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strategy and business
 / Autumn 2008 / Issue 52(originally published by Booz & Company)


Design for Frugal Growth

Providing this type of virtual entrepreneurship to business units requires several organizational shifts. The local line leaders need the authority to make decisions, the capabilities to take consumer information into account, and a sustained trust that the core will not block progress and will appreciate results. The IT and information-management systems are consciously designed to deliver the right information to the right parts of the organization at the right time. For example, extensive day-to-day data stays in the business unit; if it reached the corporate core, that would be an invitation to micromanage. But quarterly reports to the core include more detail than in the past, so that division heads and business unit leaders can talk about long-range patterns in customer response or costs.

One powerful means of creating autonomy with boundaries is the “CEO contract”: an agreement with the business unit leaders that specifies top- and bottom-line targets, along with the rewards (including personal bonuses) for achieving those targets and the penalties for missing them. The Amberville CEO contract was a very informal document, with three critical features. First, every business unit leader got one. Second, each contract was specifically designed for its business unit, spelling out particular goals for revenues, profit, and two or three other numerical metrics. Third, the contract specified the qualitative metrics that encouraged teaming across the organization.

This last feature of the CEO contract helped mitigate one unfortunate tendency of accountable business units: their natural disinclination to share ideas, knowledge, or resources with the rest of the company. For example, shared advertising expenses, particularly for major marketing events, had long been a bone of contention. Every business unit was expected to pay a share, but some divisions benefited far more than others. Now, thanks to the contract, it was made clear: There would be only a limited number of shared ad campaigns, but each division would contribute.

The contract also established a few minimum standards and policies that protected the corporation, such as employee safety practices. For example, many factories in emerging nations do not require people to wear safety goggles on the shop floor, but Amberville factories always did, because the performance contract insisted on it. In other respects — for example, in the details of plant construction and the design of the assembly line — the local business unit maintained control.

Aptitude for Innovation
In consumer products, the most profitable innovations vary widely by category. In food, for example, rapid in­troduction of new flavors can be critical. There are also opportunities for breakthrough innovation, as Groupe Danone discovered with its Activia yogurt line, which contains live bacteria with a claim of aiding digestion. More opportunities for breakthrough innovation exist in personal and home care, as Procter & Gamble Com­pany has shown with products including the Swiffer mop and antiwrinkle creams. (See “P&G’s Innovation Culture,” by A.G. Lafley, s+b, Autumn 2008.)

But the most critical factor is the connection of innovation to consumer insight. The most effective way to facilitate this connection is with a change in the organizational relationship between the business units and the corporate core. The corporate core should be funded to conduct longer-range research that business units would not undertake (for example, the kind of fundamental research in biotics that led to the launch of Activia). Individual business units should develop the product extensions and process innovations that they need to stay close to their consumer markets. And some internal market-style mechanism should allow successful innovations to be quickly shared across the enterprise.

At Amberville, the R&D staff at the corporate core had traditionally worked on three- to five-year projects that they had proposed themselves. Business unit leaders had usually reacted by saying, in effect, “This has nothing to do with what we are trying to do.” Now, as part of the redesign, Amberville created an internal R&D market where innovation leaders sought buyers for their ideas. If they could not interest a business unit leader, they were free to take the idea outside the company.

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  1. Barry Jaruzelski and Kevin Dehoff, “The Customer Connection: The Global Innovation 1000,” s+b, Winter 2007: Study of R&D spending data shows that alignment with strategy and customer insight boosts the impact of innovation on performance.
  2. Andrew Martin, “In Live Bacteria, Food Makers See a Bonanza,” New York Times, January 22, 2007: Story behind the Danone launch of Activia yogurt.
  3. Gary L. Neilson, Karla L. Martin, and Elizabeth Powers, “The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution,” Harvard Business Review, June 2008: Complements the suggestions in this article by showing why effective organizational redesigns start with decision rights and information flow.
  4. Sankaran Venkataraman, “PepsiCo: The Challenge of Growth through Innovation,” University of Virginia Working Paper No. UVA-S-0133, 2006: Compelling case study of Pepsi’s innovations and growth strategy, demonstrating many of the precepts in this article.
  5. For more thought leadership on innovation, sign up for s+b’s RSS feed.
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