Innovation: A leadership challenge

NRFtech 2017

Learn more about leading retail innovation at NRFtech 2017, July 23-25 in San Diego, Calif. Register to attend.

As technology and evolving consumer behavior continue to transform the retail business, retailers have adopted a mindset that seamless experiences are a must and silos simply have to go. But that means innovation can’t happen in one department either. Innovation leaders, whether CIOs, CMOs or chief digital officers, are facing the challenge of working together to drive innovation across the entire retail organization. But as much as we love tech, it’s not the only thing that sparks innovation — people do as well.

To learn more about approaches to leadership in times of change and evolution, we turned to tech entrepreneur, leadership advisor and author Michael Anderson, founder of the Executive Joy Institute. Anderson will speak to retail innovation leaders gathered at NRFtech in San Diego on July 23-25, 2017.

What trends are you seeing regarding how executives approach leadership today? Has the digital age changed what effective leadership looks like?
Leadership is similar to the other areas of business like sales, marketing and even finance and accounting. The principles are the same, but the form looks different. It’s a more competitive world, and leadership and culture are the ultimate competitive advantages, though the hardest to quantify.

Now you have the younger generation, which is amazing, but requires different ways of communicating and motivating. You have a distributed workforce, you’re using more subcontractors and often teammates come from different parts of the world. And more than ever they want to be led by a strong leader with a clear purpose. So it’s really up to us as leaders to adapt. Because nowadays, if your employees don’t get what they are looking for, it’s very easy for them to move on to where they can get what they want.

"Lack of alignment causes confusion. If you want your people to be innovative, are you innovative?"

Michael Anderson

NRFtech will focus on how to drive innovation throughout an entire retail organization, breaking down silos and creating an innovative culture. How does your approach to leadership help executives handle this challenge?
Lack of alignment causes confusion. If you want your people to be innovative, are you innovative? Do you try new things? Are you open to new ideas? Do you push your limits? If you are not doing these things, how can you ask them to?

Do you wear the same thing to work, drive the same route to get there, have the same weekly meeting, at the same time, in the same room, with people sitting in the same chairs, with the same agenda? Right there is a place to start. Why not start mixing things up?

Now look at every other safe, easy routine that you do. How can you play with it? How can you experiment with it to make it better? If you don’t screw something up every few days, you’re not taking enough risks. Quit being perfect, because if your team sees you as being very risk-averse and playing it safe, they assume that’s what you value. And you probably do value that, even if you don’t consciously realize it. 

Michael Anderson will speak on soul-centered leadership at NRFtech 2017, July 23-25 in San Diego, Calif.

Michael Anderson will speak on soul-centered leadership at NRFtech 2017, July 23-25 in San Diego, Calif.

Retailers are dealing with rapid change within their organizations, but change can be difficult. What are some common mistakes to avoid when guiding your team through times of rapid change?
You can move fast but you have to slow down to listen and communicate. Change is scary to your team. Make sure that when you see signs of stress that you slow down, sit down with that team member and just listen. Normally you don’t even need to say anything. They just want to know they’ve been heard.

As a leader, you normally have the whole picture of the change. You know why the organization is doing it, and what all the different parts need to do in order for it to be successful. Talk about how it affects your team, both personally and as a group. Don’t leave them guessing. Answer their questions honestly and be straightforward.

Your team wants to do a good job, and they can often only do that if you take the time to share what the whole picture is. And again — get their feedback. Listen to what they have to say. Then set them loose.

What’s a leadership lesson you learned the hard way? And what’s your advice for those going through the same challenge?
I’ve had a lot of hard times and failures, from business lawsuits to failed product launches. Here’s what one of my advisor/coaches, Michelle Saul, taught me that’s very practical.

When a change is going to take place, get your whole team in there (or if it’s a huge team, get the leaders and influencers). Lay out the change. Then go around, one by one, with everyone getting time to share what they think of it. Take the time to listen and address anything that you can and alleviate any fears without getting defensive.

Many times there’s at least one person who isn’t keen on the change, and they would like to do things differently. I listen to them. I acknowledge their input. I make any adjustments I can to the plan. Yet the fact that they are simply heard almost always gets them behind the project. Taking time to honor, respect and involve your team costs nothing —  just a little bit of time and effort. And it saves an immeasurable amount of resources in the end.

To hear more from Michael Anderson and discuss innovation strategies with retailers, attend NRFtech, July 23-25 in San Diego.