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All Aboard!

November 14, 2011

I’ve been thinking a lot about innovation and idea generation lately.  It’s all sort of wrapped into some pretty neat and nifty things we’re working on at my day job – you know, the place where I hang out when I’m not sitting in the Schoolhouse.

So because I’ve been plotting and planning and gathering ideas around the topic, I finished (finally) reading Practically Radical this weekend.  I had picked it up a number of months ago, read the first chapter and then put it aside to tackle other projects, catch up with a few other books, and prepare for football season.   And when I opened it up again the other day, determined to finish, I found it was a quick and lively read with numerous real-world examples of leaders who took the plunge and identified ways that worked for them to move their organizations forward. (in other words, I recommend it).

While there were some examples provided that we’ve all heard before (ahem, Zappos), there were some new stories shared by the author which really grabbed my interest.  One in particular was an overview of Magazine Luiza, a family-owned department store in Brazil.  Magazine Luiza, with 450+ locations and 13,000 employees, is one of Brazil’s most admired companies and continues to experience phenomenal growth.

I learned that the company’s CEO, while a visionary strategic-thinker, is also aware of the areas where she lacks knowledge about her organization.  So she regularly seeks input from others – specifically the front-line staff at her stores.  Twice per year, thousands of employees gather for what’s called the Big Meeting with the goal of formulating, critiquing and improving company initiatives and goals. In preparation for the meeting however, thousands of these front-line staff members answer two questions, the answers from which become the basis for much of the content/discussion at the Big Meeting:

  • What are we not doing that we should start doing right away?
  • What should we immediately stop doing in order to allow for the emergence of the new?

**********

I surely do like this sort of communication and involvement strategy that enfolds all employees into the design and implementation of new ideas.  And, just as importantly, allows employees at all levels and in all functional areas to point out what needs to end….the outdated products perhaps.  Or the soul-crushing, old-skool, unnecessary and redundant, non-value adding activities that don’t drive market growth or customer satisfaction.  And while replicating the scope and scale of Magazine Luiza’s Big Meeting may not be doable for the average small/mid-size organization with a few hundred employees, the intent and focus are transferable to any organization and to any leader.

Key to this, however, is not waiting for the CEO or the Big Boss to start this sort of initiative – everyone has the power to enact this at the functional/department level.  Whether you’re the manager of the HR Department, the Marketing Department or earn your scratch as the Shift Lead at the local Taco Barn, you can kick-start some ground-breaking activities by sitting down with your staff and asking:

  • What are we not doing that we should start doing right away?
  • What should we immediately stop doing in order to allow for the emergence of the new?

***********

Magazine Luiza has a clear cut mission focused on a creating a unique experience for its customers.  They choose to invite all employees, at all levels, to develop the plan for how, when and where they will execute and deliver on that mission. This plan doesn’t come from down-on-high.  It grows from within and the company embraces the opportunity to ‘invent’ new and different ways of doing business.

The approach is designed to let people  THINK BIG and THINK NEW.   

So don’t just benchmark the competition.  Don’t be content with replicating what your friend Trixie does as the HR Manager in her HR Shop with merely a few tweaks, twists and turns.

Next stop –  Innovation Station.  All aboard.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 14, 2011 9:04 am

    Great approach Robin. It’s amazing what happens when leaders talk to their reports and listen. There’s a similar exercise I’ve used called, “Stop, Start, Continue” which opens the door to innovation. I look forward to hearing more about your journey in innovation and thanks for the book recommendation. I’ll check it out.

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