As the world’s leading consumer products company, P&G has a well-deserved reputation for innovation – from reinventing the oral care market in the 2000’s with its Crest White strips to recently launching an Uber for laundry with Tide Spin. P&G Signal for the uninitiated is a one of a kind event where the entire C-suite plus 500 senior leaders from different P&G businesses join in to hear best practices in marketing innovation from cool digital media companies such as Instagram, Snap and Tencent. The summit is also an opportunity for different P&G businesses to present tried & tested innovation stories and vendor partners with other P&Gers. Hence was the invitation extended to Solvoyo to participate at this year’s Signal summit.
While the genesis for the Signal summit lies strongly in deciphering innovation in marketing and branding, at this year’s Signal event, the zeal to understand innovation both in front-end functions (ex: marketing,e-commerce) as well as back-end functions (ex: supply chain, finance) was evident. Why else bring the supply chain guys from Solvoyo to present when you have all these ‘sexier’ digital media companies?
P&G – being the innovative leader that they are, gets that innovation that can transform their business is not necessarily limited to front-end functions. While front end innovation can drive critical market share or revenue growth, innovation on back end functions, especially like supply chain can impact both top line as well as bottom line performance. Some might even argue that back end functions are more prone to disruption due to their inherent process complexity and less historic focus.
Yet innovating back end functions does not come easy. Mastering the complex details of supply chain takes years to develop with few having end to end process visibility or expertise. Back end roles with time thus evolve into cushy jobs with very little change or disruption. Who then in their right mind would take the risks of setting up a new business to bring in much needed innovation? Our founder, Koray Dogan definitely did when he started Solvoyo to disrupt how companies plan and run their supply chains. The rewards of back end innovation are high though once you solve the puzzle.
So what practical advice did I take away from the summit? One talk by the Harvard professor Linda Hill summed up the Signal summit for me as a leader in a tech company: it is not about innovation or leadership, it is about innovative leadership. The question is how do you fuse the two?
Here are hallmarks of innovative leadership:
- Creative abrasion– have lots of heated debate so that different ideas rub against each other. Be cognizant of diversity in your teams to generate diverse ideas and let them rip!
- Creative agility– refine portfolio of ideas quickly. Institute a discovery based learning process. In this world, there are no pilots only experiments. Pilots run the risk of trying and not moving forward if failed. The spirit of experimentation pushes you to keep trying.
- Creative resolution- make decisions to combine innovative ideas. Don’t let anyone dominate. Provide clarity on who makes decisions but be more patient making them. Wait till something spontaneously happens.
Innovative leadership at the end of the day is not so much about vision but being able to create an environment where others are willing and able to innovate. The lesson from P&G is clear – empower your team to take the initiative, experiment, and maybe fail. Do now, learn next! Only by driving a ground up innovation strategy – whether in the front end or back end functions can you become an innovative champion.