business

Tech-Forward Culture: What Happens in the Lab Shouldn’t Stay in the Lab

How to get buy-in at all levels

While the workplace can and should be an environment that incubates ideas, encouraging creativity and planning for the long run, tech-forward culture within a company doesn’t start and stop with an innovation lab. The time is ripe for retailers to innovate new roles along with tech discoveries. How can they brainstorm, incubate and execute new technologies that have immediate impact on the business? And how can the Chief Information Officer or Chief Technology Officer evolve their positions to be a guiding force in accepting and mitigating the risks involved?   

The challenges include:

  • Making tech implementation something that employees throughout the business can understand (including those who are most customer-facing)
  • Ensuring that tech isn’t isolated from actual business-drivers—that technology plays a concrete role in business strategy and the bottom line

Business innovation and tech-forward culture starts at the top.

A company’s willingness to innovate is reflected AND inspired by adoption at the highest levels. If the hunger for innovation and willingness to experiment don’t exist in spades at the c-suite level, there’s a large impasse.

Having struggled through a period when technological innovation was largely an afterthought in the middle 2000’s, Domino’s re-envisioned itself as an “e-commerce company that happens to sell pizza,” a new ethos introduced with full backing from the CEO. They quickly applied the e-commerce vision throughout, using A/B testing for each new business tactic to pick out successful drivers of their bottom line. The rest is delivery history.                 

A 2014 study by The Boston Consulting Group highlights the tendency of innovative leaders to champion creativity in their employees:     

“Strong innovators put a high value on innovation—being involved carries prestige within their organizations. They encourage collaboration, they reward ideas, and they seek to capitalize on good ideas both quickly and with an appropriate level of support.”      

 It follows through at all levels.     

Every employee should have a clear idea of what tech means to the business and how it is actually being employed. Having articulated their new positioning, Domino’s set about acquiring the talent that would help them carry it through. They built digital, mobile-first tools like Think Oven that not only reflected their new e-commerce spirit but made it tangible and actionable for employees and customers alike.

They were also very transparent about the need for a cultural shift, both internally and to their customers. A series of ads featured Domino’s workers reading reviews in which customers railed against the quality of their product. It was a way to expose previous failures in the public eye—an openness that bears similarities to the current “fail fast” ethos of Silicon Valley—before putting their new tech overhaul into motion.

Having revamped their recipe and menu offerings, they extended their digital tools to other platforms like Amazon Echo and Facebook Messenger, setting an early example for conversational commerce. And with the development of new tools came an opportunity for top-notch developers.

It goes well beyond the innovation lab.        

Innovation hubs are a key trend in retail, carrying the potential to break into other tech-driven industries. But it’s crucial to extend the spirit of the lab across the company to ensure that the hub doesn’t silo itself from the rest of the business and overlook the key indicator of business performance: the customer. 

In fact, employees who know the customer best are one of the strongest resources, not just for ongoing feedback but steady idea-generation. Take Warby Parker’s approach. In 2016, they rolled out an internal program called Warbles, which lets programmers assign points to tasks based on perceived value for the business and then choose the projects they most want to undertake. If they pick the project with the most points, a prize awaits. The system has also helped to generate thousands of internal project ideas from company developers.

Everyone throughout the business must keep learning.      

The time is ripe for retailers to innovate new roles along with tech discoveries. How can they brainstorm, incubate and execute new technologies that have an immediate impact on the business? And how can the Chief Information Officer or Chief Technology Officer evolve their positions to be a guiding force in accepting and mitigating the risks involved?   

A tech-forward culture rejects stagnation, working to motivate every partner and employee from the top down. The CTOs in innovative companies are the key facilitators, making sure that all employees get the right training to be invested, knowledgeable, and adaptable enough to take the leap with each new innovation.            

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Updated Jan 10, 2019 | Originally published April 2018

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