“Even a brown box can be innovative when you think about supply chain, how you bring it to market,” Waite says. But that can only happen if you provide an atmosphere where your employees’ innovation can thrive.
“I have to make sure I give them freedom and latitude, and make sure I don’t shut them down,” says Waite, who personally answers his own phone calls. “I can shut that down by a wrong word, a wrong tone in a meeting. I tell my managers, ‘Try to have an open mind every day you come to work — how can you do it better and make it better?'”
While he’s open to ideas, Waite also points back to the process it takes for one to become reality. “I always first say to them, ‘Have you talked to the people at your local level first?'” he says. “No. 1, that respects the people at the local level. It also points in a direction for a process, that I’m not going to be the one that has all the answers, even though I’m president of the company.”
When ideas bubble through that process, Waite runs them through some filters. Ideas must meet some criteria in terms of functionality, market, “runnability,” cost and sustainability. To make sure he sees issues from all sides, he runs suggestions through various departments to understand how each step of the process looks.