Bill Wavish and Bernie
Brookes
, the new leaders of Myer, are inheriting a sick company. They will live or die by their capacity to
create an underlying cultural shift. It
is a huge task.

Overhauling
supply chain, logistics and outdated layouts; re-jigging the merchandise mix or
the major re-invention
suggested by Doug Tigert (a former consultant to Myer) will not produce the
right result unless built on a sound cultural base.

Retail perfection does not
exist. Retailing is a constant search
for a better way. The best pointers to
what Myer needs are Officeworks
(start-up) and Bunnings
(resurrection of the dead McEwans) – the outstanding retail successes of the
last decade.

These retailers had in common the
ability to be self critical (coupled with a relative lack of internal politics)
allowing everyone to question and challenge the status quo. The leadership developed a strategy to which
they were committed, painted a vivid picture of what could be achieved and sold
it down the line. People were encouraged
to take risks in pursuit of the strategy. No one was spanked for having a go. Everyone, from shop floor casuals to the MD,
could articulate what they were there to achieve, rather than what they were
there to do. Outcomes aligned to the
strategy – not tasks.

At a dinner attended by Doug Tigert
and the MDs of Myer and Bunnings; the Myer MD was moaning that Tigert’s input
had achieved so much for Bunnings, but so little for Myer. Tigert told him the problem was that Myer
chiefs surround themselves with people who will agree with everything they say,
whereas Bunnings MD Peter Davis had surrounded himself with people who would
tell him he was speaking bullsh*t, if they even slightly suspected it. Current and recent Myer people paint Dawn
Robertson as involved (good), interventionist (not so good) and second guessing
(disastrous). Myer has long lacked the
cultural footings for real success.

If freed from the shackles of fear,
old mental models, internal politics and competition, cynical talk, and
irrelevant performance measures, Myer can shine again.

In speaking with some senior Myer
people this week, there is palpable energy and a mixture of fear and
euphoria. They are clearly excited about the new ownership.
However, will the new leaders take the time to understand where the strong and
weak people are? Will some current duds
(with well developed skills in blowing their own trumpet) be left in key
roles? They believe it is critical that the
right people are supporting and managing the changes.

A major cultural change is extremely
difficult to achieve in a company of 22,000 people. It probably can’t occur without a
catastrophe or new ownership. The new
energetic mindset among Myer people is the necessary fertile ground.

Peter Fray

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