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Fawn Germer's 2010 Forum Blog
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Fawn Germer's 2010 Forum Blog

Posted By Administration, Monday, August 2, 2010

Recorded at NEW Executive Leaders Forum
Frisco, Texas
July 13-15, 2010

Imagine what would happen if we all used our collective brainpower and authority to collaborate and innovate together? We’d own the world.

So when nearly 200 senior executives huddled in Dallas for NEW’s annual Executive Leaders Forum in July 2010, the potential for industry change was huge. The new buzz acronym is "CIA.” Collaboration. Innovation. Advantage. By the end of the two-and-a-half day event, there’d been plenty of talk about innovating together to create advantage that drives both corporate and individual success.

NEW President Alison Kenney Paul made the case for CIA. Women make up 40 percent of the cpg/retail industry, but the leadership numbers remain "stubbornly low.” When Paul attended a special seminar for women senior executives at Simmons College, she had an awakening.

"What got me here is not going to keep me here,” she said. She’d always been good at checking off the must-dos on her career checklist, but moving up required more attention to soft skills that involved political acuity and influence. Hence, CIA.

Innovation? The concept was brought alive by keynote speaker Lyn Heward, director of creation for Cirque du Soleil. "It is my firm belief that everyone has a wellspring of creativity within them. It’s a lot like exercise. You practice it day by day and, gradually, you are strengthened by it. You walk into a room like this and you imagine how to remodel it. You enter into a conversation and figure how to lead it into another direction. You design a business plan while being alert to all the possibilities around you. You have great expectations.”

Be intuitive. Surrender to your senses. Open up! Go deep and work it.

Heward related how Michelangelo contended that "Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” The challenge for the rest of us is to keep chipping away until we find the masterpiece within.

"Our ideas aren’t always visible to others, but if you have the ability to look deep with your own vision, you’ll find your gem,” she said.

Next, industry superstars huddled to ponder the never-ending question of why women are still slogging along in the ranks in the cpg/retail industry when they make up 51 percent of the population and make more than 85 percent of the household spending decisions. Walmart CEO Bill Simon said that change involves consciously changing the rules. It doesn’t work to say, "Women are in the pipeline.” Historically, it takes about a dozen years to become a store manager in the Walmart system, he said. "If you think about it, I could become a surgeon before I could become a manager,” he said. "Your very good, talented people don’t want to wait 12 years. They have other things to do. So they leave the industry altogether – and a good number of very talented people do.”

He said the game is going to change by consciously finding ways the compress the wait into six or seven years. It’s especially important if he wants more women vice presidents because, not many women are going to sign up for a career path when they know they have a 24-year wait to get what they want. "

And guiding them on that path takes an effort focused on the individual, said Judy Schmeling, EVP and chief financial officer of HSN Inc.

"We go out of our way to keep a woman in the organization and not let her drop out of our workforce because she’s raising a family,” she said. "We’re a 24/7 television network, so we want to know what we can do to help. We say, ‘She wants to work at home? What do we need to do?’ We try and adapt and tailor specific programs for that woman and I will tell you – I’m a really big champion of that because that’s how I came to HSN. I’d just had my first child and they embraced me into the organization. I had two kids while I was there. It’s a question of what we can do to take that person along and really keep them with the organization. And that’s good for the company because it really breeds loyalty. We have long-term employees that are women now because of those processes.”

They were joined in the panel by Joan Chow, EVP and chief marketing officer of ConAgra Foods; Kim Nelson, SVP of General Mills and president of its Snacks Division; and David Williams, CEO of Deloitte Financial Advisory Services.

During the break-out sessions, the collaboration theme hit a crescendo in a workshop where corporate behemoths showed how to put the concept to work. How does "collaborative innovation” work?

Eight years ago, Daniel Duty was hired by Target to be the strategic negotiations person charged with getting better outcomes.

"I said there is a better way to negotiate. I think there is a way we can get more value rather than duking it out w the cpg companies we do business with,” said Duty, director of business partnerships and negotiation for Target.

