The elements of Founder’s Mentality: Relentless experimentation

FM-Wheel-frontline-obsession-relentless-experimentation-220x207This is the sixth of nine blog posts examining the elements of Founder’s Mentality: Insurgency, frontline obsession and owner mindset. Here, we look at relentless experimentation, one of the sub-elements of frontline obsession.

Leaders of insurgent companies are endlessly restless. They are determined to shape the future and are committed to thrive in turbulence, not fall victim to it. This requires constant innovation around the customer and the customer offering and, more fundamentally, around the business.

We define companies with high Founder’s Mentality as those with an extraordinary sense of insurgency, a frontline obsession and an owner mindset, each of which have their own sub-elements (see figure below).

Frontline obsession manifests itself in three ways: (1) Companies with high Founder’s Mentality constantly translate strategy and organizational decisions into frontline routines and behaviors in order to serve customers better and earn customer advocacy and loyalty. (2) The leaders obsess about the key players in their organization who deliver the value to customers and ensure that these people are the “heroes.” Leaders do not allow organizational layers or complexity to distract them from this focus on the talent that really matters. Frontline empowerment is a top priority—these companies give their people the authority and resources they need to do what it takes to serve customers better. (3) This leads to relentless experimentation—hundreds of experiments by customer-focused, empowered employees continually innovating and working with their customers to devise new solutions, better service and better products.

Let’s examine the third of these behaviors, relentless experimentation. We have had dozens of conversations with DM100 members about how these companies innovate around customers, but here’s one example in which the founder discussed the company’s initial “engine of growth”:

“I think the core of our insurgency is all about ‘pioneering segments.’ We found a core group of users that were demanding more from their electrical solutions and we worked with them to develop new products and uses. And once we satisfied them, we set out to create more of these kinds of customers. We did this through teaming. We had some great technologists, who discovered lots of new electronic solutions and new features. And we had our sales teams in the market, working with users to understand their needs. Because teaming was the cultural norm, we mobilized and demobilized little SWAT teams to tackle new segments and find new products for them. Because we all felt we owned the customer and our growth objectives, we all felt an equal stake in developing new products and finding new areas for growth.”

There’s a big theme here we will explore further in other blogs—the loss of Founder’s Mentality results in the loss of engines of growth. The founder quoted above highlighted the importance of customer-led innovation—when the company builds an integrated team (sales, customer care, technologists) that is co-located with customers to create new solutions that meet emerging needs.

In our discussion, this founder warned against the move to functional excellence, which can force people into silos: “Yes, you need to capture efficiencies that come from specialization, but not at the expense of teaming, which ensures your main engine of growth—customer innovation.”

Maintaining a culture of relentless experimentation starts with a mindset that says, “We are better off remaining the industry disruptor with our core customers than letting new insurgents disrupt us.” It also demands agility—your company needs to mobilize and demobilize integrated teams to co-create new solutions for your customers. And finally, it demands you celebrate the “doers” who are willing to improve customer solutions incrementally through relentless experimentation and, in doing so, fuel a critical engine of growth.

Next up in our series: Strong cash focus

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About James Allen

James Allen is a senior partner in Bain & Company's London office and recognized as a leading expert in developing global corporate and business unit strategy. He is co-head of Bain’s Global Strategy practice and a member of Bain & Company's European Consumer Products practice. He is co-author, with Chris Zook, of Repeatability (HBR Press, March 2012) and Profit from the Core (HBR Press, 2001 and 2010).

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