Flipping Traditional Hierarchy by JennG_

More than 125,000 business leaders and executives attended live or watched the Chick-fil-A Leadercast simulcast on May 4. I attended in order to cover it for our magazines. The leadership principles discussed on stage by speakers such as Roland Fryer, Soledad O’Brien and Tim Tebow were relevant to all of us, no matter what stage of our career—or industry—we are in.

Angela Ahrendts, CEO of Burberry, was the most interesting for me. She flipped the traditional hierarchy of the 150-year-old clothing company upside-down when she started in 2006. She has developed two governing councils—one made up of the youngest employees in the company and the other of the executives. The catch? The younger council comes up with all the ideas and the executives execute it.

As social media editor, I’m very familiar with a ground-up philosophy, but the way Burberry is pushing innovation with its freedom to suggest cutting-edge ideas regardless of your rank was revolutionary to me. Listening to the younger members on staff is common, but challenging them to lead the strategy and innovation of a major company is a game-changer.

“We’ve built a company where 9,000 people trust each other and use their instincts,” Ahrendts said. “The culture is so connected; it’s what makes a great company and enables us to innovate.”

That innovation has resulted in Burberry World, a website that streams runway shows and store openings (like this one in Taipei, Taiwan, which shows how you can truly make a live event a multimedia experience), has a complete social network, launches up-and-coming British bands, lets you customize your own trench coat and more.

Trusting young staff and setting high expectations for them goes a long way, but it has to go beyond simply asking for opinions and suggestions. How does your company culture stimulate innovation? Is everyone comfortable going out on a limb with a new idea?

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