"Blogging innovation and marketing insights for the greater good"
Business Strategy Innovation Consultants

Blogging Innovation

Blogging Innovation Sponsor - Brightidea
Home Services Case Studies News Book List About Us Videos Contact Us Blog

A leading innovation and marketing blog from Braden Kelley of Business Strategy Innovation

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Listening to Employees is a Best Buy

by Robert B. Tucker

Listening to Employees is a Best BuySeveral years ago, the Wall Street Journal reported on an unusual cost-cutting move by electronics retailer Circuit City. The chain abruptly fired their top-producing veteran salespeople and replaced them with lower-wage new hires.

When Circuit City went bankrupt last year, you had to wonder if decisions like that were at least partly to blame.

Meanwhile in Minnesota, retailer Best Buy took a different approach. They began to focus on creating a deeper dialogue with the firm's 160,000 employees spread out amongst 1,150 stores across the United States and China, Mexico, England and a growing number of countries.

Best Buy began experimenting with social networking technologies centered upon the company's intranet site. They started conducting weekly online polls of employees. They set up wikis for people with common interests to brainstorm together. They invited senior managers to participate in agenda-free town hall meetings. And they established a "listening chair" where employees could survey other employees on such questions as "Do you think the Geek Squad uniform needs updating?"

When they started listening in earnest, employee turnover stood at 81 percent a year. Three years on, it had dropped to 60 percent. Last year, it was down to 49 percent.

All of this hyper-listening didn't just happen. And it wasn't something decreed by senior management.

Jennifer Rock was a mid-level marketing manager when she became aware of what lack of communication was costing her company. Highly analytical and a self-described 'Type A' person, she noticed that stores with higher than average employee engagement levels and lower than average turnover rates tended to be stores that outperformed the others in sales growth and sales per employee. But merely noticing an opportunity doesn't do any good.

To her credit, Jennifer took action. She created a new position for herself, Director of Intranet and Dialogue.

Next she and her team developed a clear mission: to use every low or no cost means possible to help Best Buy become extraordinary at communicating with employees (not just at them), and to connect employees with information and with each other as well. The goal of all this was to add to business success by helping the individual employee succeed.

If you've attended one of my keynotes lately or participated in my new "Innovation is Everybody's Business" in-house workshop, you have heard me rave about what Jennifer Rock and her team have accomplished. You have heard me extol this group of quiet revolutionaries for their innovativeness in seeing a problem, and stepping up to the challenge of solving it using every trick in the innovator's toolkit. And you no doubt heard me point out that developing one's innovation skills may be the smartest career move you'll ever make - especially if you want to become indispensible.

And you may have heard me say that Jennifer Rock represents the future of the innovation movement.

When I visited with Jennifer recently in Minneapolis, I asked her why would any company, especially a quarterly-results obsessed American company, give a hoot about listening to its employees, especially now? Why would they add headcount (Jen's team has climbed to eight people) when competitors were busy chopping heads?

Jen's unflinching response: Because she and her Intranet and Dialogue Team sold senior management on the bottom-line benefits of listening to employees. "Our success boils down to the interaction between one customer and one employee," Jennifer said. "Is that employee happy and productive and informed and excited? We need to know that employee's state of mind better than anyone else in the company."

Though we are loathe to admit it, the global economic crisis disrupted the Innovation Movement as more and more firms went into survival mode. A new survey conducted by Chuck Frey of InnovationTools.com suggests that most initiatives are in a holding pattern at best, and there is little enthusiasm for broad-based, enterprise-wide initiatives. CEOs and senior executives admit they are just too distracted with more immediate issues. But meanwhile, they are suddenly, desperately in need of more people like Jennifer Rock. As John Draper, senior VP marketing for Mead Consumer Products told me:

"I need people to be less risk averse, I need them to rattle the cage, challenge what we do and look for new ways to do things."

Jennifer and her team realized the impact of what their team was doing when company leaders decided to reduce the employee discount. "The move set off a firestorm with employees," Jennifer recalled. "On the Watercooler [an online forum] hundreds and hundreds of employees talked about what this discount meant to them, and what it meant to customers, since employees could try out products and recommend them to customers. People wrote in to suggest other ways the company could save money without touching the employee discount."

And company leaders changed their mind and rescended their decision.

"They said to us, 'The next time you see a groundswell like this and we are unaware of what's happening, you have our permission to kick down our door. Don't even knock. We need to know.' And that's when we thought, 'Wow, we are adding value, we are making a difference.'"

Jen said she will remember that day for as long as she lives.

Don't miss an article - Subscribe to our RSS feed and join our Continuous Innovation group!
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Robert B. TuckerRobert B. Tucker is the President of The Innovation Resource Consulting Group. He is a speaker, seminar leader and an expert in the management of innovation and assisting companies in accelerating ideas to market.

Labels: ,

AddThis Feed Button Subscribe to me on FriendFeed

Thursday, January 21, 2010

True Test of a First Rate Innovator

by Robert B. Tucker

True Test of a First Rate InnovatorTom Peters used to remind executives that it mattered little what they proclaimed to be their top priorities. Instead, the "In Search of Excellence" co-author advised looking at your calendar to reveal your main concerns, because that is where you are spending your time.

I thought of Peters' admonition when reading IBM's recently-released study of 2500 chief information officers. The contrast in the calendars of CIOs in high and low growth companies was quite revealing.

Low growth CIOs, according to the analysis, are bogged down in the muck and mire of tactical issues. Their calendars reveal 50 to 60 hour weeks reacting, fixing problems. They sweat and toil away just keeping the network up and running. They fight fires to the point of exhaustion. And still nobody is much happy with their work.

