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Deep Dive

Roundtable: Reenergizing in a New Year

As we kick 2020 to the curb, it's a good time to take McKinsey's advice and make sure we are set up for a reenergized 2021. We will continue to live in interesting times, and Rob and Peter offer some perspectives on strategies to thrive in the New Year. 

TRANSCRIPT

Peter:

Welcome to unpacking the digital shelf, where we explore brand manufacturing in the digital age.

Peter Crosby coming to you from the Cape Cod studios of the digital shelf Institute. Rob is on from the Berkshires happy new year to everyone happy new year, happy new year, Peter 2021. Woo. Not this year would never come. I know, seriously. I was dragging to the end of that thing. Yeah, as, as we welcome the new year and I was thinking about, well, how do we want to start the new year's it's some sort of, you know the, the 10 things to think about when you're in e-commerce or something like that. And it just felt like, you know what we got to remember, we're heading into a new year. That's still going to be fraught, you know, exciting in e-commerce, but fraught with pandemic and recession and everything else. And, and I, I wanted to do like the podcast equivalent of the big deep breath before the, the new year really starts in earnest or, or while it starting in earnest. So I hope you're up for that sounds great. I'm so glad we're not doing one of those. Let's do 2020 predictions for 2021 or 21 prediction for 2021. I mean, predicting the world right now is a crazy thing to do. That would be kind of fun. What we should've done is gone back to the 2020 predictions. You might just cross them out.

Peter:

The thing that kind of inspired me was a McKinsey report that I saw. It was called overcoming pandemic fatigue, how to re-energize organizations in the long run. And as our audience knows, we really strive to keep the name Salsify off of our lips in this podcast and in everything the DSI does, we it's you know, it's a separate organization with really a broader purpose. And but I think today in order for us to sort of commiserate and and share it's, I think our experience with COVID and, and the past year has been through Salsify and, and through how our company and our, our fellow employees sort of adjusted to all this. And so we're gonna kind of be talking about that, not the product or anything like that, but just sort of, I think what we've experienced and, and, you know, and through the lens of, of kind of what McKinsey is talking about and do we agree or disagree, and what's the mindset that we can have going into 2021.

Peter:

So if that sounds like fun, keep listening, if not, well, it's been nice knowing, you know, when I, when I looked at Rob, when I looked at the, the McKinsey stuff, you know, they're, they're obviously focused on making money by telling people how to do things. But one of the things that stood out to me and as they talked about it, is that in 2021, or, you know, to continue going, as we know the, you know, for many people at my, the most recent report, I saw said the general population may not be seeing it until the end of summer early fall. And one of the things that they said is that grit and perseverance is no longer enough. When you think about, we've talked about, Salsify like, sort of trying to get ourselves in a place where it's sort of no heroes like that everyone's sort of what in the COVID period was just doing the best they could in a short amount of time with as few resources as possible.

Rob:

Yeah. And keep kids at home with the boondoggle that is remote learning and all this sort of stuff.

Peter:

Yeah. I mean, it's been huge adjustments across the board and I just don't, I don't know. I don't know about you. I just don't see that, you know, hopefully it will calm down some but it's, it's going to be, you know, another set of interesting times I imagine. And so the McKinsey came up with five ways that organizations are reenergizing, and I thought it was a good lens to sort of talk this through. And their, their first reenergizing tactic is administer the antidote to disillusionment, introduce bounded optimism, what it was, don't go crazy. They talk, is that, does that make sense to you? Like, you know, let's be hopeful, but don't go crazy. Yeah. I feel, I feel like

Rob:

It's hard not to be a little cynical and say isn't bounded optimism, realism.

Peter:

You'll be sick. Stop it. Yeah.

Rob:

The glass is literally 50%.

