Lale Kesebi knows a thing or two about facilitating change by shaping organizational culture.

For the last four and half years she has led an open innovation unit tasked with role modelling change, innovation, and the future state of Li & Fung. The common denominator of all her work in her 15-year career at Li & Fung has been about inventing and reinventing the way they describe themselves as a company.

When Lale started in 2003, Li & Fung was a 6.5-billion-dollar company with around 6000 people in 25 markets. Today, they are an 18-billion-dollar company with around 22 thousand people in 40 markets.

This January, Lale spoke at Innov8rs Singapore about facilitating innovation from the ground up, starting with one person and scaling to a multi-national level and cultivating an organizational culture that not only embraces innovation, but also is willing to take it to new heights.

Radical Innovation at a 110-Year-Old Company: It Starts With One Person

Li & Fung has been in the retail supply chain business for 110 years. Five years ago, like many other businesses in the industry, Li & Fung found itself on the brink of disruption. At the same time, they had a brand new, fourth generation CEO taking over who recognized that the businesses needed to future proof itself in a radically different way and was ready to create the supply chain of the future.

If we peel back the onion on innovation, for Lale, it comes down to one person deciding to believe.

They have to get what Lale calls Wi-FM – What’s in it for me? Li & Fung built an entire innovation strategy around answering that single question.

Why should they change? What’s the imperative? Why should they believe or follow? Lale’s team first focused on marketing innovation, starting with the one person they had to convince and scaling everything around that.

Next: The Workshop and Guerilla Sessions

Lale’s team initially built an open innovation unit they called “The Workshop” to demonstrate the ways people could work with innovation inside their own worlds. That meant learning rapid prototyping techniques, learning to ideate, learning brainstorming techniques – all things they could embed in their day-to-day work.

Next, they moved on to encouraging people to experience what it all meant. They conducted 23 “Guerilla Sessions” with over 500 people and Facebook live streaming – seminars to share and talk about what innovation looks like. They created a community around Slack which now stands at nearly 1000 members globally at Li & Fung. The Slack community and Guerilla Sessions serve to facilitate the ways people can learn from each other and share ideas on innovation.

Communication, Communication, Communication

For a 110-year-old, multinational corporation to implement radical innovation at all levels of the business obviously wasn’t an overnight process. It required a multi-pronged approach using outside-the-box thinking and techniques, most of which revolved around communication.

The team focused on telling the company’s innovation stories through as many communications channels as possible. They released 52 newsletters in three languages, developed and shared infographics, created shareable videos, revamped their website twice to iterate their story, and used social media channels to reach their people where they live their lives. They also got the C-Level Executives communicating in radically different ways about the company’s innovation efforts.

The result is a full-on conversation happening from all directions: top to bottom, bottom to top, as well as laterally.

This is all fundamentally different than what normally happens. The traditional innovation model for most businesses is top-down. You have a select group of people, talking about lofty visionary ideas. That group of people spends days talking about the why’s and how’s of the company’s need for change… but none of that comes across to the rest of the organization who wasn’t in that room. All that comes across to the organization is “follow me” and all the leadership feels is resistance.

The lofty talk and excitement and wonderful plans generated in that room filters down to the employees who are working hard at their day-to-day jobs… and all they hear is: “You want me to do One. More. Thing? I don’t have time to innovate!”

So you get pushback because the change has been forced from the top down instead of worked from the individual up.

Your Innovation Efforts Are The Challenger Brand

Keeping with the marketing approach, if you think of your company’s status quo as the solid, reputable, established brand – your innovation efforts are the challenger brand. Your company is Blockbuster and your challenger brand is Netflix.

As a challenger brand you need to reach your people at the individual level to get them to sit up and pay attention to the changes taking place. More importantly, you want them to pay attention and say “I really like what’s going on over here. This is better than what I currently have. Better than what I’ve been doing.”

It has to be better than what they’ve been asked to believe for the last 10/20/100 years. You’re asking your people to change their mindset.

A challenger brand must be prepared to do something bold because it must knock out the incumbent way of thinking. It has to go against the existing convention to break through and win. A challenger brand doesn’t just want 5% of market share; it wants to knockout the incumbent. This is the kind of attention you need around the efforts you’re planning in your innovation unit.

At first, you’re after the early adopter, the influencer, the hipster. This person lives in a world that is competing for his attention daily. To get to the influencer you have to live in his world. To penetrate his world, you have to live in it. How are you telling your story of innovation in a way that reaches this guy? This guy isn’t on email unless he’s working. He’s on his phone, he’s on social media; he’s on YouTube and LinkedIn and that’s where you have to reach him.

Talk To Your People About Innovation From The Outside In

People don’t believe when they hear it only from the inside.

When they hear and see it from the outside, however, in the form of a press release or a compelling YouTube video that tells the story of your innovation efforts and your successes, they feel a sense of pride. They get to say, “Yeah we’re doing that” and they share it with friends, family, and colleagues.

Engage. Empower. Neutralize.

On the flipside, you do need to sell from the inside out as well, using influencer marketing skills which means utilizing the people and culture within your organization to spread your message. Engage your people. Empower your influencers. Neutralize your opposition.

Determine who you need to talk to that will support the innovation agenda and get them in front of others so there is trust and belief. Get the people who’ve already participated in the innovation efforts in front of others, so they can tell their story. Determine who you need to talk to in order to neutralize opposition. These are three distinct strategies. An awareness campaign is very different than knocking out your naysayers.

Competing for Time, Energy, and Eyeballs

If you aren’t talking about your innovation work, it’s the same as not innovating. Marketing is most effective when it comes to you in your world. Micro-moments that find consumers in their social media outlets are the largest rise in retail channels. Innovation efforts should function the same way.

If your innovation efforts aren’t part of the conversation and the culture within your organization, your people will think it isn’t happening. Period. You get attention by being creative. You are competing for time, energy, and eyeballs.

We live in the world in the palm of our hands: Our phones. Most companies aren’t there yet; most companies are still on a desktop. Your goal is to figure out how to get the most time and the most eyeballs on your agenda by getting it front of them. Even if you don’t want to build an app or get on social media, something as simple as posters in elevators is a place to start. Design the journey of your communication around the journey of your employee.

So, to influence like a boss to get your innovation to succeed, influence for one person and then scale it.

Figure out what works for that one employee and experiment with it on a larger scale. If it works, great. If your results are less than what you’d hoped for, bring it back, change it up and try it again.