by Meridith Levinson

Janet Sherlock’s Tips for Harnessing Innovation

May 01, 20073 mins
IT Leadership

Janet Sherlock’s impact on her company is palpable. The charismatic and business savvy CIO of Calico Corners is changing the way the nearly 60-year old fabric and home furnishings retailer merchandises its stores.

Due to an idea Sherlock proposed, Calico Corners is gradually moving from devoting the bulk of its presentation space to bolts of fabric which the company sells to simply showcasing swatches of those same fabrics, since, essentially, the bolts of fabric are more expensive to carry in the stores than the swatches.  This idea Sherlock developed and implemented is leading to improvements in Calico Corners’ sales and profitability and will eventually lead to reduced inventory levels and decreased costs. Needless to say, when it comes to business strategy and innovation, Janet Sherlock knows what she’s talking about. Here are her tips for harnessing innovation and executing upon innovative ideas, which she shared with IT leaders at CIO’s Leadership Conference.

Harnessing Innovation

1. Listen. When you’re sitting in a meeting or wandering the hallways, keep your ears open for issues or problems that keep coming up, whether it’s the rising cost of gasoline or sagging sales in a particular caretgory. That will give you ideas for business problems in need of solutions.

2. Stay abreast of industry trends. Read trade journals to find out what’s going on with your competitors. Understand at a granular level what’s driving your company’s sales. For example, if you work in the retail industry, you should know what’s selling, what’s not selling, as well as what products and categories are doing well in the U.S. and other parts of the world.

3. Leverage technology or information differently. You know what you’ve implemented and you know it better than anyone else in the company, so think of other ways that technology or information can be applied or harnessed.

4. Participate in internal and external peer idea exchanges.

5. Leverage your knowledge from prior companies and industries you’ve worked in.

6. Rely on your team for ideas.  Sherlock says that her team came up with ideas for 70 percent of the enhancements it made to a recent Calico Corners’ POS upgrade, which she adds, was one of the most well received upgrades. 

Executing on Your Innovative Ideas

1. Conduct an internal “acid test.” Vet your ideas with a respected team member, peer or manager. They might be able to tell you if something similar was attempted previously.  When she came up with her idea to change the way Calico’s stores were merchandised, she discussed it with the company’s CFO, who immediately embraced the idea and worked with her to move the plan forward.

2. Develop and appropriate “cursory” business case to propose your idea. Write up the advantages, risks and projects, and or create a preliminary data analysis.

3. Obtain buy-in from relevent parties.

4. Develop a straw model approach for complete analysis of your idea with the support of those relevent parties. Sherlock notes that this step is particularly important becuse you might lose control of your idea at this point. If you have an idea about improving supply chain efficiency, the supply chain organization make take over your idea from here. Sherlock advises IT managers not to get bogged down in who controls the idea since what matters most is making a difference in the business.

5. Conduct a full analysis.

6. Create an execution plan.