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What do eBay, Coke, Proctor & Gamble, GE, Whirlpool and 3M have in Common?


Recently these companies, and others, participated in the Unleashing Innovation Summit in NYC which I had the pleasure of attending.  There were organizations from around the globe that came together to focus on innovation with an emphasis on people and culture.  It was great to see innovation thought leaders discussing this very critical issue and have them reinforce what I have believed and practiced for over 15 years.  There was lots of sharing of experience on what worked and what didn’t when adopting an innovation focused culture.

So What’s Working…

From the group of participants it appears that companies are doing a good job at identifying the opportunities to address and are managing through the process of innovation rather well.  In their approach, large companies are striving to emulate small company’s entrepreneurism.  Companies are forming non-traditional partnerships and looking within their organization to their employees for solutions to improve the customer experience.  As an example we heard first hand about the success and challenges overcome in the design and launch of Coke Freestyle.  From the experience I have had leading change initiatives, leaders traditionally find the process improvement portion to be the easier part, mastering it more quickly.  This appears to hold true in the evolution of the adoption of innovation.

Today’s Challenges…

From case studies, fireside chats and storytelling we learned that the challenge of ingraining innovation into the culture was a difficult one facing many companies.  Also, the majority of companies are still grappling with the vulnerability of risk.  While we all understand the benefits of “fail, fail fast and fail often” it is still difficult to successfully make that part of an organization’s culture.  A culture where employees are not punished for making mistakes appears to still be a rarity.  Some of the successful cultural initiatives to overcome this we heard about included Innovation Day at United Health Group, Viz Kitchen from eBay and the BASF Cultural Ambassador program as forums to involve employees and even in some cases customers in the innovation process.

As a change leader I’ve found that fully delivering a cultural change takes effort and time.  The effort put forth in ensuring all of the moving parts align can be daunting but pays big dividends.  And affording the needed time to not only do it right the first time but in allowing employees to adapt and adjust is not something you can fast forward through – there just aren’t any short cuts to quality change.

The Future…

For me, the signs are clearer now than ever.  Organizations are looking within for ways to better delight customers, engage employees and impact their bottom line.  For companies wanting to do this through innovation the biggest challenge appears to be fostering a culture of innovation.  For us innovative change agents, our time has come!

Unleashing Innovation in New York


When I first had the pleasure of Chairing and speaking at an international conference on innovation, all the talk was about the stage-gate process.  Literally, talk after talk summarized the steps to market and (figuratively) why seven was better than five but twelve must be way too many.  Interesting, but hardly enough to hold a senior executive riveted for three full days.

Fast forward just a few years later and my how the world has changed.  Unleashing Innovation in NY spoke to the great diversity of innovation approaches.  Yes, stage-gating was still a topic for discussion but added to the agenda was a strong mix of crowdsourcing, innovation through acquisition and a focus on intrapreneurship.

Full disclosure, as an entrepreneur, intrapraneurship fascinates me and dominates my innovation practice.  Simply put, it’s about embracing the ideas of your employees – be they 300 or 300,000 strong.  Sounds simple.  Should be intuitive.  But, it’s been slow to emerge (at least for my liking).

Maybe this will get your started. A recently co-authored article by the Disney Institute and McKinsey offers this important insight, “The secret to delighting customers? Put employees first.” That’s encouraging. Delight your employees and they will delight your customers with “new, better and improved” products and services.

Intuitive, really. Who better to recognize product, service and process opportunity than those on the path to the customer?  And what better way to motivate and engage your workforce than to listen to them and respect their insights.  This was, in fact, the single biggest focus of the conference and made for great discussion, insights and debate.

Borrowed from the pages of the conferences’ overview, “Savvy leaders shape the culture of the company to drive innovation…design interplay between company’s strategies with the ways people actually relate to one another. “

Other insights from the conference include:

  • Large companies are striving to emulate a small company’s entrepreneurism
  • Customers are consistently being put at the front of the process
  • Focus has shifted from process to people emphasizing integration, culture and organization transformation
  • The challenge of ingraining innovation into the culture is a difficult one facing many companies
  • Unconventional partnerships are being forged to speed up the innovation process
  • The majority of companies are grappling with the vulnerability of risk taking
  • Walking the talk with regards to encouraging risk taking is still proving to be difficult
  • The answers are within your organization, you just have to ask your employees

Unleashing innovation needs to embrace all forms of innovation from the traditional top-level stage-gate approach through to inclusiveness of intrapreneurship.  But, as we learned, getting started can be as simple as listening, sharing, collaborating, empowering and engaging with purpose, a positive attitude and a culture of belief.

I’m in.

Delivering on Your Brand’s Promise?

Being a Leader

Getting the most from employees starts with giving them what they need. This doesn’t include a chorus of Kumbaya and a round of group hugs but it does mean investing time and energy into understanding them. And here’s the amazing thing that happens when you invest time in your employees, it pays dividends.

Harvard Business Review has indicated that highly engaged employees, on average, are 50% more likely to exceed expectations than the least-engaged. And companies with highly engaged people outperform firms with the most disengaged folks – by 54% in employee retention, by 89% in customer satisfaction and fourfold in revenue growth.

And here’s the other amazing benefit of working to ensure your employees are engaged. Employees nowadays are looking for more than just a j-o-b. They are looking for an experience. And not just any old experience. They want something meaningful. And so do customers. Disney Institute and McKinsey Company recently released a report indicating that companies that focus on giving their customers a consistently exceptional experience enjoyed a 2 percentage point advantage over their peers in revenue growth and an increase in employee satisfaction and engagement of 30 percent.

And while not every company has the resources to be able to offer programs like giving employees time to work on creative projects of the employee’s choosing, I’d like to believe that every company can invest in attracting and developing strong leaders to drive employee engagement.

How do you make this happen in your organization? It starts by opening your mind, looking at things with a fresh set of eyes and asking questions. The innovators will look for better ways to do things and those brave enough will take action.