Q&A with Kamy Scarlett and Thierry Hay-Sabourin
Bricks and clicks: That’s how Best Buy describes its new strategy in the changing world of retail. The motto represents a shift toward a total retail model intended to delight customers both in-store and online – and it’s working. But that wasn’t always the case: In 2015, the company faced a major hurdle when it made the decision to consolidate the Future Shop brand. But, within every challenge lies the opportunity for innovation. We spoke with Kamy Scarlett, Senior Vice President, Retail & Chief Human Resources Officer, and Thierry Hay-Sabourin, Senior Vice President, eCommerce to find out how Best Buy seized a moment of change to reinvent its corporate culture and build a better customer experience.
What does intrapreneurship mean to you? How would you define it?
Kamy: In the last two years, Best Buy Canada has been travelling at an incredible speed — starting with our brand consolidation in 2015. The intrapreneurship opportunity starts with the customer, and it’s about the relationship we have with the customer and why they find us relevant. In order to be relevant, large organizations must be change-ready — and that means supporting a culture where failure is okay, as long as you get up quickly and keep moving.
Thierry: Here’s where intrapreneurship comes into play: In order to fail quickly, you need to make sure your team is agile and nimble, able to iterate on new ideas quickly. Those new ideas are generated because they’re coming from the inside — from people who look at the business as their own. That’s how you make decisions focused on the customer.
Tell me about your day job: How do you do what you do? What motivates you to keep moving forward?
Kamy: I’m motivated by the energy our teams have for our total retail approach and for their focus on building the Best Buy platform and brand. Our teams are so excited to share the work that is being done for our customers, and we’re seeing constant improvement month over month to our Net Promoter Scores.
Thierry: We’re transforming how we go to market and serve our customers with a truly collaborative approach; we have people who are willing to take risks and innovate on behalf of our customers. It’s a great time to be in the retail space — and especially at Best Buy.
Describe the latest, most interesting project you have worked on. What happened? What were the results of your work?
Kamy: In 2015 we made the difficult decision to consolidate Future Shop together with Best Buy. We closed 65 Future Shop stores and converted the remaining stores to the Best Buy model. It was difficult from a cultural perspective, but we created a new culture, one that wasn’t about us and them, it was a new culture that came out incredibly strong. It was about rebuilding Best Buy to be a total retail model — bricks and clicks.
What would be, in your opinion, the top conditions for successful intrapreneurship in large organizations that can at times get caught up in established processes?
Thierry: You need a culture that embraces risk-taking and empowerment. People won’t take risks if it’s not acceptable for them to make mistakes. You have to reward the people who ask tough questions. Equally important is a customer-centric focus. If we’re not obsessing about our customers and what they want and need, we won’t have create the conditions we need to succeed.
Kamy: To build on that, I would say the focus on the customer – a great example of how we’ve done that is with our prototype stores. Last year we opened seven prototype stores which are truly revolutionary in retail. We incorporated feedback from our customers on how they like to shop. The average length of time customers spend in these stores rose significantly, so we know we’re on the right track.
What are some of the skills and tools you rely on to succeed? When hiring, how do you identify this type of thinking?
Kamy: From the hiring perspective, we have four values: We learn from challenge and change; We unleash the power of our people; We show respect, humility, and integrity; and, we have fun while being the best.
We used to hire people and teach them these values. Now we hire the people who already have this mindset. It’s a huge difference, when those values are already present. Everyone can hit the ground running. At the store level, we don’t look for skills at all — we want attitude and we’ll teach the skills. We’ve eliminated the traditional type of service training and empower our people to interact with the customer in the way that feels natural for them. We ask them to just be themselves, and be amazing. We’ve had tremendous success with that. Our turnover rate has declined, and our customer satisfaction scores are going up, so our approach is definitely working.
Thierry: Who we bring in is fundamental to the success we’ll have in the future. The specific skills and tools vary according to the role. But, across the board, we value the ability to connect with people, while bringing the latest thinking and expertise. We look for people who have a thirst for continual learning, are able to adapt, are curious, and see collaboration as a great way to deliver value. It’s a very specific combination of personality and experience.
Which company or large organization is doing innovation well? Who do you look up to and feel inspired by?
Kamy: Any company that solves customers’ problems. Uber certainly has my attention: They solved a painful issue for a lot of people. From the innovation perspective, I think Costco has nailed the customer emotional model. When you think of Costco, they’re always busy. It’s not convenient, but you’re excited to go there, you pay for the membership, and you buy that tenderloin the length of your arm that you don’t really need. And you’re okay with it. You’re more than okay. You like it and you’ll go back there.
Thierry: Casper stands out for me. They solved the problem of shopping for a mattress online. They addressed the shipping cost and the overall customer experience. Shopify is another great enabler of innovation; they’ve essentially removed the cost barrier of entry to online business. This is helping create even more innovative companies, like Nerdblock. They do a subscription service that ships a monthly box full of surprises; basically, you get a box of goodies related to your interests. This company got started with pocket money; it quickly grew to millions of dollars in revenue, and that’s possible because of companies like Shopify and the ease of access to infrastructure that would require millions of dollars in investment just a few years ago.
How do you create an environment and culture where innovation projects can move forward and ultimately thrive? What are the most common mistakes or pitfalls you see large organizations making in regards to intrapreneurship? How do you break through and overcome those barriers?
Thierry: The worst thing you can do is just talk about innovation and not act on it. Lots of companies are saying, ‘yes we embrace innovation, we’re agile, we’re okay with failure.’ What really happens behind closed doors is the opposite; it’s the same old culture where people are focused on the success of their group without caring about the forward momentum of the organization.
Kamy: Companies have to be market-aware and willing to bring new people in from the outside. Many organizations have people who’ve been there a long time; external hires are few and far between. At Best Buy, our president, Ron Wilson, started on the sales floor, however, he’s opening the doors to bring in new ideas from the market, so people can bring their expertise and energy level for what’s possible for Best Buy. It creates a new way of thinking for all of us.
What’s your best advice for intrapreneurs and companies interested in nurturing the culture of innovation?
Kamy: Talk to everybody. Talk to your competitors. Be constantly looking out for who does innovation really well, and how do they do it. There’s no need to figure it all out on your own. Most people spend their energy trying to fight the competition instead of learning from them. I say, shower your competition with praise. And, involve your entire workforce in what you’re trying to achieve. The executives at the top aren’t going to figure everything out, and the employees closest to the customer often have amazing ideas.
Thierry: You need to be honest, humble, and supportive of people in your team, so you can focus on keeping your finger on the pulse of what’s next. You really want to hire people who are curious and have a genuine passion for the industry.