Peter:

Well, you know, it's funny, not funny, but the example that they used was I don't know if you remember James Stockdale, he ended up like almost re almost being a VP on someone's ticket. Maybe Mondale's way back. I'm dating myself here, but anyway, he ended up having to leave the ticket because anyway, you look it up James Stockdale, but really a great man and a great public servant, but he was a prisoner in Vietnam when he was a captain and C-suite was sort of leading his fellow prisoners through a sense of hope. And, and he later said that those that said they felt they would be home by Christmas, just did much worse mentally than those who understood. It might take longer and made the adjustment and sort of that optimism tempered with realism. And I think that's true of organizations. You know, you gotta, if you're a leader in an organization, if you lead teams or or, you know, in your case, you're the co-founder of a company that's, that's, that's crazy, you know, being able to you gotta be believable by your team, you know, you gotta be sort of honest and transparent, but also share your belief that things are going to be okay.

Rob:

Yeah. I, I it's, it's interesting. My reaction to this one is a little bit mixed because I personally am just an optimist by nature. I'm just, I'm just built that way, you know, and, and I believe that I've got a lot of agency in this world and I've always acted that way. I believe everyone has a lot of agency in this world. You know, some exceptions, but more so than people believe that they have. And agency's one of those things where if you feel like you've got control of the situation and you can make decisions, then the world's an easier place to be in than Dan, if you don't. And so I hear, I kind of get the sense of what McKinsey is saying here is, Hey the, the end is coming. Don't worry. It's, it's the ends in sight light at the end of the tunnel.

Rob:

Things will get better soon. It's not going to get better yet, but it's going to get better soon, you know, chin up. And, and that to me is, is not as strong of a message as, as a message. That's a little bit more, I don't know, focused on a person's focusing on their own environment and focusing on what they've got control over and focusing on giving each individual space to have enough agency, to, to make space in their life for the things that matter, regardless of whatever the external circumstances in the world are. And that's true now, and it's true later. I mean, you know, right now we could say COVID depressing us before COVID. There were, there were people that were on a plane in hotels full four days a week, five days a week in this world who didn't see their kids, who weren't spending enough time with friends who felt oppressed by the circumstances of their job or life or, or whatever.

Rob:

I mean, there's, people can be captives of their own circumstance and a lot of different ways and a lot of different settings. And, and yeah, my, my view here is that the agency and control and, and making those things available to people is something that is, is universally a good salary for pessimism. My, you know, I mean, you, you, you quoted a one source, let me quote a different one, a man's search for meaning by Frankl, right? Who is in a concentration camp. And he was in a situation where he didn't have control over, you know, when he went to the bathroom and when he ate or really anything on the physical world. And yet he gained agency and control in his mind of his circumstances. And it's an, it's an inspiring and inspiring read quoted in the world. But that's, that's kinda my view here is that to the extent that people really internalize, like I do have agency, there is a move that I can make. There's a thing that I can do. And to the extent that leaders can help them see that that that's, that's the path out of the, you know, the, the grind, grit cynicism rat hole of things.

Peter:

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you've always had that spine, I think others do, but I think there are also a ton of people who just don't have that, that skill in that mindset. And I think to your point, it's important for leaders to be able to to be able to make it, to be able to help them understand their, their own agency. Because I think that's where organizations start to break down is when people are waiting to be kind of told what to do or you know, yeah.

Rob:

And that's miserable. Yeah. I mean, like in general, you look at the, the top three things that, that make people happy in their job in career, and I'm using the word agency, but people use the word autonomy to me, a lot of the same imply a lot of the same stuff. And in this COVID era, I, one of the things that we've, we've done well in our department, especially is we've carved off. Almost I am, you know, it's getting up to about half the week in terms of working hours of time. That's UN bookable by others that is meeting free time. That's that's that they can structure. However, they need to do things like focus on work. You know, if you've got too focused hours of work, you can often get done 10, what normally will take 10 hours if you're interrupted by phone calls and zoom meetings and slacks and all that crap to get focused work done also to just take care of stuff in your life that just adds up that you just need a little time set aside for, or exercise a little bit or whatnot. And just by having large blocks of time, it's just ease the pressure off and just made it feel a little more palatable.

