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SSA Notebook | October 2014

Strategy, Talent and Operations Integration: How T.J. Maxx Succeeds in Retail

A recent Fortune article explores T.J. Maxx parent company TJX’s striking success. Sales increased 50% over six years to $27.4B and profits tripled. While the article discusses many tactics, it also conveys the company’s strong ability to integrate strategy, operations and talent management. Unlike other off-pricers, TJX focuses on “value, not cheap,” and hides “gems for the well-heeled as well as the middle class” to maintain the feel of a ‘treasure hunt’ for a good deal. TJX offers constantly fresh inventory with great values because its buyers: (1) purchase “most weeks of the year” (not seasonally), and (2) have great vendor relationships (strong partnerships, always pay on time). Frequent replenishment provides customers a reason to buy fast and return often. Talent management also plays a huge role. TJX is known for having the best, highly specialized buyers; “a TJX buyer might specialize in just handbags” rather than all accessories.

Data-Driven Fast Food: Where Should the Nearest Starbucks be?

This Fast Company article shares how Starbucks, Wendy’s, and Chick-fil-A have turned to data-centric approaches to determine where to build their next location. By comparing GIS data overlays of auto traffic, consumer demographics, safety information, commercial mix and other factors, they can decide which locations have the greatest potential for profit. They also evaluate retail clusters and public transportation hubs in neighborhoods to see where the most potential foot traffic is. Not all data is for real estate — Starbucks has used demographic information, like smartphone ownership, in conjunction with weather forecasts (when’s the next heatwave?) to time cold beverage promotions. These use cases demonstrate how companies can leverage external big data to drive decisions that not only save them money (and prevent losses from underperforming locations), but also provide an input for predictive marketing.

Questions the C-Suite Should be Asking about IT

This Wall Street Journal article provides valuable insights on how the C-Suite should get closer to IT. The author urges CEOs to ask questions such as “are we using technology to transform our business, or are we just adding bells and whistles?” For example, financial services firm USAA previously serviced customers based on internal structure (banking, insurance or financial advice), but rethought its business for the digital economy to provide services tailored to customers’ life events (childbirth, job transfer, etc.). This transformation required redesigning, integrating and building processes and systems across business units. Another question: “Is electronic data empowering your people?” For example, Seven & I Holdings Co. Ltd. centralizes purchasing and logistics but leaves inventory decisions to its salesclerks at 13,000 Japanese 7-Eleven locations who tailor inventory to meet local demand. Data that pushed decision making to the frontline resulted in innovative offerings, speedy inventory turnover, and motivated employees.

AIG’s “Science Team” and Evidence-Based Decision Making

This HBR post traces how AIG moved from individual expert judgment towards data-driven decision making. In 2012, AIG created the “Science Team” to manage the process of creating outcomes from data science. The Team’s 130 members include behavioral economists, psychologists, engineers and change management experts. Most of this team came from outside the industry “to enable it to challenge the status quo approach to decision making.” The article also highlights the Team’s successful strategies, like determining the most critical problems. At AIG, 10% of claims make up 60% of costs, so claims severity predictors improve outcomes by “enabling earlier and more accurate targeting of intervention measures.” Other tips: work with early adopters to show big wins, have a portfolio (rather than banking on a couple of initiatives), and adopt “an iterative, rapid cycle adaptive approach, as most learning occurs by taking action.”

Exclusive Content on Modern Leadership from Stephen Miles, CEO of The Miles Group

Stephen Miles, CEO of our sister firm, The Miles Group (TMG), offers frank, pertinent insights on modern leadership. TMG develops talent strategies through CEO successions, executive transition, board succession, and Chairman/Lead Director transitions.

What’s the Major Underleveraged Resource in All Companies?

It’s no secret that senior executives spend a lot of their time in meetings. Yet, those same people who are experts at extracting high performance from every other activity tell TMG that “many of the meetings they are involved in are not effective.” Stephen notes that companies diligently invest in “mining efficiencies throughout operations — from shaving off seconds in manufacturing to redesigning office spaces — to improve productivity.” Yet, for all the time spent on them, meetings are consistently a company’s most undermanaged and underleveraged resource. Building on global experience and expertise with CEOs, TMG has developed a playbook on the best ways executives can transform meetings from dormant potential to “fostering productive discussion and debate, moving ideas to action and strengthening teams.”

Watch this short interview with Stephen Miles for concrete ways to turn around your meeting experience:


For highly effective meetings, use TMG’s rules as a guide:


Sign up to Subscribe to Stephen’s Full Quarterly Newsletter “Miles to Go” here.

This post first appeared on SSA & Company.