High growth CIOs work differently. Their calendars reveal a different use of time. For sure, they keep critical systems up and running and no doubt fight their share of fires.

But as a group they seem to have figured out how to keep their powder dry. They make a point to helicopter up high enough to see the big picture. To think about strategic issues the way the CEO must. These innovation-adept CIOs devote a whopping 87 percent more of their time "enabling the business and corporate vision" than their slow-growth peers.

These CIOs also seem to have realized that their unique position in the organization gives them a perspective few others have. And in recent years, they have focused laser-like on improving their innovation skills.

Titled "The New Voice of the CIO," the survey identifies the personal best practices of highly effective Chief Information Officers. For instance:
  • High growth CIOs spend an impressive 55 percent of their time on activities that spur innovation. Low growth CIOs are mired in tactical execution and IT issues.

  • Specific innovation activities include generating buy-in for innovative plans, implementing new technologies and managing non-technology issues.

  • High growth CIOs spend 94 percent more time integrating business and technology to innovate than low-growth CIOs.

  • High growth CIOs actively use collaboration and partnering technology within the IT organization 60 percent more often than low growth CIOs.

Ever alert to new ways to add value to their organizations, today's standout CIOs focus on return on investment from technology. They involve themselves in reinvesting the cost savings from technological innovation into other parts of the business, namely product and strategy innovations.

Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald once remarked that the "true test of a first rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time and still function." This is what all of us are required to do to add unique value to our organizations.

Although IBM researched the changing role of leading CIOs, the report challenges all of us to rethink priorities in a time of challenge and change. Even if you're in HR, logistics, purchasing or payroll or some other functional area, what your calendar reveals about how you invest your time can be instructive.

How do these high growth managers find time for strategic thinking and innovation while others are bogged down in the weeds of daily execution? How do they "decommoditize" the value they create for the organization and become indispensible? Read this report and you'll find yourself taking notes... and taking action!

Enjoy this post? Subscribe to our RSS feed and join our Continuous Innovation group!

Robert B. TuckerRobert B. Tucker is the President of The Innovation Resource Consulting Group. He is a speaker, seminar leader and an expert in the management of innovation and assisting companies in accelerating ideas to market.

Labels: , , , ,

AddThis Feed Button Subscribe to me on FriendFeed

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Are You Thinking Ahead of the Curve?

by Robert B. Tucker

Filippo PasseriniThe other day in Cincinnati I met Filippo Passerini, Procter & Gamble's Chief Information Officer. Fascinating guy. Ph.D. in statistics from the University of Rome. Father of three. Technical mountain climber. And the toast of his organization right now for what he and his troops have been able to accomplish.

Passerini was the driving force behind Procter's radical revamping of its entire back office operations. The move obliterated $1.2 billion in costs from P&G. It enabled the consumer products giant to respond quickly to the Global Economic Crisis, and bring new products to market faster than ever.

So how does Filippo unwind after routinely putting in 60 hour weeks? He plays chess. "Thinking what your opponent will do three moves out is good discipline for business," he told me in a thick Italian accent.

Filippo is the perfect illustration of an important innovation skill -- thinking ahead of the curve.

"It was our reading of trends that led us to make this move," he explained. In frequent open-ended brainstorming sessions, he and his core team of five saw that the world was shifting. It was moving from 'big is good' to 'flexible is good' to 'network is good'.

"Fifteen years ago, if you were a big company, that was a competitive advantage. Then flexibility was the way to achieve it. But we saw that over the next five years the network would become more and more important."

What to do?

Global Services NetworkPasserini's vision was that the entire company should operate from one consolidated, integrated global services network. He and his team assaulted the assumption that the way P&G handled back office functions like finance and accounting, HR, facilities management, and IT was good enough. They knew it was riddled with duplication and waste. So they set forth to build a new unit -- Global Business Services - to take over and consolidate all such operations.

Today, 'shared-services centers' in Costa Rica, Manila and Newcastle, England, provide networked support around the clock to P&G operations everywhere. All non-strategic activities have been outsourced to outside vendors. And Passerini and his group have 'decommoditized' themselves (his word) from being internal service providers to become strategic partners to the organization.

In researching a forthcoming book, I've been interviewing dozens of high output managers like Filippo Passerini. They don't try to predict the future, which is impossible. But they do make it a priority to spend time thinking ahead of the curve.

"One of our pillars is thinking out in the future and anticipating what is coming and then making your move. It's so much better than reacting."

Innovation-adept leaders like Filippo Passerini don't just gather better intelligence. They creatively crunch this data, argue about it, debate its implications, and try to connect the dots in some meaningful fashion. They seek to arrive at a point of view, both individually and collectively, about how to turn today's rapid changes into tomorrow's opportunities. And then they take action.

How are you "sussing out" (as the British say) the trends in your market and in the wider world? What's new in your information diet that's stimulating your thinking? What trends, emerging technologies and developments are you doing deep dives on to gain a knowledge edge?

"I manage my life like a chess game," Passerini told me as I was leaving. "I still continue to study the trends every day."

Not bad advice for all of us.

Robert TuckerRobert B. Tucker is the President of The Innovation Resource Consulting Group. He is a speaker, seminar leader and an expert in the management of innovation and assisting companies in accelerating ideas to market.

Labels: ,

AddThis Feed Button Subscribe to me on FriendFeed

Site Map Contact us to find out how we can help you.