Um relato da revista Forbes de como uma inovadora transformou uma empresa com inovação!
Making Your Company An Innovation Machine
Terry Waghorn, 01.08.09, 06:00 PM EST
An interview with Nancy Snyder, the first ”innovation czar” at Whirlpool.
There is talk of the U.S. soon getting its first “car czar.” But he or she won’t be the first czar in contemporary America.
For nine years Nancy Snyder has been known as one of the “innovation czars” at Whirlpool, the world’s largest manufacturer of household appliances. She describes that role in the book Unleashing Innovation: How Whirlpool Transformed an Industry, which she co-authored.
Under Nancy’s leadership, Whirlpool (nyse: WHR – news - people ) began a bold initiative in 1999 to greatly increase the new ideas emerging within the company and change where they came from and how they were implemented.
In other words, her team’s goal was nothing less than embedding, as she put it, innovation as part of the core of the company’s operations. By all accounts the program has been an outstanding success.
Jeff Fettig, Whirlpool’s chairman, credits it with adding more than $2.5 billion in worldwide revenue to the company’s bottom line in 2007 (the most recent year for which final numbers are available), and with building a robust pipeline for innovation to allow for continued growth, which, when it hits the market, will have an estimated value of $4.5 billion.
In 2003 Nancy co-authored a book titled Strategic Innovation: Embedding Innovation as a Core Competency in Your Organization. Many people, this interviewer included, consider it the seminal work on the topic.
In it, she outlines the goals she put forth for her program and her strategy for achieving them. They included enrolling every salaried employee in a business innovation course, tying management’s long-term bonuses to its innovativeness and building an innovation Intranet portal that would offer everyone in the company a common forum for learning principles of innovation, keeping abreast of recent research, tracking the progress of ideas from concept toward realization and even volunteering to work on one another’s projects.
Forbes.com: There is much talk these days about embedding innovation, but you actually had to invent the concept as you went along. When you think back to the beginning, what surprising, hidden aspects of innovation did you uncover?
Nancy Snyder: Embedding innovation is inevitably a learning journey, and it’s one that forces you to invent and improvise along the way. When we began our own journey, we had to invent the concept of scaling as it applied to innovation, because no one had ever really done this before.
When Dave Whitwam, the former chief executive of Whirlpool, made the company-wide announcement that encouraged every employee to submit their innovative ideas, there was not one mechanism for collecting them.
I received a sudden flood of excited calls from everywhere and everyone, from vice presidents to factory workers, wondering how they could get started. I was blown away by how much interest everyone showed in the program but also somewhat overwhelmed, because we didn’t yet have a process in place for handling the resulting volume.
One of the solutions we hit on was to implement “innovation teams,” which brought together groups of workers from all levels of the company. For the first time, these teams became our front line for screening and vetting new ideas.
A team had to prove that an idea or concept it was championing met three criteria: It had to bring a benefit to the customer, it had to create a competitive advantage and it needed to return value to our shareholders. Only then could it move into the innovation pipeline.
We also created a series of software tools to help teams collaborate virtually and publish their work across the organization. Ideas percolate literally everywhere, but we can now easily track their progress with a single log-in.
Based on all you now know about embedding innovation as a core competency at Whirlpool, if you could go back to when you first started, what would you do differently?
I’m not sure I’d do anything differently, just sooner. For example, today we have a team of about 1,100 innovation mentors, whom we call “I-Mentors.” They volunteer to help facilitate the innovation cycle throughout the company, not unlike how “black belts” work within a Six Sigma business management system.
These folks take great pride in helping their peers understand the tools available to them and how they can apply them in creating something innovative. My regret is that it took some time before we really understood the value our I-Mentors would add and how we could train them efficiently.
I also wish we had tied our senior leaders’ compensation to our innovation goals sooner. That’s something we did in year three. If we had done it from the get-go, we could have sped up the entire embedding process.
Another regret is that it took us several years before we really nailed down our metrics. Looking back, though, that was inevitable because as our processes evolved so did the things we needed to measure.
For instance, we initially tracked just the number of projects and the people involved. Then as ideas became products, we began to track revenue and even projected launch dates. Today we track revenue; portfolios, which are ideas grouped together by categories; the pace at which ideas flow through the pipeline; and even metrics that calculate the intangible value of ideas.
As the world plunges into one of the deepest economic dips since the Great Depression, most corporate leaders are putting efficiency ahead of creativity and innovation. What are you doing to ensure that Whirlpool doesn’t fall into that trap?
There is always the threat that we can get distracted and fall into a short-term view similar to focusing solely on quarterly results to please analysts. But it’s our belief that the winners in the post-recession economy will be companies that have focused not just on reducing costs but also on investing in the long-term impact of innovation. When the markets turn, Whirlpool will be ready, with our latest innovations in hand.
Terry Waghorn is a partner at SECOR Consulting and an adviser to senior executives in companies ranging from small to Fortune 500. He is co-author of Mission Possible and author of The System.