Peter:

Yeah. I mean, we're, we're, we're lucky, we're in a situation of, of relative privilege. You know, there are other people that, you know, their jobs just don't allow that, but we're lucky enough to be able to, and by that, I mean, I'm thinking of all like the frontline worker, you know, I'm thinking of of different categories of career, but when you, when you work in an, in an organization like ours or our, I hope like a lot of our, our listeners, there is the opportunity to gain some control over, over your own schedule, but it takes it takes leadership and it takes agreement and it takes, keep coming back to that agreement that you made, that there's time that's set aside to think and to breathe and to create anything, any article you read about you know, you've shared a bunch of them with us of creativity and, and take it. And what is that, that ideas take time to develop and strategic ideas take a lot of time to think about. And if you don't put aside that time, if everything is meeting after meeting, after meeting zoom, after zoom, which I hear so much of when does the work get done?

Rob:

Yeah, exactly. And I mean, just, you know, to the fact of the point of this article we went through a really, really busy period at, at Salsify where we had a new president coming on board. We were closing the series E round. We were having a great quarter, so there's just a lot of activity in, in, in the business. And I lost a lot of those meetings, a lot of those work blocks. And, and I ended up in a period where my day was, was overly scheduled. And I noticed that I was a lot more sort of stressed out and strung out by the end of the day. And I, you know, I fought to reclaim that time and, and you know, that it was just like, you know, life became a lot better afterwards. Right. And so, so I think that that's a, that's a, there's a guy named Cal Newport who writes, writes about this a lot.

Rob:

He's got a book called deep work, and he's got another book called digital minimalism, both of which talk about strategies and tactics that you can adopt in your own life to, to have more control, have more autonomy be more productive, have more fulfillment. I'm a huge fan of his philosophy. She's got another book coming out in March called the world without email, which goes to tackle a lot of the workflows, which really kind of crushed your day. I mean, if you're in and out of your inbox all day or in and out of Slack all day, I mean, your attention is going to be perpetually divided. Your concentration is going to be perpetually split, and you're going to feel miserable, you know, to get real work. Then you've got to close that inbox for hours at a time. It's fine if you don't get to that email immediately and, and focus. And so I think that there are things like that, that, that for me are much more impactful than what McKinsey is saying here. Mckinsey is saying no bounded optimism, right? I'm saying, don't focus on bounded, optimism, focus on agency and autonomy in creating the space in people's lives for those things. And, and I think that that's a lot more important for, for sustainable execution and for, for getting out of that sort of grind mentality that that McKinsey was saying was happening. Yeah.

Peter:

Which really was their next point, which is you know, so McKinsey to stay at this way, listen deeply for signs of exhaustion, other natural responses to stress. But th there, you know, actually that was one of the things they talked about. Leaders are trying to create space on their calendars for informal connections because in the zoom era, it's all

Rob:

Zoom, what are we working

Peter:

On? Okay, we're going to do that click and, and even, and I'm not suggesting one hour meetings, but often when, when it was in person meetings were like one hour blocks and now it's all 30 minute zooms. And, and they're saying leaders are responsible for going back and just connecting with their employees and checking in. And I think that that's, that's super important to remember how to do

Rob:

Yeah. You know, me, man, I'm not a, I'm not generally a small talk kind of guy. I'm not generally like a, how was your weekend theater kind of individual? And I'll, I'll say it's in the zoom era being that way, I think is a lot harder. One of the things I noticed is, you know, the first few months, I think we were all just stopped trying to grind it out. And then at some, at some point we S we S everything, everybody around and, and every business realized, wow, did Jesus is this is gonna, this is gonna be around for awhile. We should, we should we should treat it as if it's going to be around for awhile. And I started picking our heads up and it really only wasn't until the last few months that I realized that the casual interactions were things that I was missing a lot.

