Innovation: A Leadership Imperative

Do you think you know your history? If so, you should know the significance of March 12, 1989. While this date may appear somewhat obscure for most of us, it marks the founding of one of the most significant, game-changing innovations in the history of humankind. This day is recognized as the day the World Wide Web was conceived.

When software engineer Sir Tim Berners-Lee first proposed the complex concept, his boss responded by calling the proposal, “Vague, but exciting.” Talk about the understatement of the millennium. Not to be confused with the internet, which has been evolving since the 1960s, the World Wide Web took everything to a whole new level, becoming an online application built upon innovations like HTML language, URL addresses, and hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP). The brilliant minds that put this all together have not only changed the way we communicate information, but they have also revolutionized the way we approach the world on a global scale.

This seminal event in 1989 is how we typically view innovation, yet it is so much more than that. Innovation is a fundamental characteristic of the human condition. It is a pervasive concept that simply refers to the desire to adapt and create change, or the introduction of something new. Whether revealed as a technological breakthrough or a new and creative way of thinking, it can manifest as a small change or something that takes us in a new and exciting direction. In fact, we can even classify innovation based on the direction it leads us.

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  • Product innovations typically include the development of a new product or an improvement in the attributes and characteristics of an existing one.
  • Service innovation refers to the development and implementation of a new or significantly improved service concept to help us meet the ever-changing needs and expectations of our customers.
  • Technological innovation involves a new or improved technology developed and implemented to make a process, product, or service more productive, efficient, and successful.
  • Process innovation is generally concerned with improving the methods and practices involved in creating, delivering, and supporting a product or service.
  • Strategic innovations are at the core of how an organization should manage change and adapt to changing circumstances. They may include modifications to the company culture and how we add value to our company and its customers. To drive growth and create competitive advantages we often need to change the basic methods and approaches to how we operate.
  • Structural innovations are focused on aligning assets in ways that create value. They can include everything from exceptional talent management to new and different ways of using company resources. Ideally, these innovations help attract talent to the organization by creating superior working environments and high levels of performance.

And that’s just the beginning. Innovation comes in all shapes and sizes, bound only by our own creativity and ingenuity. Many innovations are gradual and continuous improvements that build upon current approaches, products, services, or even management styles. These incremental enhancements create slight variations that help move us forward, building on current ideas and solutions to keep us on a positive and productive path. Other innovations can be much more progressive and radical, taking us in new directions that can transform the way we perform, communicate, and even think about the world around us.

Before innovation can become a solution, it must be an attitude. We live to move forward, and whether this plays out on a personal level or a larger scale, the desire to create change is part of all the characteristics and essentials of human existence. This is rarely a linear process that starts with an idea and ends in a result. Once an idea is born, there is typically a complex web of considerations that come into play that take the idea to its final outcome, built upon creative thought, flexibility, open minds, and positive outlooks.

The Voice of Leadership

Studies have shown that successful companies have top leaders who reinforce the value and importance of innovation. But how does that apply to loss prevention leadership? We decided to take the opportunity to find out.

To gain better insight, LP Magazine surveyed forty top‑level, highly respected loss prevention and asset protection leaders representing retailers from across the country. We limited our pool of participants to only those serving as department pyramid heads holding roles as directors and vice presidents in their respective programs. To protect the best interests of those involved and encourage them to answer freely and candidly, all survey results and comments were gathered anonymously. The survey was limited to four questions to keep our inquiry straight-forward and on-topic. Our results were very telling, and our leaders did not disappoint by providing some excellent comments and critiques.

What role does innovation play in a leader’s ability to sustain a successful loss prevention program?

Nearly all (97%) LPAP leaders indicated that innovation is either very important (23%) or extremely important (74%) in a leader’s ability to sustain a successful loss prevention department. One respondent indicated that they did not believe that innovation is at all important to sustaining a successful loss prevention program.

However, their specific comments would lead one to believe that they were considering a narrow definition of innovation—technological innovation—when responding to the survey, and also strongly supported the importance of innovation when looking to sustain a successful program. Consider the following sample:

“Innovation plays a role in everything that a leader does. There are many different qualities that go into being a leader, but you can’t be a leader without being innovative. No company wants a leader that’s only interested in maintaining the status quo. The world is changing every day, and we must change with it. Senior leadership expects it. Our teams expect it. It’s our job and our responsibility to deliver results and that requires innovation, creativity, open minds, and common goals.”

When we think about leadership, there are many qualities that come to mind. But the leaders that stand out are often the creative thinkers, those who aren’t afraid to take a risk and try something new. The ability to have creative ideas, the fortitude to share those ideas, and the boldness to bring them to life will set a leader apart.

True leaders know that no one can go at it alone. Instead of trying to run everything alone and believing they have to solve every problem on their own, they surround themselves with trustworthy, knowledgeable team members who help them build a successful program. However, success still relies on the involvement and full support of leadership. Individual team members can be creative and innovative, but without the support and guidance of leaders, the program cannot reach its full potential.

