Realizing Innovation's Full Value

Many of us agree innovation = invention + commercialization.  Commercialization is usually defined aslaunching the ‘invention’ so you and your customers realize value.  But how many of us include how well we’ve extracted the innovation’s value in the market as part of our innovation process?  Probably, not many; it’s just not that easy.  Whirlpool, a long-time innovator, discovered that many of its innovations were not succeeding as planned in the marketplace.  Moises Noreña, Whirlpool’s Director of Global Innovation, was tasked with finding out why and fixing it.  He recently detailed how they went about it.

Moises created a team to focus on the go-to-market aspect of innovation.  They discovered innovations were handed off to traditional market category teams and included in existing product lines.  So, when the innovation didn’t seem to sell well, the usual excuses were given: the product was too expensive, it didn’t work as promised, and consumers need to be converted.  So, what was going on?  Apparently, the innovation & marketplace performance processes were separate and mutually exclusive so products were killed because non-traditional go-to-market options were not explored.  In addition, business leaders frequently confused experimentation with market research leading to unrealistic expectations.  Bottom line? The issues were cultural and process – self-reinforcing both positively and negatively.

A very thoughtful and comprehensive approach was taken to address how to really extract an innovation’s value in the marketplace.  I encourage you to read the details here. Whirlpool’s values were the foundation for all approaches: teamwork, respect, diversity and collaboration.  The approach included selecting the right pilot to test, in this case, a pilot right in Whirlpool’s core – laundry; challenging the status quo; integrating innovation and marketplace performance processes; and having the business ‘own’ and take the lead for the pilot.

The pilot was a success, resulting in the creation of a new process.  Many new insights and ideas were created that translated into actionable opportunities for development, sales and operations with significant revenue potential.  Perhaps more significant were the intangible benefits.  The team’s common pilot experience resulted in a common consumer language, aiding understanding of and empathy with consumers’ issues.  Result? The team started dreaming about other business opportunities with a sense of camaraderie and hope not seen in the standard S&O process.

How can you apply Whirlpool’s learnings to your company? What can you adapt and apply?  Provide your experiences, comments, suggestions in the comment, at Moises’s MiX story or email me.  Let’s leverage each other’s learnings!

Innovation's 2 New Letters: HR

We’re all finally recognizing that management and innovation are social activities – people activities. So it has struck me as rather odd that HR is hardly mentioned in the conversation. Why?

Perhaps it’s because corporate management and HR have a 20th century mindset towards HR. What we need is a 21st century mentality, especially given the increasingly social aspect of “work” and the talents of our Gen-X/Y/Z colleagues.

So go figure when a 160+-year-old company in a very 20th-C industry uses HR in a very 21st-C way. Well, that’s Menasha Packaging – yup, packaging – old, boring, brown box stuff. Actually no, really cool, innovative and sustainable retail packaging.

How did this happen? The GM of Menasha’s biggest complex, Mike Riegsecker, simply didn’t know better. He didn’t know that using his HR director, Sharon Swatscheno, was unusual or radical.

Given Sharon’s talents and knowledge of the organization, it simply made sense to have her facilitate the innovation sessions and manage the process. Why not? This also made it easier to include innovation metrics and tactics into his team’s personal performance plans.

In all honesty, much of the success isn’t the title/role of HR. It’s Sharon – see, people once again! Sharon didn’t view her role as tactical, but strategic, and so did Mike. Because of Sharon’s knowledge of the organization, she was able to create highly effective cross functional/disciplinary teams as well as provide the necessary training and tools.

Her role helped people overcome their fears of innovation – looking stupid, making mistakes, failing, peer pressure, losing control, etc.

What can you do to use your HR people more strategically? What can you try?