Rob:

And I got those in the office from just walking around, checking in on people, bumping into people in the cafeteria, you know, seeing a room like at our offices at Salsify, we all have the wall, all the conference rooms are glass walls. So you can see who's in in whatever meetings. And so sometimes right, at the end of a meeting, I'll see a room with a bunch of people I want to talk to, and I'll just walk in and say, Hey, you know, and I didn't realize how important in, in retrospect, I mean, it sort of sounds obvious, but how important those little things were to kind of activity and, and a shared understanding of what was going on in the business and all that type of stuff. And I've tried to schedule more cocktail hour meetings where it's just, you know, get together, no agenda catch up. But you know, it doesn't scale like the in-person stuff does that, that's one that I don't think, I don't think we've quite figured out, and I am looking forward to getting back to the office,

Peter:

You know, what I've taken to doing, like, so we have a one hour, sorry, half hour all hands every week. And so I'll go on and, and it's you know, our CEO, Jason Purcell is rhino, and I'll just go on the gallery view. And that's, that's why I always wish that people would be on camera when we're at that. Because what I do is I'll look at a face that I haven't seen in awhile, and I'll just drop them a note and like, say, Oh my God, it's so good to see your face. And I heard what you did the other day with, you know, this thing that we're working on is something that and I just wanted to just hope you're doing good. And, and, and I love seeing your contribution, someone that's not in my team, you know, it's just like people that I really enjoy that I miss seeing. And just finding those little moments to take a second to connect, I think is really,

Rob:

Yeah. And it's also did you see Val with the giant parrot on her shoulder? That was amazing.

Peter:

Yeah. one of our, one of our folks in in customer support. Oh, no, yeah. Customer support. Yeah. and she had a white parrot and Christmas hat on and it was, it was joyous and very well. So one of the things, as, you know, as we're going into into another year, another exciting year no surprise that adaptability in a survey of more than 1200 global leaders teams, adaptability is one of the top two capabilities identified as crucial. And the other was inspirational leadership. Again, no surprises there, but I do think there's this point about, especially as we're seeing in digital and e-commerce, we talk about all the time, the need to, to change it up and be an agile organization is, is so important because things are just changing too fast and moving at speed. The research indicates that organizations that invest in the well-being and energy of their people see four times higher profit 10 and more than 20% gains in productivity and innovation.

Peter:

But I also would connect this up actually with their last point, which is about unleashing energy by evolving the organization's operational model. They were saying that one of the things that they're seeing happen, and we, I reflect on that was moving from an annual planning cycle to a quarterly planning cycle with a 90 day cadence to learn what was accomplished in the past cycle, and then reset priorities needed dynamically flowing resources, people, and capital where they're needed most. Now I know in e-commerce like they're on an annual planning cycle first for sure. And, and have been because they plan these year long and product rollouts and things like that. Have you heard, I've heard from a couple of leaders that, that starting to change. Have you heard that shifting and e-commerce as well as tech?

Rob:

Yeah, well, you know, the, the big one the last couple months that was public was Proctor and gamble, CMO got up and said, we're not going to be signing media upfront going into 21. Right. And so that, that's basically a statement saying that I don't want my capital locked into annual agreements. I need the flexibility to be able to redeploy across channels on, on an ongoing basis. We're seeing, you know, the trend had been over the last few years, we've been seeing more and more capital assignable on a, on a quarterly basis or in some cases, a monthly basis across different marketing channels as, as things pop up. But it's generally speaking for most brand manufacturers, a relatively small percentage of capital, a lot, most of the capital for most of the big guys is still locked up in upfronts, still assigned to television and other mass market communication media.

Rob:

So the, the P and G announcement is a big one. It's basically saying we're going to move to a more adaptable model. And I think from a financial planning perspective, moving to a quarterly model in the world to be commerce makes all the sense in the world that nobody has been able to effectively predict the demand and growth of e-commerce channels. This is true even prior to COVID, it's not a smooth growth there. Step functions, nobody out there has a good demand forecast model for, for, for e-commerce demand in, in any category that's truly predictable. And, and you just, you just have to be able to respond to things as they occur. I mean, the there's so many examples from this year. One of my, one of my favorites was the blow up of ocean spray on Tik TOK. Yes. Were, were ocean spray sold out everywhere across the country.

