ConAgra’s CEO on the Topics of Change and Innovation

Sean Connolly is the CEO of the company my wife works for…ConAgra. In this 3 minute interview with Fortune, he addresses the questions:

1. “Regarding change, how do you get everyone to stick with you as you’re trying new stuff?” Answer: “We let employees know we’re trying to build something that’s special, and everybody’s invited to participate in that. And when you feel like you’re part of something special, it can be incredibly exciting.”


2. On creating a culture of innovation: “The first thing we did was make external focus one of our company values…meaning we don’t want to spend our time on inter-office politics, PowerPoint presentations, and meetings–we want all of our team focused on the customer, emerging trends on what entrepreneurial companies are doing to delight customers better than the giants, etc.

Stages of Company Growth and Customer Focus


Connolly goes on, “But it starts with everyone from top to bottom, from side to side–have an external focus on our consumers, our customers, our competitors, and our communities. And that external focus goes a long ways toward jump starting innovation.”


More Focus on the Company = Less Focus on the Customer

As an organization places more focus on the company, the product, and the processes…it is difficult not to experience a reciprocal “lessening” of focus on the customer.  I once worked for an organization whose focus had resorted to “what can our R&D department design that will be efficient to manufacture and perform exceptionally well?”  Sounds great, right?  Well, not until you understand that what that company manufactured were gazillions of white and brown square windows, while the world wanted tan and green and arch tops and true divided light grilles.  In other words…choices.  We were doing what we though was right; what we liked to make; and could make well–but had momentarily lost sight of what customers really wanted.

Stages of Company Growth and Customer FocusStages of Company Growth and Customer Focus

The happy ending to this story is that ultimately that company “got it” and through intensely asking questions and listening to their customers, they moved from “manufacturing and product focused” to “customer and market focused.”   In the words of their president at the time, “The Giant Has Awakened.”  And they went on to maintain market dominance and provide what customers want…not necessarily what they decided they could make efficiently.

You have to know the customer.  You have to ask questions about needs, and peel back the layers of the onion to get a true picture of how you can add value, to make their lives easier, and what needs you can fill that create “win-win” lasting partnerships. The only way I’ve ever found to do this is to go stand in the customer’s place of business, and look back at your own company through their eyes.

And if they don’t have the answer…you had sure better.

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