As we navigate the uncharted waters of a COVID-19 world, it will be particularly important for organizational leaders to venture forth in new and unusual ways — to rethink how we work and lead, restructure what we do and delegate, and reinvent how we do it all … without missing a beat.
Suffice it to say, longevity, sustainability and growth are vital to the health of any business, and product extensions are essential for many organizations to sustain and prosper.
These times of duress call loudly for tried and true practices, such as the concept of intrapreneurship. Leaders must challenge all their employees to put on their intrapreneur hat every day and think up innovative ways — through the invention of new products and services — to advance the business.
How many people in your organization take direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation? How many of your employees will bust through silos, push to collaborate, and have no qualms with approaching the person in your organization who knows the answer to their burning questions?
To light a fire under your and your people’s feet, consider the following two examples of amazing intrapreneurship.
W.L. Gore and Associates
Gore-Tex is a popular brand, produced by W.L. Gore and Associates, that is mostly known for high-end outerwear jackets “guaranteed to keep you dry.” Those coveted jackets are made of the same material — polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) — originally used for wrapping cables and coating Teflon pans.
As legend has it, a Gore engineer one day was playing with processed PTFE, a super smooth material that looks a bit like rubbery string. After lunch he decided to use it to remove a piece of food lodged in his teeth.
Boom! That moment allegedly gave birth to Glide Dental Floss, now the No. 1 selling floss in the world.
Joyce “J.C.” Hall, a high school dropout, started Hallmark Cards in 1910. He and his brothers, Rollie and Willie, first tried to sell the cards in Nebraska but failed. Undeterred, J.C. moved to Kansas City, Missouri since it was a fast-growing market with train access to many smaller cities where cards could be sold. The business took off and Rollie joined J.C. and launched Hallmark, only to lose everything in 1915 when a fire gutted their entire business, along with all their inventory. Instead of closing the business, they pivoted, bought an engraving company and started creating their own designs. It turned out to be a prescient move as postcards were waning in popularity.
In 1917, Hallmark created a product extension that consumers still use today. If you were giving a gift before 1917, the custom was to conceal the gift in plain colored tissue paper. In fact, the Hall brothers sold a lot of tissue paper for gifts in their store. But in 1917, they ran out of all tissue paper and customers were eager to wrap their presents. Rollie realized they had a lot of inventory of French paper used for the linings of envelopes.
Boom! Welcome to the new market of wrapping paper! J.C. and Rollie began using their engraving skills for their own patterned wrapping paper which became, and remains, a holiday staple around the world.
"These times of duress call loudly for tried and true practices, such as the concept of intrapreneurship. Leaders must challenge all their employees to put on their intrapreneur hat every day and think up innovative ways — through the invention of new products and services — to advance the business."
– Scott Cawood, president and CEO of WorldatWork
‘Paint with a Feeling in Mind’
Longevity only happens when organizations pivot, sometimes by choice and sometimes by force (e.g., the Hall brothers bought an engraving company following the fire). People may still send a ton of greeting cards, but the product is in overall decline because of other digital options.
Hallmark, however, today faces less risk because they diversified their products to various audiences (Hallmark movies, for example). Had they stayed too long only in the card business, they would be in trouble like their competitors, Schulman Fine Papers, the parent company of Papyrus, American Greetings, and Carleton Card, which recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Organizations must always think about pivots, especially new products and new markets. Today, Hallmark is opening smaller stores within other businesses to increase market share. You may soon see them in hospitals, for example.
Longevity also can be greatly supported by amazing people, like Mary Hamilton, the longest serving designer at Hallmark. Hamilton designed cards for more than 60 years and was called the “Hallmark Cher” due to her long career. When asked the secret to such a long career, she said, “I paint with a feeling in mind.”
I encourage each of you to “paint with a feeling in mind” and get to know your company’s products and audiences as much as possible. Know them so well that when opportunity knocks — boom! — you answer with the next wrapping paper.
About the Author
Scott Cawood, Ed.D, CCP, CBP, GRP, CSCP, WLCP is the president and CEO of WorldatWork.