Rob:

And, you know, ocean spray is a great company, but it's just all of a sudden it was all hands on deck responding to I, you know, the gift of social media had dropped on them, right? And so I think this world of digital is volatile and moving to a world where your plans are not set in stone for the year where you have the opportunity to really, and truly adjust is, is the right way to operate. I mean, the smarter, the planning cycle, the more flexibility the teams have on the ground to make decisions. The more experimentation is allowed within the company that the more successful folks, folks, but I mean, it's for us too at Salsify we moved from an annual planning cycle to basically quarterly planning cycles. I mean, we still have an annual financial plan, right. That, that the, that the board has on the top a high level, but even that's more adaptable now than, than it was previously because the market is moving too fast to really have a lot of confidence in exactly what's going to happen four quarters out.

Peter:

Yeah. When I think of the, you know, retailer ad spend report, you know, we just put out a report in calculator on how to think about the broader impact of your retailer ad platform spend across other categories. And and that came as that report was a result of the requests of our executive forum as part of the digital shelf Institute. That that's a problem that they're dealing with, that they don't feel like they can invest properly in retailer ad platforms simply because they're only given credit on the books for the revenue that they generate on that retailer platform from that campaign. But the, the research is showing that there's a much broader impact across. And when you think about in 2021, the number of ad platforms that are going to pop up, not all of them will be worth investing in, but you need to be able to flex your, your spend to go where it's going to have the broadest overall business impact and the ability to, to know that the, the view into that and the transparency of that is going to shift during the year. And you want to be able to take advantage of it.

Peter:

I got an amen from Rob. Yeah.

Rob:

Okay. It's I think it's gonna be hard for a lot of companies, right? You see, there's a big trend in manufacturers to adopt agile, where they've got scrums and daily stand-ups and all this sort of stuff. And the reality is that they're, they're sort of, it's like agile washing they're, they're pretending they're, they're doing like the tactical things that the agile method methodology from software development suggest that you do, but they're not actually agile. Like if they learn something material in the process of building or executing, it's not like they change their plans. It's like they go back to their senior executive and say, Hey, we'd like to change the metrics we'd like to, we'd like to take a different approach. Here's what we learned. Let's do something totally different. Now that doesn't happen that often, you know, usually it's still like, okay, well, we still have the same goal we had yesterday.

Rob:

And if you're not, if you're not adjusting the goals based on what you learned, and you're not adjusting where the resources go, then you're not actually agile. You know, you're just, you're just pretending to be going through the motions. And I, you know, the, the moving to a quarterly planning is pretty heavy handed the McKinsey approach, but it's one way to at least give a chance to have the, the reset. It's like, Hey, look, guys, we've been working on this for three months. Our suggestion as the team working on is that we stop working on it and do something else. They've got to have the space to do that more, more than annually.

Speaker 4:

Yeah. And it has to happen across teams. I was on a call yesterday talking to an executive about sort of the profitability models that they get from their finance team. And they were making the case that they're just not, they're not right for this new age anymore. And they just are, their finance partners are just not shifting. They're like, Nope, we have confidence or a model. That's what we're going with. And just fighting that battle must be, it must be exhausting.

Rob:

That's the thing, man. I mean, hats off to all the digital transformers out there in the world, right. Looking to win on the digital shelf, your whole company doesn't understand it yet.

Speaker 4:

It's hard. Oh my gosh.

Rob:

Props to fighting the fight.

Speaker 4:

No, we talked to these heroes and, and the amount of time that they invest in education of their peers above and beyond and, and, you know, and the people they report to and, and down through the ranks across the organization is so impressive while they're also running these businesses. I mean, I have such, I have such respect for our, for the folks that we get to talk to. It's a job that I could never do, but I'm envious of their capability to, to fight those battles and and be passionate about it and laugh, you know, just have a sense of humor. They're great people. The last one I want to talk about it is, it is sort of you know, I remember a couple of PR, a couple of particular occurrences in the past year, certainly when we went remote in March.

