What does it take to create a risk-taking, innovating retail culture?
At a session last week at the NRF Big Show, which explored how to motivate risk-taking and drive innovation within organizations, Heidi Isern, senior director, customer experience innovation, Gap Inc., said one priority is getting “very top level” buy-in for strategic priorities.
“What is your opportunity space going to be,” said Ms. Isern. “What are those big things you’re going to go after, ideally, because your customers have told you they’re either big pain points or opportunities for something they really desire.”
Similar to Silicon Valley start-ups, a project with an uncertain payoff needs a “Stage Gate process” that may initially feature minimal seed funding to get started, said Ms. Isern. With progress, the project brings in higher levels of funding and gets more departments involved.
“It’s important to have those processes and very clear KPIs for when you go from one stage to the next, and then your CFO can relax a little bit because they know they’re not just throwing all this money at you. There’s actually going to be an approval process,” she said.
“Some things just have to be done,” said Dave Wood, general manager of Joules USA, the American arm of the British clothing company, about funding projects. “Some things are test and learn. Some things need a business case; we try not to get bogged down in paralysis from business cases.”
Empowering employees was seen as a primary innovation driver for Zappos and Chloé, the French fashion label.
Alex Genov, manager of research, user experience at Zappos, said the footwear e-tailer in 2014 shifted to a self-organization management structure that eliminated titles and workplace hierarchy to help encourage collaboration and experimentation. The move was intended to “get back to those roots of the startup.”
For Alexa Geovanos, brand president, North and South America for Chloé, employees have to be emboldened to fully extrapolate the customer insights that often sparks innovation. “I think you have to always ask yourself if you’re using the people on your team to the greatest extent and in the right way,” she said.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What advice would you have around risk-taking and instilling an innovation culture? What’s the best way to fund and manage projects with uncertain ROIs?