With the challenges around global supply chain, pricing shocks, war impacts and COVID disruption, many leaders we know have been fully engaged with navigating the current situation and next 12 months.
Leaders are looking for practical innovation strategy frameworks that they can use to drive growth and operational improvements.
The first two frameworks we suggest are streamlined and may even bring a smile to your face, with a straightforward approach reminiscent of the Michael Jackson song “A-B-C, Easy as 1-2-3!“
I. Three Question (1-2-3) Innovation Strategy Framework from Kat Cole
She continues to use this framework in her businesses today, and the example she chose to illustrate the innovation strategy framework comes from her time as President of Cinnabon.
This innovation approach involves asking three questions of stakeholders, such as franchisees, employees or customers. The operating premise behind this framework is that people closest to the situation already know many of the unmet needs and potential solutions that will drive innovation.
- What are we saying “No” to? When Cole became President of Cinnabon in early 2011, she described that both Cinnabon corporate and franchisees were focused primarily on the original Cinnabon “The Classic” cinnamon roll, clocking in at 880 calories. At that time, consumers expressed interest in smaller, more handheld options, and some franchisees were experimenting with smaller-sized rolls. However, there was real concern among stakeholders that providing smaller-sized offerings in addition would dilute sales and reduce the average price point.
- What is being thrown away? In this example, given the large size of The Classic, some consumers were quite literally throwing away uneaten portions of the roll. Another thing being wasted was management time and attention and marketing focus, with many franchisees spending most of their time and attention on The Classic, regardless of consumer trends towards snacking, shareability and smaller portion sizes.
- If you were me, what’s one thing you would do differently? Cole explained that asking this question engages the employee or business partner to share ideas that may have been dismissed in the past or otherwise inadvertently overlooked. In the case of Cinnabon, the answer was once again to offer smaller portion sizes.
Looking at Cinnabon today, the menu has a variety of items, including BonBites (four pieces) at 410 calories as well as individual Minibon rolls at 350 calories. While Cinnabon Bites (the previous name for BonBites) were first introduced in 2005 in a six-piece pack and touted as “the perfect snack to munch on while window shopping or running through airports,” according to Cole, they had not gained much traction until they became a focus under her leadership.
To drive the growth in BonBites, Cole followed the strategy of finding a “coalition of the willing,” (which were some franchisees who were ready to lead the innovation) and also investing to support their success.
II. Start/Stop/Continue ABC Innovation Strategy Framework
A similar three-question framework is frequently used within both Vistage and Agile for innovation strategy, business processes, and for more general business decision-making. It is called Start/Stop/Continue. As the name suggests, the questions are:
A. What should we Start doing?
The framework appears closely related to the one Cole suggested, as the “things we are saying no to” overlap with the things we should start doing. Often, brands struggle to make room for new business activities, space in the system, and in the marketing spend for new innovative products.
The fact remains, however, that when demand evolves to a new space, if your brand fails to innovate to meet consumer’s needs, another brand will step in to fill the void. Too often, market leaders are wedded to protecting their historical legacy businesses and choose to ignore market trends.
One source offers some different, helpful ways of asking the same question:
- “What are the obvious gaps our business needs to fill?”
- “How would you do this?”
- “What opportunities do you see our company currently missing out on?”
We recently worked with a team who decided that they’d need to start investing time in regular, fifteen-minute weekly meetings held either in-person or with face-to-face video communication rather than relying solely on email, text and other asynchronous communication strategies.
This decision is in line with a recent study that pointed out long email exchanges are frustrating and productivity draining.
B. What should we Stop doing?
The question around what to stop doing is similar to “what are we throwing away?”
Some additional questions identified in this category are:
- “What would you cut from your workday if you had to leave early for vacation?”
- “What activities do you mentally place at the bottom of your to-do list, even before you’ve written it?”
- “Have you ever noticed an area of your job that consistently gets bumped to the next day or even next month? What is that and why is it so easy to defer until a later date?”
In a recent organizational alignment meeting, some leaders we worked with realized they needed to stop bringing all questions for resolution to senior management.
While this might seem basic, they recognized that 85% or more of the problems they were facing could be resolved at the middle management level, often through better communication, and they should stop escalating all problems.
In this instance, one of the executives shared an escalation process he’d seen from a previous IT environment as useful to operational conflict resolution and decision-making.
C. What should we Continue doing?
The question around what we should continue doing brings a different and unique lens, as it gives the opportunity to build on practices that are already working.
It’s helpful to recognize and celebrate things that are going well, and to build on the behaviors.
In my previous example, the decision was to continue the practice of monthly in-person meetings and to build reps, rather than to try a new practice.
III. Innovation Strategy Matrix Innovation Strategy Framework
We’ve previously shared the innovation strategy matrix, a framework that looks at consumer segments, need states and strategic growth opportunity areas.
This approach requires addressing four questions, with more time investment. Some of the questions to address in this approach are:
A1. What is the market or category that your business competes in? This is also referred to as the category frame of reference.
For example, is Cinnabon competing only in the market for highly-indulgent treats? Or, is it also competing in the market for shareable snacks (whether or not they are shared, it is the perception that matters), or portion-controlled indulgent treats?
A2. Who are the different segments of consumers in the market? Which ones are our primary focus for innovation strategy?
In the convenient foods example, the consumer segments that were the primary focus were Segment A, Segment B and Segment C.
A3. What are the need states that these consumers experience? Which ones are the focus for our innovation strategy?
In the convenient foods example, the need state focus areas are morning start, better for you, and snack.
A4. Putting together the segments and the need states, what are the SGOAs (Strategic Growth Opportunity Areas) that our innovation strategy is addressing?
Strategic growth opportunity areas (SGOAs) are the white space intersections of segments and need states. These provide an ongoing platform for innovation and new product development.
These innovation strategy framework examples can guide any executive team and organization through the rapid change we’re seeing in the current marketplace. We can’t actually promise the path will be “Easy as 1-2-3,” but following a framework is certainly more secure than flying blind.