Managing Change, Starting With the CIO

Target Corp. is among the top three or four U.S. retailers, depending on who's doing the ranking. That's a coveted position in such a volatile industry. To continue climbing, Target has chosen expansion on multiple fronts: into city centers, into mobile, into Canada and on it goes. IT is a critical player in each move, if not a keystone.

CIO Insight: Any unique problems you faced?

Jacob: A month after launch, we participated in a promotional event involving Missoni, one of our clothing designers, that had literally unprecedented response and demand. It tested some of the assumptions we had gone into testing with. It forced us to learn very, very quickly about how you build in resilience when the key assumptions end up being something that surprises you.

It's the nature of the space. It's so dynamic. It was a learning for us to figure out how to put just as much energy, insight and experience into running the site as in building the site. The learning curve was very fast and very steep. The experience helped us think more about being multichannel and how target is evolving as a retailer.

CIO Insight: The term "status quo" has to be as dead as the Latin language itself.

Jacob: That's absolutely true.

CIO Insight: Were there missteps along the way?

Jacob: In changes this big, you communicate even more. Make sure your team is fully supported to make that change happen.

CIO Insight: IT has become the common ground between customers, the company as a whole and IT staff. Those are three totally different ways of talking about a change.

Jacob: Target is strong in terms of teamwork, support, focus and collaboration around key initiatives. The knowledge that supports the teamwork behind a project as big as changing our platform, or, currently, as big as getting ready to go into Canada, is larger than IT. Those initiatives truly are not IT projects. They're Target projects.

The partners on major initiatives that I have across the different areas of Target are completely integrated from a project-team standpoint, from a communications-team standpoint.

CIO Insight: What are the top challenges facing Target? My list would be social media, mobile, Canada and City Target.

Jacob: Your list is quite similar to the list I have made of our biggest initiatives.

Canada is one of our biggest priorities, as we prepare to open new stores in the spring of 2013. Hundreds and hundreds of team members are getting ready to do that.

Multichannel - and when I say multichannel, it's about Target.com, it's about mobile, and it's about the in-store digital guest experience. It's work that's really big in scope but also transformative for Target.

And then there's the shift in back-end systems. We have a plan in place to make sure we build the right retail systems foundation so that the next 50 years for Target are as great as the previous 50.

CIO Insight: Let's talk about Canada. What is your change-management role in that initiative?

Jacob: We're starting with a brand new Canadian operation. The change-management piece is that we're going in with a package implementation.

To do it really successfully in the time frame we have and with as large of a scale deployment as we're going to have, we're really looking for those off-the-shelf software capabilities that we can put in with little or no customization. Then, over time, we'll build our own solutions in key areas of differentiation.

CIO Insight: In just a few years, you've been rolling out a lot of change: updating the technology foundation, bringing the E-commerce platform in house, moving into Canada. That's a big message of change to tell the group.

Jacob: Yeah, it is a big message. It's a big agenda. We continue to grow the size of our agenda, but it's the right agenda. The way I would frame that for my team is, Target has to be the best at retail IT. We are a dynamic company. We have a great retail foundation to build on. The pace of change will increase. Target needs to be ready, and it is ready.

CIO Insight: Is there a return on helping your org being change-capable?

Jacob: Absolutely. Status quo is going away. Change keeps your team engaged, keeps your organization relevant an dynamic. There is a very real benefit to investing in the skills that allow an organization to be effective at change.

This article was originally published on 10-22-2012
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