Man vs. machine

Defining the direction
If you think a mistake-tolerant culture means employees sling their ideas against the wall the way Jackson Pollock slung paint at a canvas, Schneider says there is more to it than that.

To learn from mistakes, he says you must first define what a mistake is, which means you must clearly define your company’s direction.

“One of the first things is that everyone needs to know where you are headed as a company and what your targets and
key objectives are,” Schneider says. “Innovation is only helpful to a company if it’s in line with what you are trying to accomplish.”
Schneider takes every opportunity he can to interact face to face with his approximately 1,200 employees, reinforcing the company
vision and objectives.

A company being pulled in different directions is an unfocused and ineffective company, but he says he is consistently blown away by
what can happen when everybody understands what the company is all about.

“A graphic I use at a lot of my presentations shows two people in a canoe,” he says. “One is rowing in one direction, and the other is
sitting at the opposite end rowing in the other direction, and the caption says, ‘Boy, the current sure is strong.’

“What I find is that if you get everybody rowing in the same direction, it’s amazing what you can accomplish. But you have to make
sure you really communicate the challenge you’re working on and your overall direction.”

Schneider says the job of senior management is not to micromanage the innovation process but to give employees the resources they
need to innovate, to ask questions such as, “What do you need?” and “What barriers do we need to take down for you?”

Schneider fosters interaction between departments and levels of the company with cross-functional meetings. A number of departments and levels of management are represented at each meeting; the object is to get people from different parts of the company discussing problems and solutions within the innovation process.

Before he began having three to four cross-functional staff meetings per month, he said the story was quite different.

“We’d be sitting, talking about a lot of critical issues that affect the company, and I’d realize the staff really isn’t close to a lot of problems and issues within the company,” Schneider says. “Now, we don’t have the entire staff there, but we have people from all areas of
the company, from the manufacturing floor, from finance, and now when we talk, we’re getting their perspectives.”

He says bringing different perspectives to the table is critical when discussing a new idea. Often, a manager in one area of the company
will have a very narrow perspective on an idea as it pertains to his or her department. Exposing that person to another mindset will help
him or her take a better overall view of the idea and can make the end solution that much stronger.

“You think you really understand in detail what is going on in the company, but a lot of times that’s just not the case,” he says. “But
when you get that cross-functional team, from myself down to all different levels of the company, you start talking about an issue, you
start to get some great ideas and suggestions, and you can learn a lot.”