. On Recruiting Engineers: Digital talent acquisition is extremely significant and it is exceedingly difficult to get talented developers and technologists out to Staples headquarters in Framingham MA. Through acquisitions and its own “labs” groups, Staples now offers career opportunities in Seattle, San Mateo, and Cambridge.
4. On Advertising & Branding: Faisal’s mindset is no different from his former leader at Amazon Jeff Bezos – if the customer experience is stellar, you won’t have to spend money on advertising. According to Faisal, marketing spending at Amazon early on was diverted to providing lower cost or free shipping, with the expectation that having such a positive experience will build loyalty and word-of-mouth growth. That said, Faisal admitted that Staples needs to do a better job of promoting some of its lesser known services, like same-day delivery and price-matching.
Faisal’s remarks highlight an important theme we focus on in many of our educational programs at General Assembly – the concept of customer centricity. In an ever-changing business environment one of the few constants for large companies is the customer experience. Understanding how customers want to use your product or service is one of the strongest and simplest ways to design business strategy, regardless of the medium or channel that may be popular at the time.
We’ve had a great relationship with The Wall Street Journal over the past three years. However, in a recent story that took a look at a number of executive training programs, including GA’s Enterprise offering, we feel like the Journal missed their mark.
In the story, clients investing in digital training were characterized as organizations led by clueless individuals who need to learn how to tweet. That’s not true, at least for the clients we’ve seen at GA.
Companies investing in digital training aren’t clueless, in fact they’re the
- Our clients are forward thinking organizations which have recognized that we’ve entered a digital era and that they can’t continue business as usual, and are investing in their employees as a result. You’ll notice that the companies highlighted in the article (American Express, NYSE Euronext, DraftFCB) are all leaders in their industries. And that’s because they know how important it is to invest in their workforces to remain market leaders, and to continue to deliver exceptional products/services to their customers.
- Participants coming through our programs are far from clueless. It is 2013, so there are few, if any, executives who haven’t led, or played a major role in a successful digital initiative. None of our participants say “interwebs” (without an ironic smirk), and they all know what Facebook is, and what it looks like. By recognizing that there is always more to learn, they’re actually ahead of their competitors.
Learning how to tweet isn’t a good investment of time for groups of senior executives, and it’s not what we teach.
- We focus our training on building a common understanding and language around the impact digital forces are having on a specific company;
- Understanding how these forces and digital tools should change the way they build products, communicate with their customers, and manage/structure their teams; and
- Developing a set of tactical actions that can be applied to real business problems and drive change after the program.
Enterprise was born out of the recognition of one of the country’s top CMOs that her organization needed to learn the most recent digital trends, and also have the structure, and space to reflect on the implications for her organization.
We have worked with more than 20 consumer-facing Fortune 500 companies, in the past year and a half, none of which are clueless.
Michael Robson is General Manager, Enterprise at General Assembly.