Workflow is the big idea

CEO McDermott on improving workplace experiences, decision making, and customer outcomes

Soon after Bill McDermott took the helm at our publisher ServiceNow, he sat down with Dave Wright, the company’s chief innovation officer, to talk about how business leaders can foster innovation. Following are edited excerpts from their conversation.

Edited excerpt:

Dave Wright: How do you see the CEO’s role when it comes to innovation?

Bill McDermott: Every CEO needs to create a great experience for their employees. There’s a talent war out there, right? Without the great experience, you don’t get the talent. And every customer experience has to create fierce customer loyalty. The math on the net present value of a very satisfied customer is well known by all. But how do you get it done? If it’s not digital, if it’s not frictionless, it doesn’t happen.

Dave Wright: When you’re talking to different customers, everyone has their own idea of what innovation means and how they need to create solutions. What are some of the main innovation challenge facing companies today?

Bill McDermott: Everyone needs to speed things up in terms of innovation cycles. In most industries it just takes too long to get the next new product to market. That’s a substantial risk, especially if the old product isn’t selling well enough. And these business models are shifting so quickly. One such model is in our industry. You saw everything go to the cloud, but now being in the cloud is only part of it. Now you have to be mobile, consumer grade and highly secure, always available, always on and totally reliable.

Dave Wright: How do you decide what’s a good idea?

Bill McDermott: I always try to think about the CEOs we serve. They’re trying to take care of their team and their customers so they can achieve step-function improvements in productivity. What’s their eye on today? What are they trying to do? Then I try to personalize it by the industry, because every industry is a little bit different. Where is this industry in its digital transformation? Are there best practices from other industries that can be applied to a new industry?

The best CEOs understand that it’s not about what you say. It’s about asking the right questions. And listening carefully enough to recognize the big idea. And then immediately getting energy around that idea and galvanizing a team so they can change the game for the customer and deliver the market opportunity.

Dave Wright: The beauty of a software platform like ServiceNow is that it has amazing capabilities to go where the customer wants to go. We’ve got the flexibility to build anything and go anywhere. And that’s what innovation is all about.

Bill McDermott: Workflow is the big idea, because every executive needs to break down silos and get teams to work in harmony. It’s about taking paper-based processes and digitizing them into a workflow. That’s a $226 billion market just in the United State, $400 billion-plus worldwide.

Dave Wright: People often assume that innovation sits with an individual, but individuals can’t drive innovation on their own. It’s not a person, it’s not even a team. It’s a culture. You have to get the whole company to think like that. What are the most important steps leaders can take to foster innovation across the company?

Bill McDermott: Our whole challenge is to help technology innovators get their ideas into the minds of the business people. So as they create their dreams and their future business models, we’re helping them through the innovation cycle and we’re iterating with them. Design thinking, innovation, prototyping solutions, getting them ready and testing them for the market and then seeing how they work.

The most powerful part of a great company is its culture. A great culture is all about empathy, which starts with listening and feeling the pain or the opportunity in someone else’s world. What our technology can do is almost limitless. So the question is, where do we need to go? We need to go wherever the customer needs to go. In the end the customer alone determines whether we win or lose.