Innovating in a service business works best if the innovations are: 1) aligned with your core purpose, 2) meet a future consumer need and 3) can be executed by your organization.

uncaptionedNoodles CEO Kevin Reddy explained this model to me and how it works at his organization. Since dining out is a truly discretionary expense for every one of Noodles’ customers, it must deliver a superior experience every time every customer comes through its doors. Ultimately, we’re all in service businesses so this applies to all of us.

Align Around a Shared Purpose

People in the organization must understand, believe and act on its core purpose. Reddy knows that any innovation and change must flow from, and contribute to, that core purpose, connecting with both current and new guests.

In Noodles’ case this is about how it defines the dining experience, which Reddy summarized as: “Really good food, served by genuinely nice people, in a friendly, welcoming place.”

Noodles differentiates itself by providing quicker service and a finer dining experience than other casual restaurants (though not as quick as quick serve nor as fine as fine dining). It is about delivering a superior dining experience at a great value in terms of financial and time costs.


Understand Future Consumer Needs

Innovation is forward looking. Solving yesterday’s problems is important, but not innovative. Copying what others do well is often a good approach, but not innovative. Reddy suggests that innovation starts with knowing and believing in where consumer needs are going. Then creating a picture of what’s important. Followed by “inspiring and motivating people to embrace that vision.”

Thus, “true innovation is about taking risk.” Reddy’s steps are:

    1. Choose the future consumer needs you are going to focus on
    2. Create a picture of what success is
    3. Get clear on the behaviors required to get there


Do the Doable

Armed with possible ideas, Reddy suggests the next step is “Really understanding what our system can execute.” It’s a truism that a good idea poorly executed is not worth anything. Reddy and his team make sure the ideas build on their core purpose, move the organization toward where consumers are heading and then make sure the whole organization:

  1. Believes in and is passionate about the innovation
  2. Is clear about how to bring the innovation to life
  3. Has the training and tools required to execute

Reddy gave me a good example of a Noodles’ innovation. Surprise. Much of the “really good food” Noodles serves is noodle-based. (Who would have thunk?) Consumers are valuing more and more ethnic variety in their food options. So Noodles is serving an increasing array of global flavors.

One option is Japanese Pan Noodles. It’s a consumer-driven idea in line with Noodles’ core purpose. But execution is key as there’s a “dramatic difference between getting it right and getting it almost right…with the consumer being really pleased and not happy.” Exactly three minutes is required to get the right caramelization. Fifteen seconds too little or too much doesn’t work. Since Noodles is committed to going from order to delivery in five minutes, these 15 seconds count.

Japanese Pan Noodles work because they are in line with Noodles’ purpose, meet an emerging consumer need and can be delivered well – as must your innovations.

This is a good example of step 10 of The New Leader’s PlaybookEvolve People, Plans, and Practices to Capitalize on Changing Circumstances

By the end of your first 100-Days, you should have made significant steps toward aligning your people, plans, and practices around a shared purpose. Remember, this is not a one-time event but, instead, something that will require constant, ongoing management and Darwinian improvement.

Click here to read about each step in the playbook

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