You've got to eat while you dream. You've got to deliver on short-range commitments, while you develop a long-range strategy and vision and implement it. The success of doing both. Walking and chewing gum if you will. Getting it done in the short-range, and delivering a long-range plan, and executing on that.
Jack Welch was the CEO of General Electric for two decades because he knew how to accomplish what he discussed above. He knew how to balance the execution of operational activities and innovative agendas. Not every business leader can do this, but there are a few who have. And those few have electrified their industries with innovation and created significant success for their companies.
Four Seasons have been around for over five decades. It’s done well. But the Founder, Chairman, and former CEO, Isadore Sharp, decided it was time for an innovative change—a change that would allow the chain to step up on its competitors and make a lasting impression on customers.
Sharp used an interesting strategy: organization-wide execution. He wanted everyone, from the bellhop to the CEO, to interpret the innovation strategy and execute it in the way that made the most sense to them.
He gave his workforce one big, hairy, audacious goal:
To redefine luxury as service, a support system to fill in for the one left at home and the office.
Sharp told every employee “to deal with others—partners, customers, coworkers, everyone—as we would want them to deal with us.” So basically, he told them to follow the Golden Rule. For such an unoriginal concept, this was incredibly innovative in the world of business.
Traditionally, employees at the lower echelons are handed an instruction manual and treated as choice-less doers. The people at the top make the agenda and dole out everyone’s responsibilities. The people at the bottom just follow the step-by-step guide.
But Sharp realized that this can create a problem. A one-size-fits-all approach to customer service only works with a one-size-fits-all clientele. To truly “redefine luxury as a service,” Four Seasons had to make every customer-employee interaction sincere, personalized, and thoughtful. Sharp understood that the employees at each level have a unique perspective that is extremely valuable to innovation and the effective execution of that innovation.
They know how to do their job best. So he lets them do it.
With every employee given the freedom of choice and the ability to serve customers how they see fit, the goal of redefining luxury came to fruition. Each individual was a part of the execution, and that complete workforce involvement has been key.
We can see proof of this innovative success because the Four Seasons have been listed on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For every single year since its inception. This has only been accomplished by 12 other companies in the world.
Barnes & Noble
The age of the brick-and-mortar bookstore seems to come to a gloomy end. Shops are closing left and right. Print media is out; electronic media is in. But Barnes & Noble decided not to accept this without a fight. Enter Nook.
Nook is Barnes & Noble’s e-reader. This little device was released in 2009. Critics weren’t that impressed. It was too expensive, too bulky, and too slow. It just wasn’t anything special. But it hung in there and keep Barnes & Noble in the book game.
The company came out with another edition, and then another one, and then another one. You get the idea. But sales only declined. And then Barnes & Noble realized the error of their ways. They weren’t executing properly.
The company was trying to jump into a new industry—tech—without any real experience or knowledge of that industry. They also weren’t fully committed. They were still trying to make their storefronts work. Operational execution was taking priority.
So in 2016, Barnes & Noble decided to jump all in. They partnered with Samsung, a master of the tech industry, and made Nook their priority. Because of this, the company has arguably been saved from the brink of destruction.
At the end of November 2016, the new Nook was launched. It is faster, more affordable, and sleek. It offers both the latest and greatest in literature, curated content from some of the top editors in the world, and the best of the tech world—a state-of-the-art operating system and hardware. And according to multiple professional reviewers, it’s now the best e-reader available.
Netflix started out as a pay-per-rent DVD mail service in 1997. These services slowly evolved over the next two decades. The company introduced a membership option, and then they expanded to media streaming. Next, they went international. And most recently, they have started producing their own media. Each of these bursts of expansion was overwhelmingly successful and incredibly innovative.
How did a company that essentially came out of nowhere create a new industry and be the giant of it? They were in innovative execution mode from the beginning. They envisioned the brightest possible future for their industry and never let it out of their sight.
Netflix’s goal was to provide people with services they didn’t even know they needed. To put it simply, their operational execution was their innovation agenda. There’s no more perfect balance than that.
Just as an example, in the 90s, the company named itself Netflix. It was a mail-order DVD service. “Mailflix” would have made much more sense. But the founders understood that just as DVDs had replaced VHS tapes and Netflix was going to replace video rental stores, the internet was going to replace the mail-order option. Netflix prioritized the execution of innovation from the beginning.
As the last, critical key to the business innovation process, the Law of Execution acts to ensure businesses bring an innovative idea full circle. When businesses can find that perfect balance between operational success and innovation success, they build a framework for long-term innovation and growth. To learn more about how to execute your innovation goals, check out how I and my team can help.
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