March 2022 | 

One Company’s Digital Transformation: A Group Effort

One Company’s Digital Transformation: A Group Effort

The Giant Company, a Pennsylvania-based grocery retailer, made headlines recently as it stepped up its delivery services. It’s now offering 30-minute delivery through a partnership with Instacart as part of a wider strategy to better meet changing consumer preferences. That strategy has long been a part of the nearly century-old company’s history: it pioneered computer-assisted checkout scanning in 1975, and a pre-pandemic investment in a redesign of its mobile app and website proved invaluable to those who wanted online ordering for pickup or delivery. The commitment continues: later this year, they plan to open a new Giant Direct e-commerce fulfillment center in Philadelphia, bringing more capacity and faster order fulfillment.

It’s clear the company understands that the commitment to evolve with and for its customers must be ongoing. Joanna Crishock, chief of staff and director of brand strategy, says, “We have experienced a rapid amount of change in the past 18 months and as a business we know we need to adapt and challenge ourselves, our norms, and expectations. This transformation is highly dependent on our ability to transform from a digital perspective.”

Crishock and three Giant Company colleagues chose to work on that challenge by leveraging Wharton’s expertise. Together they attended the Leading Digital Transformation program, which helps participants use technology to compete, grow, and transform their business. Rebecca Lupfer, VP Mid-Atlantic division, says, “For The Giant Company to stay competitive, we need to be on the leading edge, changing and growing as fast as our customers are. I wanted to be part of this program to hear and learn from thought leaders in this space to understand different perspectives.”

One of those thought leaders is academic director of the program and professor of management Rahul Kapoor. He explains that digital technologies are not an end unto themselves; they develop and become supplanted quickly, and therefore should be seen as a “canvas that allows you to create new and different types of value and ways to monetize it.” The audience includes both digital companies and traditional ones like The Giant Company, which began in 1923 as a two-man butcher shop and has grown to include over 160 stores in D.C., Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. Kapoor says the myth that digital companies are too far ahead to catch up with must be dispelled. “It’s simply not correct. Disruption is a process as opposed to a state of the world. What is amazing about this journey is that just because you may have started five years ago doesn’t mean that is your only journey. The proliferation of technologies and business models will change over the next decade or two. Incumbents can compete side-by-side with start-ups in this environment.”

Providing a Superior Omnichannel Experience

Glennis Harris, senior VP, customer experience, says innovating and evolving more rapidly to an omnichannel experience was top of mind when she enrolled in the program. “Customers’ expectations have shifted heavily to expect a consistent experience no matter how they shop with us. In order for The Giant Company to compete, we have to innovate and evolve more rapidly to an omnichannel experience.”

Brian Wanner, director of talent and culture, agrees. “I signed up for the program as our industry and organization are becoming more digital, and transitioning to a digital/omnichannel approach has become a standard to compete in a highly competitive industry. Considering this change as well as the pace of change, I needed to better understand how to assist in leading from an HR/talent perspective where organizational design, change management, and upskilling the workforce is essential.”

Learning by Doing

As Richard Branson said, “You don't learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing.” To that end, Leading Digital Transformation, like a number of Wharton Executive Education programs, includes a simulation that gives participants the opportunity to apply what they are learning — making classroom lessons deeper and more personal.

Kapoor explains that, working in teams, participants build and run a platform-based business “from the ground up. The simulation opens people up to the possibilities that a digitally enabled ecosystem represents. It clearly shows the benefits in terms of dealing with customers, partners, and growth in the face of strong competition. It also offers long-term perspective when the participants see how what they do in the short term has such an effect on the long term.”

Joanna Crishock says the simulation “brought so much of what we discussed together. It emphasized the importance of much of what we are facing today, which is an investment today to secure our future. The different perspectives that everyone brought to the table and the fast-paced nature was very reflective of what we’ve been dealing with over the last 18 months ourselves.”

For Glennis Harris, the day-long simulation was “a highlight of the class. It brought a clear perspective of managing consumer expectations from a digital/ecosystem platform. It gave me the insight to help grow our e-commerce business and the importance of gig partners.”

New Perspectives that Drive Change

Lifelong learning is a key to individual and organizational growth. Learning with others, especially with those you can apply that learning with, accelerates it. Brian Wanner appreciated the diverse perspectives brought by others in the program, helping him “pull out additional points of view that added to my learning and the entire experience. Additionally, having a few participants from our organization was very beneficial as we can compare and contrast the information and develop a holistic perspective on our organizational approach.”

The four leaders from The Giant Company come from different work centers, but, as Glennis Harris notes, “We all share the same goals and objectives, and we each have an omnichannel goal.” Joanna Crishock adds, “Those long-term shared goals and objectives will enable each of us to bring a different perspective and application back to the business with alignment and clarity.” Rebecca Lupfer says their attendance as a group “shows the commitment of The Giant Company in this space to push forward and win. We are returning to the business with a like-minded approach that can help to drive change throughout the organization.”