Before, everybody was fighting to get the biggest piece of the pie for themselves, he said. But through a collaborative approach with select CPG companies, Target achieved some shocking results. They collaborated to make the profit pie bigger – and their efforts worked. Not that it was easy. It meant going to the table with the CPG companies most important to Target, then building trust so both sides would share company secrets about long-range planning and strategy.

"Where we collaboratively work with people and set joint ventures and strategies, we are seeing growth at twice the rate,” he said. That’s what happened one year out. But, Duty wonders what is going to happen three and five years out as those long range collaborative plans are put to work together.

"That allows us to see what is in your innovation pipeline, and them to see what is in our innovation pipeline. It really transforms the relationship with another party and changes the game,” he said. "You can get better outcomes by collaborating. You can get better innovation.”

It’s critical to select the right partners, measure and monitor performance and relationships, and set some accountability marks so ideas aren’t lost in the wind.

Target is only doing this kind of intensive collaboration with less than 5 percent of its vendors. "It’s really thinking about things in a whole new way,” Duty said.

As you think about developing your joint business plans, the goals have to reflect the interests and needs of both parties. If it doesn’t, "It’s not joint collaboration,” he said. It has to be financially beneficial to both parties.

Ignore the opportunity – or market reality – to your own peril, said Mitchell Habib, EVP Global Busness services at the Nielsen Company.

"If you don’t innovate, you become irrelevant,” he said. "And the way to measure it is that your customer decides to do something else. They leave, and your market share goes down.” There is so much talk about disruptive innovation, without which, Habib said, a company is stuck.

He held up an ancient Sony Walkman as a prime example. Sony owned 98 percent of the market share in a lucrative market. "They changed the game on how we all listened to music,” he said. They dominated the music industry. But, do they dominate it today?”

Of course not. Walkman, meet iPod.

Sony made a conscious decision not to make it too easy for consumers to download music.

If you are in a meeting where someone says, ‘We don’t want to make it too easy on the consumer, run. Apple now has over 90 percent of that market share as opposed to Sony. It is why it is so important that we continue to innovate and maintain relevance.”

The Nielsen Company learned that hard lesson three years ago when General Mills left to go to a competitor. All indications were that Kraft was going to go, too. Then things started to look iffy with Procter & Gamble.

But Nielsen spun around, won back the hearts of its big clients, and is out front again with all of those clients because Nielsen created an environment of innovation that took the ideas of their best people – not just the ones who were available to help with the reformation, but the busiest people who seemed irreplaceable but had the real insight. They had to change – quick. That meant opening up to new ideas – including using technology they may not have owned.

"Change is messy. Change is not easy,” Habib said, "But the ugly messy stories build the confidence of the team.

When 7-Eleven CEO Joe DePinto took the main stage on the closing morning, he shared clips of his national appearance on the reality program "Undercover Boss,” which showed the CEO getting into the trenches with his people. That experience reinforced his belief that servant leadership is key to his company’s survival. If he takes care of his people, his people will take care of him.

"Ours is a franchise business,” he said. "If we approach them with power, we don’t get things done. When we approach them this way (with servant leadership) it’s amazing how quickly they listen, how quickly they partner and we get results. So simply put, servant leadership is about fostering collaboration.”

The servant-leader collaboration approach mattered in everything in human resources, from performance appraisals, goal setting, planning, 360 studies and more. It’s not about bottom-line results. It’s about driving the people who drive the results.

"That was a big move for us,” said DePinto. "It’s very basic, but powerful.”

And it works. Use the collective brainpower and authority to collaborate and innovate, and ultimately, you win. It’s all CIA.

--Fawn Germer, July

Tags:  7-eleven  alison kenney paul  bill simon  conagra foods  daniel duty  deloitte  general mills  hsn inc.  joan chow  joe depinto  judy schmeling  kim nelson  mitchell habib  target  the nielsen company  walmart 

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