Executive vice president of human resources and legal,
Ballard, 40, helps the $30 billion retail giant implement its growth strategy. She taps the ideas of its more than 128,000 employees, particularly those closest to customers, to find innovations that will keep the company growing at a rapid clip. Here, she tells us why she shouldn't even be in this photograph.
"I am mortified that this might be about Shari Ballard rather than about our employees. Gah! Does anybody see the irony here? Innovation is a game of numbers. How do you get enough ideas into the pipeline? We're doing it by trying to inspire our 128,000-plus employees to give us their ideas in service of better meeting the needs of our customers. Let me tell you about Nate Omann, who's a project manager for us in our services division. He noticed that we were damaging an unusually high number of flat-panel TVs during home delivery. The customers were totally torqued. Rightfully so. We get to their house, and they're not getting their home theater today. Nate came up with the TV taco. It actually looks like a taco, and it's a reusable device that goes around the TV to better protect it during transit. And we have a TV burrito, too. This idea is going to save us millions of dollars, and from a customer perspective, which matters even more here, we get it right the first time we deliver.
If you're going to turn on an innovation engine, a lot depends on whether managers listen for the brilliance in their employees' ideas that they can then help test, or whether they listen for what's wrong and why it won't work. Nate's idea didn't work at first, but his bosses saw something in it to keep trying. Creating that kind of open environment is the biggest hurdle we face."
A version of this article appeared in the November 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine.