As is often the case in a corporate setting, some potentially
brilliant ideas never break the surface of middle management,
usually for one well-meaning reason or another. Ms. Mueller wants
to make sure these buds see light. "I work very hard to be
approachable, so everyone feels they can share their ideas," she
says. "You never know where the next innovation may come from, and
you'll never hear about it unless you dig in with the team."
When I ask about her proudest achievements to date, she puts the
spotlight back on her department and how together they thrive in
the unpredictable field of digital marketing. "I enjoy the fact
that there's no map for where we're going," she says. "We're
operating on the frontier of the new media world and we're forging
new digital roads every day."
One of these new roads led them to the Home Depot mobile app,
where they developed a new feature to let shoppers manipulate a map
of their chosen store and pinpoint exactly where their desired item
sits on the shelf. Another new pathway ended with in-store
workshops for new homeowners -- think shower installation, picking
the best paint, building shelves -- a program that has received
rave reviews from customers.
According to Ms. Mueller, however, her team's inventive spirit
didn't just sprout overnight. It required careful cultivation as
part of an internal effort from store floor to boardroom. "We have
built a dynamic culture of curiosity and courage, and we encourage
a fast test-and-learn mentality across the entire team," she says.
"It is definitely a team sport, with ideas coming from team members
at any level or rank."
I ask for the CMO's step-by-step so that we marketers might
replicate her method ourselves. "When recruiting, we focus on 'raw
talent' -- those who have the right mindset versus just matching to
specific expertise in given functions," she says. Home Depot also
actively recruits against specific criteria, looking for a balance
between subject matter and unconventional thinking "to fuel the
talent pipeline long-term."
Then, to nurture creativity within established teams, Ms.
Mueller and her peers publicly reward risk-taking. "We have a very
strong communications-based culture that keeps innovation and
quality work in front of everyone."
For her part, the CMO recognizes team members on a weekly basis,
and the company hands out a "Big Swing" award every quarter, which
rewards a risky idea that helped the team learn, even if it didn't
ultimately pan out. "This approach with staff feeds the group's
curiosity, tests our thinking and fosters a culture of 'What if we
tried this?' versus the legacy of 'We do it this way,'" she
In sum, here are Mueller's take-charge takeaways for growing
innovation in your own place of work:
1. Recruit for risk-taking as well as qualifications.
2. Seek out ideas at every level.
3. Recognize and reward the risk-takers.