Charles Rizzo is CFO at John Hancock Mutual Funds in Boston, Mass. and a member of the MIT EMBA class of 2013.
What can an investing company learn from a huge retail store like Wal-Mart? As I saw from our leadership coursework, the answer is: a lot. From Wal-Mart’s concepts of sustainability to its constant focus on generating cost savings, improving operations, using data, and eliminating waste, the company’s business practices inspired me to think about how they could be applied to our businesses at John Hancock.
I had been looking for a way to get my professional staff more engaged and connected to our business aside from their normal day-to-day responsibilities. I wanted to create a structure that would be fun and at the same time unlock their creative side while working together as a team. In other words, I wanted to find a way to inspire them to think outside of the box.
Establishing an Innovation council
After learning about Wal-Mart’s efforts in this area, I created an “Innovation Council”, a committee to discuss areas of business opportunity around concepts of sustainable business practices and innovation.
What is an Innovation Council? It is:
- a cross-functional team with representatives from information technology, human resources, sales and distribution, project management, accounting, compliance, and fund operations
- comprised of volunteers who wanted to engage and are interested in innovation and sustainability
- charged with the mission of discussing opportunities that can generate value for our business as well as the shareholders in our company
To get started, I put together a presentation with examples from the book, The Wal-Mart Effect, to illustrate the numerous innovative methods the retailer utilizes in developing sustainable business practices and value for its shareholders. These points, while not exactly comparable to how a mutual fund business operates, immediately jumpstarted a lot of discussion on ways that we could generate sustainable business practices. Looking at an outside example built excitement within the team and illuminated a path to achieving success in the project.
As for boundaries, I didn’t set any for the Council. They can look at any areas they choose. As for a team structure, they don’t have one. Instead, I wanted the group to organize themselves around the broad objectives of the Council and let the leadership develop organically within the team. Too much formalization would stifle the creativity so I decided to leave it “rule-less.
As the Council seeks ideas and filters them among team members, the best ones chosen by the group are presented to a senior management steering committee. So far, they are off to a great start.
How have you inspired your colleagues to think outside of the box? What lessons can you draw from successful businesses in other industries?