Speaker 4:

And, and all of a sudden people are home with their families and kids and dogs running through the, the camera and and homeschooling and and isolation. And, and then I also think of, you know, the black lives matter movement, George Floyd late in delayed awakening to to the need, to really expressively approach the issues of diversity and inclusion. I think of those McKinsey talks about, you know, this is the last thing we'll talk about is just focusing on care, connection and wellbeing. And those are two moments in our company's history in the past year that I saw not only a a response in a moment, but just a, a decided shift and commitment to how we are going to think about one, what does it mean to be a remote first organization now, how do we shift how we communicate and talk, and, and how do we think about the, the boundaries between family time and work time when you're working from your home, and then also on the diversity and inclusion side, just watching us really commit. I think for the first time in a, in a really programmatic way the the, the resources and thoughtfulness, and to, to really make sure that we build a diverse and inclusive organization. And I've seen that across the industry. I just wondered if those connected with you and if, and how it felt sort of from your angle working on those things.

Rob:

I mean, it's, it's, it's interesting that all this stuff is happening all in this one year. Cause they're, they're, they're really different topics, right. And then the, the there's also the political divisiveness and the most crazy presidential campaign. I mean, that I can remember th the most divisive among citizens of this country, the most, like I'm not talking to my brother, I'm not talking to my father. I'm not talking to my cousin presidential presidential campaign ever. Right. yeah, I mean, I think there has been some good out of it. I mean the racism and racial inequality issues of this country are longstanding and latent. And I think a lot of, a lot of companies, including ours really, hadn't been treating it as a high priority issue prior to the wake-ups of the year. And, you know, we've, we've invested in time and money and personnel and policy changes and, and all that to try to diversify our own, our own company, bring, bring it treat the issue with the urgency that it probably should be treated with everywhere.

Rob:

And, and so, you know, I don't, I don't know, from a McKinsey perspective, you know, for, if we're going to get back to the theme here on things to do, to really get out of the grind and to recover from the year that 2020 was to what extent those matter to which people. But I, I know that some of those moves that we've made and some of those moves that I've seen others make like OSHA, for example, on the DSI di executive forum is mentoring a bunch of people on diversity outside of her company. And I, I know that those moves for, for, for a lot of people make them feel better about where they work and what they're doing, and that they, that the things that they're doing matter and that they can make a positive impact in the world. And so you know, for, to the, to the extent that, that helps us get out of the, of the year that 2020 was which, and by that, I mean, actions that actually involve investment of time, material, money, effort issues that people care about and can feel aligned to then.

Rob:

Yeah, I think that those are things that more companies should do to get out of 2020.

Speaker 4:

And I go back to your point at the beginning about agency and autonomy. I think that's where it lies, you know, as we begin this new year you know, we talk about companies like they're entities, but they're not they're people. And and every individual is certainly in the positions of leadership, but also besides that, we have a continuing responsibility to pay attention to creating the space for individuals to rise and to, and to participate and feel connected to something. And and I just want to say, I'm grateful to be able to experience that in the work that we do together and also to experience it from the customers, the executives, the the program leads that make e-commerce happen. It's just inspiring. It's an inspiring industry to work in. And, and I think the ambition that, that so many of the people that we work with have to make to just make to make brilliant organizations. I think that's, that's that continuing responsibility. And, and I'm looking forward to 2021 and, and continuing to make that investment with all of you and certainly with you, Rob. So thanks for a great year of podcasting and collaboration. Absolutely

Rob:

Say it to, you may 20, 21 bring great things. They, everyone have agency and autonomy and feel like what they do matters and spend a little bit more downtime with everyone and feel more connected and a Partridge in a pear tree, all those things. I think we did a better job than McKinsey. Yeah.

Speaker 4:

I'm going to write this up, but let's just say it, it's nice to see the back of 2020. So I'm looking forward to this new year of learning and collaborating at this most exciting place in commerce of the digital shelf. So thanks to everyone for being part of our community.