It is amazing what people will do when you give them the freedom to do it.
I have been fortunate to work with some outstanding teams during my over 30 years in business, a majority of those years were at Georgia-Pacific (GP) in Atlanta and later with Medtronic in Minneapolis. The teams did some amazing work ranging from successfully implementing very tough projects, turning around some very difficult customer relationships and businesses, to improving product and process quality. They made me look better than what I really am. The most amazing thing the teams did was design and implement innovation centers at both companies. They did it without my guidance or direction. They just made it happen. What made it so special was I was the CIO when they did it and people were not expecting Information Technology (IT) to take a leadership role with customer and product innovation.
At GP, the team partnered with marketing within our Packing Division to convert a building that housed our box engineering group into a Customer Innovation and Experience center. Within it, we worked jointly with customers to design new packaging to optimize customer use, shelf space and shipping. In another example, the team converted the first part of the floor the IT group was located on into an innovation center where we showcased “The salesperson of the future” and “The plant of the future.” Both were huge hits with our customers and internal sales, marketing and manufacturing personnel.
At Medtronic, the team developed “The Cath lab of the future” and “The Clinic of the future.” Both showcased how existing and emerging technologies could improve surgery, patient, family education, compliance, improve outcomes and lower cost for chronically ill patients. Both were hits with our physicians, clinicians, and hospital administrators.
I’ve often thought about what had I said or done to cause people at both companies to take the initiative, latitude, and step outside the traditional boundaries of IT and their “job descriptions” to create something so special. Upon reflection, what comes to mind is I’ve always stressed stepping outside of the box, empowerment, and teamwork as the three critical success factors to achieving and maintaining competitive advantage.
As a leader, once you point the way, then get out the way.