I wrote an article a couple of years ago about the dichotomy of service leadership, discussing how – as the need for innovation in service has increased – we have put unfair expectations on our service leaders to be masters at both operational excellence and innovation. Now, I do believe that innovation is everyone’s responsibility – but only to a degree.
What I mean is that the expectation for a service leader to contribute to innovation is fair, particularly because they often have a very strong view of what customers need and what the company needs to change to better meet those needs. However, the expectation that the service leader bear full responsibility for that innovation is not fair. Two years ago, when I wrote that article, that did seem to be the expectation in many instances: “Oh hey – please ensure we continue to meet our operational objectives, but can you also work on determining how we need to evolve the business to succeed over the next one to five years and start making those changes, too?”
Luckily, it seems that collectively organizations have begun to realize that putting the weight of innovation on the shoulders of operational leaders alone isn’t realistic. Companies have realized the strategic value of service to the business, and as such the function has become less siloed. Further, digital transformation is also eliminating siloes within companies because they realize the need to look at these opportunities more holistically to achieve success.
The recognition of the breadth of innovation needs as well as the importance of digital have not only begun to break down siloes but have also increase acknowledgement that, while everyone should be responsible for contributing to innovation, a dedicated person or team needs to exist to spearhead it. We see many organizations introducing new titles, like a VP of Innovation or a VP of Transformation, who sit across a number of functions to drive alignment on strategic, innovative, and technological efforts.
Operational Excellence vs. Innovation
One example of this approach you’ll hear in more detail on this week’s podcast, from Joni Chapas of Brinks Home. Joni’s team was put in place to work alongside operational leaders to drive innovation and ensure strategic alignment; to listen to their insights and weigh their expertise, but take the responsibility of research, strategy, and execution off their shoulders so that they can continue to focus on operational excellence. “In operations, there’s always a fire that’s closer to you than that smoldering ember that’s out in the woods. Now that smoldering ember might end up being what’s going to lead to the forest fire that really can be truly, severely detrimental if you don’t stay on top of it. But before you can even look to that, you have to be dealing with what’s in front of you,” says Joni. “So, we have things like that that are flashing before these operational leaders, their eyes to make sure they’re keeping up with those day in day out, minute by minutes stats of how things are going. Then to also expect that, oh, and hey, and by the way, in the next quarter, next year, we need to see this overall improvement in those metrics, it’s kind of tough for them to have that dual focus.”
A dual focus won’t elicit the level of innovation most organizations need to achieve today to maintain competitive differentiation, and this is why Brinks Home created the team Joni leads. “The idea of my team is really to partner with and work alongside operations, so that we can have more of the eye on the future, while they’re focusing more on the near term and what’s right in front of their face,” she explains. “There’s the ever, ever evolving future field service, just like what this whole series is about, that you have to keep an eye on, and you have to look to the future, and you have to innovate, or your business is not going to be successful. But you also have to take care of the day-to-day. Both are important, so this approach allows us to eliminate a divided focus and give each area ample attention.”
Innovative ideas can come from anyone, but innovative efforts take significant time and work. As companies look to become more innovative, they must realize that it isn’t a magical process of idea to reality – there’s layers of research, analysis, strategy, and execution that are required. “There are a lot of pieces that are critical to the success of longer-range projects. If you have a leader that is also responsible for day-to-day metrics, some of that will probably start slipping through the cracks. Not because they’re not capable, but because of the timeframe that they have, that they probably aren’t able to get to as thorough of analysis as they might like here. Or maybe the communication piece or coordination with other parts of the organization maybe falls through the cracks a little bit,” says Joni.
One recent example is Brinks Home’s decision to invest in IFS to support its field service operations. “We worked with both field service and IT to align objectives and then began the RFP process. Anyone who has done an RFP process knows there’s a whole lot of work putting together the information on what are the requirements and what’s needed, identifying vendors that are going to participate, reviewing their responses, doing Q & A sessions with them, getting demos, and putting together some cost benefits and ROI information,” explains Joni. “We also want to think ahead to a tool that not only will address that specific need, but will grow with us, and that has additional modules, functionality, and a roadmap that aligns with Brinks Home.”
Joni’s team coordinated the insight from internal stakeholders, mapped the present-day and future needs, did due diligence on the technologies available, and completed the RFP process to select the best fit – shepherding the process for Brinks Homes in a way that not only created a strategically-aligned outcome but never took significant time or focus away from the day-to-day operational leaders. The team is also leading the technology implementation. “By playing the key role in a lot of the documentation, working as the primary project team, doing a lot of the testing and review and then bring the operational leaders in for final sign-off we take a lot of that burden of all the time that it takes, so that we could turn that around much more quickly than if we were relying on people to do that in addition to their day job. Innovation is our day job.”
The acknowledgement by companies like Brinks Home that this dichotomy of service leadership is not only unfair but will slow your company significantly in its innovative efforts will lead to new levels of transformation that will be exciting to see. To hear more about Joni’s journey and how Brinks Home is handling innovation, be sure to check out this week’s podcast.