How One InnoLead Grew His Team During COVID-19

By Lilly Milman |  August 12, 2020

During times of crisis, many innovation leaders are left worrying about the impacts on their teams. Will they fall victim to budget tightening, or will their agile capabilities ensure their future at the company? Michael Keogh’s team falls in the latter category.

Michael Keogh, Stanley Black & Decker

“When we see traditional businesses being impacted and consumer behaviors changing so quickly, we really need to be investing in some of these areas now so that there’s time to incubate these ideas and really get some traction,” he says. “If we stopped doing those things now, three [to] five years down the road, we’re not going to be developing those new growth opportunities…”

Keogh’s team is actually experiencing a period of investment and growth in the face of the pandemic. 

Keogh is the president of Stanley Black & Decker’s innovation arm Stanley X. Stanley Black & Decker is a Connecticut-based manufacturer of industrial tools and household hardware, and provider of security products.

In a recent conversation, Keogh shared his insights on how COVID-19 has impacted his innovation strategy in 2020, how his team has managed to secure key wins during the pandemic, and why investing in innovation is crucial during a crisis. This interview with Keogh is a part of InnoLead’s most recent research report, “CxOs and Innovation,” published with our sponsor, KPMG LLP. For more data and interviews on how COVID-19 is impacting the roles of innovators, visit the main report page

How your approach to innovation has changed in 2020? 

Our customers and how they do their job has started to evolve. … Given that there’s been periods of shut-off, it’s been easier to have access to our customer. They’ve got some time available, and we’ve been taking advantage of that time. They’ve been very willing to sit down with us and talk about their work. 

[We’re trying to answer questions like:] Are there ways in the construction world that people can be reviewing documents — that they can be actually getting permits done or getting inspections completed remotely? 

What metrics are most important to your leadership today?

The kind of metrics that we focus on are around the number of users we have on new platforms that we’ve built. Part of it is just: ‘Are people finding this useful?’ Another one is: ‘How many pilots have we gotten out there?’ … 

A third one that we measure ourselves on is partnerships. Have we found other like-minded companies that may bring a different to the table than we have, or different core competency? It makes a whole lot of sense in this innovation world to be partnering with other companies and be trying to join forces. …

Another area that we look at is data. … You can see everywhere data is the new oil now. … What is that data we’re collecting? … That’s important for us in our industries.

How has your team size changed? 

Our company has been impacted. Top line revenue has been impacted by the pandemic, there’s been no doubt about that. … We’ve had to do belt tightening. We’ve absolutely had to reduce costs across the company. But in the crisis breeds opportunity mindset, we’ve actually made a strong case within the company…that this is absolutely the right time for us to go even deeper in innovation. … We’re growing the team. We’re in an area of investment right now. It’s really under the idea of focusing on innovation efforts as an insurance policy for the future.  

I want to see revenue, and I want to see meaningful revenue.

What are your top challenges right now?

One of the challenges is we still have to show value to our core…businesses, the ones that traditionally are driving all of our revenue right now. Innovation almost by definition is so nascent in early stage, it’s not driving meaningful revenue at this point. … It is super important then that those core businesses feel like that there’s value being driven by the innovation team. … Most people view value as very simple. ‘I want to see revenue, and I want to see meaningful revenue.’

… To move the needle on revenue, you’ve got to have got to a high bar for these new businesses, and people want to see big revenue quickly. “How do we show that value?” is a big challenge, and it could come through many ways. It could come through [as] a new way [of] collecting customer insights. It could be through some of this iteration on pilot activity, getting a lot out there in the market, getting customer feedback, taking those learnings and bringing them back to the core business… At times like this, value has to be shown, however it’s defined, because you don’t want the people that are still the profit generators in the company to lose faith in the innovation, in the future. 

Even with the crisis, have you had some recent wins or accomplishments?

We have some internally incubated startups…that were right in their early stage. They were just starting to get revenue, then the pandemic hit. And the question was ‘Can they survive?’ We’ve actually found…that we’ve gotten some good traction during this downturn. … While still in the early stages, we know that a pandemic like this can really cause massive fallout, and companies just can’t survive, and ours are still doing well and getting sales at this time. 

… There’s starting to be a very broad understanding that the world is changing very quickly and to be relevant, we’ve got to stay nimble. Some of the other companies that we’ve been partnering with have not lost a step during this downturn. I’m seeing some other broader commitment to an innovation agenda outside of just my own company. 

You can’t assume that what was working before is what will work now. 

In the end, what are some of the key lessons you are learning from this crisis?

Having differentiated insights for your customer is what’s going to allow you to come out on top because needs are changing quickly. You can’t assume that what was working before is what will work now. 

… In roles like mine leading innovation teams at companies, there is absolutely a need to be clear and consistent in the messaging about what the innovation agenda is for the company and why it matters. In times like this, people need to believe in the vision, and they need to feel good about where they’re being led to the future. Companies have to articulate their innovation, vision, and agenda often enough so that people are inspired by it, and they understand why it’s important. … There’s absolutely the need for this role to be very thoughtful, and very visible.