F. Dupré (Medtronic): "We are committed to instilling a culture of trial and error"
With a presence in more than 150 countries, Medtronic has more than 49,000 patents to its credit and had sales of $28.9 billion in 2020.
Florence Dupré, president of the French division, explains why the medtech leader advocates the right to make mistakes.
Leaders League: What does the innovation culture at Medtronic look like?
Florence Dupré: For us, innovation is more than a state of mind, it is a gradual process. It's not so much the destination that matters, but the path we take to get there, and this path rarely goes in a straight line. In a world like ours, it is at best windy or full of potholes, at worst completely blocked. And yet, we must find a way to keep moving forward, to find a different way than the one we originally envisioned. We also expect our teams to allow themselves to experiment and therefore to make mistakes. We strive to instill in them a culture of trial and error by rewarding progress, by valuing the ability to look at what didn't work, to correct themselves and to persevere.
Does this mean that innovation can be learned?
In any case, the soft skills required seem to me to be very similar to those related to agility, with the added notion of the right to fail. We have to keep hammering away at the following message: in a company, innovation depends on the ability of employees to learn from their mistakes, to grow! I am very much focused on the development of people. Working on the skills and behavior of teams and supporting managers obviously takes time. But it takes less time than waiting for the innovation of the century to magically appear! Hence the importance of systems that put innovation at the heart of daily life. For example, Medtronic offers its employees the opportunity to work for startups and act as mentors or consultants to them. Through this program, our teams grow and become more entrepreneurial.
Does being a woman affect one's relationship to innovation?
Intuitively, I'd like to turn the question back to you: why should innovation be gendered? When I think about it, however, I think that women have a stronger sensitivity to diversity. And for me, diversity is the sine qua non of innovation.
"If companies treat their employees as customers, by putting them in a position to grow, there is a good chance that they will give the best of themselves"
It is difficult to make the world evolve, to transform it, to break with old ways of thinking without a plurality of points of view. Women also have a singular experience with adversity which predisposes them, perhaps, to question themselves more and to develop a greater capacity for resilience.
What is a meaningful innovation for you?
An innovation only makes sense if it finds its audience. When you have an idea, it's very tempting to give in to impatience, to push it hard, at the risk of arriving too soon. The real exercise in innovation consists of understanding the challenges of your partners and imagining the best response to these challenges. This is why I identify with the notion of the servant-leader, which invites companies to put the customer at the heart of their concerns. If companies treat their employees as customers, by putting them in a position to grow, there is a good chance that they will give the best of themselves when serving the needs of their customers.
What type of leadership do you think you embody?
I try to be as authentic as possible, to not betray who I am yet without hiding my flaws. For example, I have a tendency to move quickly, which is a real asset when it comes to taking action. On the other hand, this may reduce my ability to get people on board since convincing them of the relevance of such and such an idea necessarily requires time and patience. Fortunately, the people around me watch over me and pull the safety brake when necessary! As a leader, it seems important to me to ask for advice, to encourage speaking out. I hope I will never be like Creon, Antigone's uncle in Sophocles' play ─ a leader who can no longer hear because others no longer dare to speak.
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