Savant Talks: How Transparency Drives a Culture of Innovation

We had the pleasure of chatting with Nicky Claeys, CMO Northern Europe at Domino’s Pizza to discuss how companies can foster a culture of innovation. Here’s what we talked about!


What are the key factors that enable a culture of innovation? How do you embed it throughout a huge organisation like Domino’s Pizza?


Nicky: For me, one of the most important things is to not be a black box as a leadership team or as a separate department. I believe the most important thing is to have transparency in the ways of communicating, and communicating often, in order to be able to drive change management and cultural innovation.

In a former organisation, I was in a more local role and one of the things that was incredibly frustrating is that there were things that were “cooked up” in headquarters and people didn’t understand why. Even if an idea is really good, if people don’t buy into it and don’t understand why they are working on a specific idea or project, they won’t actually execute the idea well, and this is such a shame.

This is one of the things that I’ve learnt over the years: to have transparency, to be able to explain why, to have the rationale and to show why, when possible.

Ultimately, a company’s people need to be shown the end result as well as understand who and what is behind those results. If people hear and understand the rationale behind a decision or idea, then they become personally invested in that decision or idea. This in turn builds trust. People may not agree with every single thing, but if you continue with spreading the word and on a regular basis, you show that it works, you show why your doing it, then it really goes a long way to stimulating a culture of innovation.

This should be combined with the opportunity to ask questions, be it in workshop format, or through moderated intranet tools, because the ability to engage in dialogue and to question things goes a long way in helping to foster a culture of innovation and ownership of ideas.


In the digital transformation process, are there any rules or steps that every company should go through? Or is there no one-fits-all model?


N: Well, despite the very different approaches you can find in different organisations, I would say there are also similarities.

A core similarity is regular communication: it’s not a one-time thing, it’s ongoing communication that enables interactions, questions, comments and inputs. It’s also showing the rationale and results of test cases to people – whether those results are good or bad. You need to take your people on that continuous journey of learning. In our organisation it is the same, we started off with regular kinds of newsletters through all the stores and all the franchisees and we’ve actually moved forward and now have this Facebook-like environment that has everyone, from the top management to the drivers, present on it.

This creates a cascade effect that involves everyone and that is active on a daily basis.

This is the right way to build trust: people see things are moving and have the feeling that they are part of it. It’s also something that, in terms of very concrete innovation, also helps in an organisation such as ours. We have franchised organisations but we also have our own stores and this really helps to drive the speed of innovation. If you can have test cases, it’s going to be obviously easier to roll out these test cases in your corporate stores. You don’t need to convince a franchise partner to do a test phase because you’ve already run it and you can share the results. The key is to be very transparent and offer opportunities to others to participate in the test as well – that’s a way you can drive innovation and collaboration much faster.


How do you drive innovation across departments?


N: I think whichever tool you use, one of the most important factors is that the leadership is very present there as well. Coming back to an earlier point, communication from top management is something that should not happen just once a year or twice a year, but on a daily basis. It certainly requires quite a bit of effort and time, though – if I can openly speak on my behalf. But it’s also what really destroys the barriers and creates that transparency you need to drive organisation-wide innovation and remove siloes.

I still remember when a couple of years ago we decided to switch to this new intranet format, there was a lot of huffing and puffing. Everyone realised that we will constantly be able to be asked questions by everyone, we will actually need to constantly be on this intranet to answer those questions. But there was a belief that it would be worth it. Now, a couple of years later, we can say it is. It takes a bit of time and effort getting used to this format of communication and how often you’re prepared to be on there, because there’s a tendency to be on this platform 24 hours a day. However, it really helped us be able to create a giant wave of innovation and have this very fast ripple effect, because the whole organisation is on the intranet and uses it on a daily basis to share, learn, question, and communicate.

And we don’t rely solely on desktop computers anymore!

The intranet is of course also on mobile because it’s instant. Sometimes the dialogue is not very formal, all walks of life and everyone in the organisation is on it. Sure, sometimes you can have some conversations that could cross the line, but at the same time the fact that that’s possible as well and that there’s a response in it, means it’s quite self-regulating.
You will see actual people giving feedback to each other as well, collaborating and helping each other out. And the speed that this can drive innovations, the engagement that it creates is, I think, incredible. It’s something I love very much. These elements of transparency and interaction towards communication, leadership involvement, and having a modeling role, showing and not just saying it, living it, are core components of an innovation culture that works.


Meet our Guest:


Nicky Claeys, CMO Northern Europe Domino’s Pizza

With over 15 years experience, Nicky is currently responsible for the development and implementation of the Domino’s marketing strategy to strengthen brand equity, grow store sales and increase customer counts. Her role also entails development of new products, driving profitable menu solutions and spearheading digital customer-centric marketing innovations. Prior to joining Domino’s, Nicky served as Global Head Online Marketing at Philips Lighting, leading the sector’s digital transformation. Nicky started her career as Technical Brand Manager at Procter & Gamble and holds a Master in bio-engineering from the University of Ghent, Belgium; graduating Summa Cum Laude.

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