“Get your house in order.” That was Andrew Laudato’s opening message at the Interactive Customer Experience Summit Wednesday at the Hilton at Easton hotel in Columbus, Ohio. Laudato, EVP and COO of The Vitamin Shoppe, provided the opening keynote, ‘Fostering Innovation: How to Create an Environment Where Innovation Thrives.’

When thinking about innovation, Andrew Laudato believes there are several factors businesses should follow to be successful and retain valuable employees. His biggest point of emphasis, however, is rather simple, but an aspect many companies overlook: Innovation thrives when you get your house in order.

That was Laudato’s opening message at the Interactive Customer Experience Summit Wednesday at the Hilton at Easton hotel in Columbus, Ohio. Laudato, EVP and COO of The Vitamin Shoppe, provided the opening keynote, “Fostering Innovation: How to Create an Environment Where Innovation Thrives.” The keynote was sponsored by Loop Media, a multichannel streaming platform that produces curated music videos and branded entertainment channels.

Laudato compared growing a thriving business to planting a seedling. The plant will not grow unless properly cared for and maintained.

Prioritize basic needs

The Vitamin Shoppe executive created a hierarchy pyramid of basic needs businesses should follow. From bottom to top, tips included: Keep the lights on and get a lean and efficient IT structure. “Get it right then get it cheap,” he said. Create value. “Do fewer things, but do them better. Less activity to get something done.” Finally, make sure the company is stable, then innovate.

Throughout his keynote, Laudato emphasized the value of hiring and retaining quality employees. He talked about utilizing the ideas of staff members to take businesses to a higher level. Laudato believes the best innovations come from within.

“Companies don’t innovate, people do,” he said. “Put your best people on innovation.”

To chart speed versus quality in workers, Laudato presented an interesting graphic, the “Speed and Quality Matrix.” The executive said people who complete tasks slowly with low quality should be replaced. On the flip side, some employees work fast, but the output is shoddy. Projects can be rushed with many mistakes. Laudato said the ideal employee is a mix of someone efficient with their time who completes quality work.

“Grow your team by hiring the best,” Laudato said.

Key character traits

When hiring, employers should follow these character traits, according to Laudato:

  • Integrity.
  • Intelligence.
  • Ambition.
  • Temperament; being “cool” under pressure.

The executive then outlined 10 guidelines companies should follow to take care of their workers:

  • Ask them what they want to gain from the job.
  • Human resources should spend more time with the very best employees, not the worst.
  • Focus on career-development planning. Ask staffers where they want to be professionally in three or five years.
  • Always support the team, even when something goes wrong.
  • Have a real open-door policy. Get one-on-one meetings on the calendar.
  • Listen. Answering questions leads to understanding.
  • Only make changes that are necessary.
  • Provide fair and timely feedback.
  • Be kind enough to let someone go when it’s time.

“Firing someone is the worst thing a manager has to do, but it will lead them to finding a better fit,” Laudato said.

  • Be a diode (a two-terminal electric component that conducts current primarily in one direction). Let your electricity flow in one direction.

“You’ll hear this a lot in sports when athletes praise their teammates instead of themselves,” he said.

Take bold risks

Laudato also touched on risk taking. Employees feel more valued if they are allowed to take risks. He admitted it’s an easier thing to say than to do. Bosses will often ask if another company (perhaps a competitor) has tried this risk before and, if so, what was the ROI? And, all too often, if the project fails, the company no longer discusses it. Laudato said it’s fine to try a bold new project even if it falls flat.

“Embrace it, talk about it,” Laudato said. “What did we learn from it?”

In recent years, The Vitamin Shoppe has launched three different projects with varying degrees of success: a non-touch display to order products that failed, a line of robots to assist employees with deliveries that had some success, and a partnership with Instacart, a grocery delivery app to offer same-day service started during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. That service boomed.

“We were generating millions (of dollars) within days,” Laudato said. “Generally, the more quickly you do something, the less you spend on it. And, it’s just a wonderful innovation — I love it.”

Small steps, big gains

For the best user experience innovation, Laudato said small things often lead to the best innovations because they help customers. He said it’s vital to interact with customers to go beyond the transaction.

Laudato’s last slide showed a healthy, stable plant sprouting from the earth.

“Eventually, your little seedling turns into a beautiful tree,” he said.

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