I visited a few dozen Chick-fil-A restaurants across several states while I was on a year-long RV trip interviewing innovators. It was one of several restaurants I frequented. I was surprised and delighted with the consistently pleasant customer experience. That level of consistency is difficult for any chain of restaurants to achieve. It is one of many areas where Chick-fil-A applies innovation – customer experience in this case. To find out more about how Chick-fil-A innovates, I arranged an interview with Steve Nedvidek. He is a senior manager in Innovation for Chick-fil-A, responsible for helping to build the innovation muscle within the organization. His primary duties are geared toward creating a culture of and competency for innovation at Chick-fil-A.
At the end of the interview Steve shared that Chick-fil-A is a case study in Nancy Duarte’s new book, Illuminate, which shares the steps for effectively communicating your ideas and getting others to support them. Nancy will be a guest in a future interview.
In this interview we discuss:
- The relationship between improv acting and innovation
- Three questions to increase organizational innovation
- How “Hatch” – the Chick-fil-A innovation lab – is used
- Design Thinking influences at Chick-fil-A
Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of questions discussed:
- Many people are interested in what it takes to be an innovation leader. What was your path to becoming responsible for building the innovation muscles at Chick-fil-A? I started as an associate producer in the training video area, utilizing some of my background in theater and communications. I then moved to marketing for about 16 years in a variety of roles. In 2010 I started to focus on innovation as a discipline for Chick-fil-A and became part of a group that was committed to building the innovation muscle at Chick-fil-A. I’ve been a part of the innovation dialogue since then. My primary job right now is helping us learn how to coach, train, and socialize innovation in the organization so that we stimulate progress as well as preserve the core of the business.
- How did your work in theater and improv influence your work and innovation? I have my master’s in theater and I always wanted to use my creativity either in an advertising agency or somehow in the arts world. When I joined Chick-fil-A, I didn’t know how I was going to make that work. But I have parlayed my theater experience into a very nice career of spreading creativity in every role that I have had at Chick-fil-A by just asking the questions of “what if” versus “what is.” That is a very powerful question for innovators – “what if.”
- What actions have you taken to increase innovation at Chick-fil-A? We first had to understand the current state of innovation in the organization – how people thought about innovation. We surveyed employees and asked three very important questions:
- What is innovation? We learned there was no common definition or process in place.
- Do we have a culture of innovation? Instead of a culture of innovation we had a culture of continuous improvement.
- Why or why not? We had a culture that feared failure and was unsure what would happen if an employee failed.
We created classes, that we still teach monthly, about the meaning of innovation to us and our processes for innovation. We went to d.school and learned about Design Thinking. We also created Hatch, a dedicated innovation environment.
- Tell us about Hatch. We opened Hatch, an 80,000 square feet facility, on 12-12-2012 to be a place where we can try out new ideas, create prototypes, bring in customers for feedback, and safely innovate without the fear of failure. It is the place where we try new things, fail, iterate, and learn.
- What kinds of results are you seeing from your innovation efforts? You have to be patient when creating an innovation capability in an organization. In the beginning we would tell people that we are new at this and results would come but they need to be patient. We are now six years into our focus on innovation and have multiple product and service launches as a result of it. Each year they just get better and better.
- Read more about Chick-fil-A in the book Illuminate.
- Chick-fil-A company website.
- Published case studies and descriptions of Hatch… Matchstic, and Touring Hatch.
“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” – Milton Berle
Listen Now to the Interview
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