What role has creativity and innovation played in your own career development?

One hundred percent of the leaders responded that creativity and innovation has played a very important (28%) or extremely important (72%) role in their personal career development.

Talent, planning, and execution are all important qualities that help a team stand apart. But no matter how talented a team might be, how well strategies are planned, or how flawless the execution, it is unavoidable that a leader will face countless challenges over the course of a career that will challenge the methods, practice, and ultimately the results. It comes with the territory. But with innovation in their arsenal, a leader is much better equipped to deal with issues when they arise. They are better able to work with what they have, stretch resources, and find different ways to solve problems.

“Creativity and innovation have been the cornerstones of my career development and advancement. Looking at opportunities with fresh eyes and with people having diverse skill sets can lead to new ways of working and solutions not previously considered. Creativity and innovation require us to remove ego and consider all possibilities.”

When looking to hire and develop tomorrow’s leaders, how important will it be for those leaders to be innovative in their approach to every aspect of program development?

Nearly all leaders indicated that an innovative approach was either a very important (28%) or extremely important (69%) quality to look for when hiring and developing tomorrow’s leaders. One leader indicated that they felt this quality was somewhat important, stating that “When budgets and teams are tight and problems quickly and constantly emerge, I want you to adapt more than innovate.”

Innovative leadership promotes creativity, and exceptional results require creativity. By rising above conventional boundaries, innovative leaders motivate their employees to explore ambitious ideas. They are open to discuss these concepts to see if they are feasible, and how they can be effectively implemented. They believe their employees matter, and that giving and receiving feedback leads to long-term success. Innovation is internalized as an attitude and employees are encouraged to generate ideas that can lead to change.

“It’s not just something I look for, it’s something I expect. Not everyone on your team will turn out to be a leader, but true leaders find ways to stand apart. They are creative, open-minded, and good listeners. They’re willing to look for small improvements as well as big ones. They influence change, which must begin by being willing to change yourself.”

When looking to partner with solution providers, how important do you consider their willingness and ability to be innovative in the ongoing development of their solutions?

All the leaders responded that when looking to partner with solution providers their willingness and ability to be innovative in the ongoing development of their solutions plays an important role, with 8 percent indicating that it plays a very important role, and 92 percent indicating that it plays an extremely important role in their decision-making process.

While every successful leader understands the need for growth and the ability to adapt, it’s just as important that we take the necessary steps to use the right innovations, as well as having a solid understanding of how to go about bringing that innovation to life. This is where our solution provider partners become invaluable. We need solution provider partners that can help us along every step of the way, from the time a product is purchased up to and including implementation in the field and beyond.

“Based on the current industry and category-specific nature of products, it is critical to ensure that business partner alignment and solutions are cutting‑edge and on the forefront of advancement with strategic thinking and planning years in advance. The ability for a provider to adjust according to critical business needs during this time of advancement and technology-driven expectations will not only support but define the support provided to their customers.”

When it comes to managing critical products and services, retail LP leaders can no longer rely on “vendors” that simply sell products to help with game-changing decisions. A solution provider must be a trusted partner. Of course, we expect quality products. We want them to have the knowledge and experience we need. They must be reliable and provide excellent service. But that support must reach beyond any given product or technology and consider all the creative processes that are part of helping our business fulfill our needs and goals. Having the right solution provider partners that we trust who are capable of making the process successful is often as important as the innovation itself.

Not Just Leading Change, Creating the Path

Retail is vital to our lives, our communities, and our economy in so many different ways and retail success absolutely depends on leadership that has the capability to be fluid and flexible. The dynamics of the business and the need to acclimate to the climate and culture of the retail customer allow little room for narrow perspectives. With the right attitude and approach, we can turn challenges into opportunities, taking us in directions we never thought possible.

Loss prevention is merely a subset of the retail enterprise. We serve and protect, always with the best interests of the business and the company in mind. The nature of loss prevention can create conflicting perspectives in certain circumstances that must be managed and overcome while always keeping these interests a priority. And as the business of retail continues to evolve, this will only continue to grow more complicated. This demands innovative leadership that is willing to approach everything we do with flexibility, creativity, drive, humility, and determination.

Looking at the organizations and the leaders that truly stand out from the pack today, all have one factor in common—they embrace innovation. Of course, this doesn’t mean that a willingness to innovate is the only ingredient for success—far from it. However, leaders must have a solid understanding of how to go about bringing innovation to life and how to bring lasting success to their departments and organizations.

There are times when this may be easier said than done. There will be successes and failures, triumphs and challenges. It often requires collaboration with others, exceptional patience, overcoming resistance, and investing valuable time and resources into generating positive results. But the final outcome can make a tremendous difference in the success of an organization and the success of a career. The ongoing need for growth and change will provide a great deal of opportunity, and the best way to embrace the future is to be a part of the process.

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