Innovator Interview: Target’s Jamil Ghani

To succeed in today’s competitive retail environment, there is no doubt companies need to be innovative in order to survive. Target is a leading innovator in the retail space and was placed #10 in Fast Company’s 2013 Most Innovative Companies list . We got the opportunity to interview Jamil Ghani, Vice President of Enterprise Strategy, who will be speaking at the Innovation Master Class in May 7-8, to ask what makes innovation tick at Target.

1) How does Target manage its innovation process?
At Target, we know that the needs, wants and expectations of our guests are always evolving. So rather than making innovation the responsibility of a single team, we’ve empowered team members across the company in headquarters and field roles to pursue their responsibilities innovatively and in ways that deliver on Target’s “Expect More. Pay Less” brand promise for our guests. That’s why you will find innovation all across Target – from the products we carry to our marketing to the services we provide through our stores and digital platforms.

Of course, we also have management processes to seek, build, and scale the bigger, more disruptive innovation opportunities across our business. Whether within single functions or cross-enterprise, we incorporate discussions about “what’s next?” into the day-to-day running of our business because we always want to be evolving and improving.

2) Is there a process involved with selecting which ideas move forward?
We generate and source great ideas from across the organization through formal innovation processes like our technology team’s Make Day “hackathons” or product ideation sessions. We also generate ideas every single day in running the business and serving our guests. All of these ideas are vetted against Target’s key strategies and then we pick what should move forward and get resourced. We try to have a robust pipeline aligned with what we have determined to be our biggest opportunities. But we also want to have a select number of ideas that are true “left field” opportunities – ones that may never pay off but if they do, could be big!

3) How does Target maintain momentum and energy around innovation?
Innovation breeds excitement, as there’s great energy that comes from pushing boundaries, trying new things, and being at the cutting edge. That said, maintaining momentum is particularly important at two points in the innovation lifecycle. First, setbacks or failures can rattle commitment. At these times, you have to reground in objectives, remind teams and leaders that it is a journey and setbacks are to be expected, and you have to internalize learnings in order to move forward. The second common point of wavering energy is when efforts have transitioned from creation to optimization. At these times, it is important to celebrate the more incremental – but no less important – successes.

4) How does Target measure ‘success’ with innovation?
We think of innovation as the commercial application of great ideas. So, success is measured in the difference we can make for our key stakeholders – our guests, our team, our communities and our shareholders. We look at a range of metrics, from satisfaction scores to financial value created. It all depends on the specific goals we are working toward.

It is also important to mention that sometimes “learning” is our primary goal. We often try new things – like new capabilities on or new products – to see what happens and thereby better inform future efforts and decisions.

5) What is a small thing managers can do to create a culture of innovation within their own teams?
There are two specific things managers can do to foster a culture of innovation:

1. Increase the diversity of thinking – whether by adding new team members with different experiences, engaging with outside partners whose experiences can push your thinking or just being more focused on the market landscape beyond your own organization. Try to create an environment where more ideas and different ideas are the norm.

2. Make it safe to try new things. Fear of “failure” and what it means for one’s standing on the team or in the organization is too often an inhibitor of innovation. Managers need to make it OK to try new things and protect team members when it does not work out. Celebrate smart efforts, not just successful outcomes.

6) What would be your single biggest piece of advice – either for an individual or an organization – that’s trying to move innovation forward?

The most important thing for driving innovation in your business or organization is knowing what you want to be and what makes you unique. An individual or an organization can come up with any number of great ideas – but not every idea helps you realize your unique vision, mission, and reason for being. Picking the innovation opportunities that push you in a defensible, ownable direction is the surest way to use your (certainly limited) resources to greatest benefit for your business.

To hear Jamil and other leading innovators from companies such as 3M, FedEx, and Best Buy speak, register for the Innovation Master Class at 3M on May 7-8th 2013. For a $500 discount, enter DK1 when registering.

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