Five key leadership behaviours lay behind rare ‘breakthrough’ success in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) business, according to the Nielsen Breakthrough Innovation Report, introduced by Jason Green and Taddy Hall in Chief Executive.
‘Breakthroughs’ are products that expand or create new product categories – often required to maintain or grow a company’s market share. In the CPG market, 80% of growth comes from 1% of brands. Breakthrough success is so rare that of 3,500 new brands looked at by the Nielsen study, only 18 made the grade.
Breakthrough success requires these five breakthrough leadership qualities that you can apply to your own business:
1) Be present. Leaders need to be seen by their frontline staff and work with them.
Barry Calpino, former Kraft vice president, says of his then president, Tony Vernon: “[He] didn’t just proclaim and delegate; he showed up… By being there, being engaged and constantly playing the role of the instigator to think bigger and make ideas sharper, Tony sent a powerful signal to the organisation that innovation mattered.”
2) Become the voice. Innovators need their leaders’ vocal support to be heard throughout the organisation.
Innovation will usually run counter to company culture. Without visible support and protection from above, frontline teams will be pushed back into line away from their bold new paths.
SC Johnson, the global manufacturer of household cleaning products, undertook a study into both successes and failures, and one common denominator stood out: “Every success… had an active senior-executive champion… there were no exceptions to this.”
3) Learn from success and failure. Systematically learn the lessons of all successes and failures to achieve continuous improvement.
Failures occur within the most effective organisations and they tend to be brushed under the carpet while successes are routinely assessed. Learning from both is equally important and a safe environment is needed to look at failure honestly.
4) Be creative: defy category constraints and conventions. Leaders should seek to recognise and reward lateral thinking, and be prepared to push boundaries in order to get things right.
The most valuable ideas are those that expand or open up new categories and challenge the status quo. In order to harness creativity, senior leaders need to be prepared to “push boundaries, bring in outside perspectives into the company, challenge assumptions and cultivate a playfulness that fuels imagination”.
5) Be vigilant. Don’t let up on any of the above behaviour.
It’s hard for leaders to maintain this kind of work in a fast-paced environment, with countless responsibilities pulling them away from the frontline team and back to the ‘company way’.
Don’t let bad leadership habits take root. The focus on innovation might not fit with the cultural traits within your organisation, but by maintaining a leadership focus in this area you can help drive success.
As Calpino reflects from his time at Kraft: “I’ve learned that you have to be relentlessly vigilant, or hard-earned capabilities will quickly disappear, and bad habits reassert themselves.”
Embracing innovation is not without its challenges. These five lessons serve as a valuable reminder of the facilitatory or guiding role senior leaders must take to harness creativity, ensure learning and improvement actually happens, and set the cultural tone of the organisation as it strives for breakthrough success.