I grew up baking. Back then, on my small family farm in Indiana, I had no idea that I would go on to work for the biggest food company in the world — not as a baker, but as a pricing analyst on the finance team. Although my career at Nestlé is all about numbers, I still love getting creative in the kitchen; when you’re surrounded by innovative, hard-working foodies all day, it’s hard to resist trying out a few ideas of your own.
When I heard about Open Channel, an internal crowd-sourcing initiative that empowers Nestlé USA employees to submit ideas we believe will be the next crowd-pleaser, I immediately knew I wanted to get involved. That’s how I came to be the founder of the Nestlé Toll House Brookie, a mashup between a brownie and a chocolate chip cookie that builds upon an emerging brookie trend, and developed a plan to make it available to consumers through Nestlé Toll House’s Virtual Bakery — a pilot cookie delivery service available in Washington, DC.
Without job hunting, I’d gone from pricing analyst to product founder overnight, all thanks to a culture of innovation, courage and collaboration that allowed me to stand in front of the Nestlé Executive Leadership Team, just a few years removed from college, and present my idea.
Here’s what I learned.
Feeling Engaged and Included at Work is Everything
The pandemic has made us reevaluate many aspects our of lives, including our workplace. As offices begin to reopen, many employees are deciding to make a major career shift. In fact, some studies are finding that up to 41% of the global workforce would consider leaving their current employer in the next year — it’s being called the “Great Resignation”.
Feeling engaged at work is important, and the Open Channel initiative has been a real opportunity for all of us at Nestlé to tap into our curiosity, get creative to come up with exciting product ideas, and learn more about how products are developed. I pitched the Brookie to my colleagues first, as one of hundreds of employee submissions that face a company-wide vote to see which ideas rise to the top. This democratic approach gets everyone in the company involved.
The Brookie is the result of a mass brainstorm, a giant incubator, and the kind of agile innovation you’d expect to find at a start-up rather than a large company with more than a century of history behind it. Open Channel gives employees at all stages of their career an opportunity to feel more empowered, more engaged, and more curious about their place of work — without the need for job hunting.
Real Access to Leadership Matters
The idea to our Executive Leadership Team. The pitch to leadership is an exciting moment for Open Channel founders. Leading up to our pitch, we don’t just present the rough idea we started with, we work with chefs and marketers to make the best version of our product and build a strong business case for the idea to move forward.
By the time I met with leadership, the Brookie was no longer just the brownie-cookie mashup I’d created and iterated in my kitchen, it was a real product that I believed in, felt ownership of, and felt confident would be a hit with consumers. I was armed with new knowledge of the consumer and the category, and ready to put it to the test.
The leadership team asked me questions about my creation, adding their ideas about the recipe, product packaging and more — challenging me to make the Brookie even better. The Brookie was a hit with the panel, but more importantly they had taken the time to truly invest in my idea — it’s inspiring to work with leaders who take the time to engage directly with anyone in the organization — regardless of title and function. They truly just want to see you succeed.
Small Innovations Lead to Big Disruption
You often hear fitness gurus talk about incremental gains. Small changes that lead to a big difference over time, so long as you’re willing to invest real energy into them. That’s how I think of the innovation that went into creating the Brookie — I didn’t set out to completely change the way Americans bake cookies, I just wanted to add a small innovation that added brownie goodness to your favorite cookie, or cookie goodness to your favorite brownie!
The thing is, small innovations lead to big disruption, and that’s what being an innovative company is all about. Open Channel brings together hundreds of employee ideas, each of them tapping into individual creativity, made stronger by colleague input, resulting in a large pool of innovative ideas that make our company even more competitive, and our consumers excited to try delicious new products.
Together, Nestlé USA employees are transforming the company into a large-scale disrupter in the industry. That’s a team I’m proud to create with, to iterate with, and to disrupt with. The Brookie is just the beginning.
When I started my role with the Nestlé finance team, I could never have imagined I’d go on to be the founder of my own product. Launching the Brookie has been an incredibly rewarding experience, packed with lessons about how foods go from small ideas in the kitchen to products in consumer’s hands, and enriched by the collaboration with peer and leadership teams.
I’m excited to see which of my colleagues’ creative ideas to life next, and I hope you’re tapping into your curiosity right now to find a career that allows you to innovate the next big thing.