Perspectives: Casey Carl, Target’s Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer

A Bullseye View “Perspectives” is series from Target’s official blog which features Target’s top executives to sharing their point of view on everything from industry trends to best business practices. In the story below, Casey Carl, Target’s Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer talks falling back in love with four-letter words.

You’ve all heard the stories of the corporate dinosaurs—one-time industry leaders that dominated their respective marketplace, yet failed to innovate, inevitably were disrupted and eventually became extinct.  History is littered with countless examples: Kodak, Blockbuster and Pan Am to name a few.  As the pace of change accelerates in the world, so too does this rate of extinction.

Despite the numerous and well-documented examples, it is incredibly hard for successful and established organizations to break the pattern and remain relevant. Innovation is the only path to sustainable growth. But to do so requires a culture of smart risk-taking, which becomes harder to maintain as successful companies grow risk-averse protecting their current business.  How do you encourage employees to take risks?  To do so requires leadership to fall back in love with a few four-letter words.  Don’t worry, HR is totally cool with it.

  • Know: In order to truly create an innovative, risk-taking culture as a leader, you must know how your team is motivated.  Is it stability, achievement or future possibility?  Each one of these motivators creates a different perception of risk and requires a different environment to be successful.  For those motivated by stability, it is essential to create a safe atmosphere for them to try out new behaviors and equip them with guides to help them along the way.  Employees motivated by achievement must embrace the opportunity cost of not taking risks (heeding the lessons from the corporate dinosaurs) and learn that innovation has very defined, disciplined best practices that can be tracked and measured.  And lastly, for those motivated by future possibility, they must have the autonomy they crave coupled with clear guardrails to guide their efforts.
  • Fail: Fail fast, fail small, fail often. As a leader it’s critical to create and reinforce a culture where failure is not only accepted, but it’s celebrated.  It is also critical to clearly understand the distinction between risk and recklessness. Largely, it’s a matter of scale and the size of the investment. Edison, Einstein and Jobs were all great innovators because they understood how critical failure was to their process.  You should ask the question, “What knowledge did we gain and how can we apply it going forward?” It could be that the kernel of an idea was great, but it needed a pivot.  Failure is a beautiful thing when done the right way. #FailureIsTheNewFWord
  • Show: The greatest determinant to whether smart risk-taking will thrive in your organization is how you show up as a leader.  It is easy to say, “We want our employees to take smart risks” and “We believe innovation is important to our culture.” When that first failure happens, how do you show up? Mixed messages can kill the innovative spirit before it has a chance to start.  To create the right environment, start by sharing your own failures and lessons learned, and how you as a leader and the business overall is better for it.  Then consistently reinforce it with others.  People will feel safe, empowered and rewarded and feel comfortable pursuing ideas with greater disruptive potential.

If you truly fall back in love with these four-letter words as a leader, you will encourage greater risk-taking among your employees, your employment brand will benefit, innovation will flourish and most importantly your business will GROW—the best four-letter word of them all.

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Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.