4 strategies for creating a culture of innovation
“Innovation” is the buzz word that just won’t go away. And for retailers constantly compared to Amazon standards — no matter their size or niche — it’s an obsession.
Like every other industry, retailers are hungry for the formula that will create the kind of business and culture that innovates at the speed necessary to compete. It’s a topic that will be covered thoroughly at the upcoming NRF 2018: Retail’s Big Show, and one retailers are eager to discuss. We turned to John Squire, CEO and co-founder of Digital Commerce Startup of the Year winner DynamicAction, to get the conversation started with insights and experience from building a startup and working with retailers who are getting it right.
Creating a culture of innovation in retail’s era of disruption
Innovation is the number one topic among successful retail executives in this Amazon era. Facing relentless competition and disruption on multiple fronts, retailers and brands know they must push toward intelligent advancement to stay a step ahead of their customers’ constantly evolving expectations and their shareholders’ demands.
At its core, innovation means change, and progressive retailers and brands realize they must shift their strategies, processes and overall mindset. It’s essential for retailers to understand that they are not alone. This is the most challenging time in the industry’s history, and it is only getting more complex. While the path ahead is difficult at times, and not always clear, there are consistent strategies in place that characterize the most advanced and innovative retail organizations.
Empowered teams, fast decisions
Progressive companies that consistently deliver great results are generally operated by management teams that seek new opportunities through obsessively analyzing the details and data of their business. They tolerate the discomfort of change and incomplete knowledge, but compensate for that with nimble decisions based on a constantly updated view of their business and the market.
Those that lean the furthest forward constantly look for tools and frameworks to give their entire team an advantage, not just management.
They are on a quest toward improving their team’s ability to compete, innovate and repeatedly make smarter and faster decisions in a business that shows no signs of slowing down. Leaders at these companies empower their best people and seek to identify every wave of new talent with a full understanding of the power that technology can bring to amplify human decision-making. Additionally, they seek ways to multiply their team’s best efforts as they look for methods to reduce inefficiencies, waste and missed opportunities that arise from the natural biases inherent to every organization.
A connected culture
While an organization’s culture starts at the top, it also bubbles up from the bottom. In an industry where complexity, speed and competition are ever increasing, successful cultures value the actions of many independent decision-makers across the organization. Consistent and connected views of the business’s performance are critical to unite the organization across all levels, from the showroom to the boardroom. Once this information is communicated, employees can then interact on a set of interrelated subtasks that constantly drive to meet the plan.
Focus on the future
Innovative companies know how success is measured and are relentlessly evaluating areas of the business that are not aligned to meet those success criteria. They focus on future innovations and are never satisfied to rest on their laurels.
Retailers and brands today welcome the challenges presented by the exciting, engaging and increasingly demanding consumer, as they are constantly driving innovation beyond what retailers had ever dreamed up. The best companies are never satiated. Innovative leaders must live in a constant state of restlessness that keeps the entire organization focused on being greater tomorrow than it is today.
Technology that drives innovation
Beyond consumer shifts, technology is the greatest single catalyst propelling retail forward at a blistering speed. The challenge for every retail executive is understanding the benefit of the technology and how it will impact their business as it relates to their objectives. If technology is clearly part of a business imperative and is endorsed fully by the executive team, the entire organization will adopt the philosophy in order to reach a higher level of operation. The rising value of advanced retail analytics systems, not just workflow accelerating software, is requiring executives to rethink how their own management paradigms will need to change to lead a blend of human-driven and machine-driven decisions.
Retail is a business of people, and the top retail companies realize that their very best people will be the future of their business.
Whether they are in charge of customer interaction or managing any point along the product or customer journey, the next generation of great retail will certainly spawn from the careful enablement of people with better tools to operate the business.
Many of the skills fostered by retail organizations will continue to be relevant, while new highly valued skills will certainly be introduced. The digitization of retail has created precise data about every product, every SKU, every customer and every touchpoint across all channels. As a result, the amount of information has exploded exponentially, allowing retailers to get a deeper and more accurate picture of their business immediately. Innovative companies will need to invest in technology to improve the decision and service capability of their people at a rate far faster than their global competitors.
While the term “innovation” may hold an entirely different meaning to a pure ecommerce player than a multichannel retailer, one thing remains true: A nimble leadership and culture, as well as an employee base empowered by technology, are the vital elements to embarking on a journey not only toward innovation, but securing a successful (and profitable) future.
John Squire is the CEO of DynamicAction, a retailer-built prescriptive analytics solution that connects data to get to fast, profitable actions for retailers, and the winner of NRF’s Digital Commerce Startup of the Year competition.
Learn more about NRF 2018:
NRF 2018 Retail's Big Show & EXPO
See the newest innovations, technologies and solutions that are transforming the industry at NRF 2018: Retail’s Big Show, January 14–16, 2018 in New York.
More from Squire: