When Charlotte Allen leads a discussion titled “David and Goliath: Considering How Organization Size Impacts Innovation” on Wednesday, July 19, at IFT FIRST, she’ll be coming at it from the perspective of someone who spent 16 years at a large corporation, Kraft Foods, but in a very entrepreneurial capacity, frequently focusing on making connections between internal and external entities.
In the years since she left Kraft in 2016, Allen, who has a PhD in food science from The Ohio State University, has started a company called Rebel Success for Leaders and written a similarly titled book, Rebel Success for Leaders: Lead, Grow and Sell Fearlessly.”
In advance of her IFT presentation, she spoke with Food Technology about innovation, change, and leadership.
Well, I think everyone, whoever they are—whether they’re large, small, or midsize, you approach innovation from your strengths. So the large companies tend to approach it from the fact that they are really, really good at scale. They’re good at getting things into the system, they’re good at reproducing what is already out there.
What is true of the smaller companies is that they are very flat. So the things that they do really well are they move flexibly [and] quickly. They’re able to do iterations rapidly. They are able to really spend a lot of time on the consumer insight piece and hone into that one that is going to drive their innovation to the consumer need, whereas the large companies tend to protect the core. … Because you always know within any business, when you’re selling to who you have as a customer, that’s easier than attracting and acquiring new customers.
One thing [which] is aligned with a publication that Forbes made in 2022, is that there’s a global lack of leaders who are really, really good at change. I don’t mean change management. I’m not talking about what model we use.
I’m talking about leading change from a savvy perspective—from the perspective of being agile, collaborating in new ways, incorporating all of those new skills and characteristics that we need. … So I think that’s the first thing that’s holding folks back. The second piece that’s holding folks back is the food industry is very traditional.
The way my company presents itself is that every team member is also a leader—they lead some component of that team’s activity, and they have to lead by delivering their unique ideas. Whether it’s for innovation or whether it’s for cost savings or whether it’s for execution of projects, they have an obligation as a team member to deliver that leadership to the team.
When we think about diversity, I love to [think of it] within the context of the diversity of thought and behavior on the team. … I’m not sure that every team or every leader is really, really clear about the behaviors and actions that they need to take in order to grab all of the fruits, all of the available nuggets, all of the insight that they can from the team that they have and create something new and different from it.
I think there’s a skill gap right now in the industry. And that skill is the skill that we need to be good change leaders. … So [it’s] agility, the ability to collaborate differently, the ability to transform organizations or teams. I’m not saying that we have to transform an entire company. This starts by transforming your world—however it looks—into the place you want it to be. So that ability and those skill sets are things that we all as individuals and leaders of the space that we live in need to be better at.
Throughout my career I have seen numerous occasions where the talent was there, [but] it was just not tapped. So how do we as leaders do a better job of tapping it, empowering it, and leading those groups to the new places? … We have hundreds of thousands of people in the food industry, and I don’t think we need hundreds of thousands of different people. I think we need to figure out how to lead the people we have in a different way to tap the future that we want to see.
Meet Charlotte Allen on LinkedIn https://ift-linkedin.com/Charlotte-Allen