In the contradictory, high-pressure, fast-moving, multi-stakeholder world in which you operate, more of the same won’t cut it. A special set of leaders is required.
In 2014 the World Business Forum brings you a unique group of speakers who are writing their own rules, challenging time-honored truths, and forging new paths to growth – our “PROVOCATEURS”. They will provide you with the ideas and learning to face your personal business challenges in new and innovative ways.
For ten years the World Business Forum has been a source of inspiration, learning and transformation for leaders looking to build better businesses and a better world. Our programs offer an incredible breadth of content, bringing you world-class speakers from diverse fields, all of whom have one objective in mind: To help you lead more effectively so as to meet the challenges of today’s global business environment.
My first post “Why large organizations struggle to innovate” looked at innovation obstacles in large organizations. This second post discusses on how to overcome these obstacles and followed by another successful approach covered in my next post in few weeks.
CURE serves as the bioscience cluster of Connecticut, a diverse network of small and large life and healthcare sciences companies, ranging in scope from therapeutics, to healthcare technology, to medical devices. Universities, government agencies, scientists, educators, mentors, students, entrepreneurs, business experts, service providers and investors join in to begin nucleate the breadth of the network.
As participants in CURE, we educate, cultivate entrepreneurship, support the build of bioscience companies and collaborate to ensure a sustainable, high-value bioscience and healthcare community that improves our quality of life and keeps the Connecticut community strong.
Driving Innovation & Measuring ROI While Ensuring Risk AvoidanceLearn actionable best practices and get thought provoking advice on how to overcome the challenges that arise from the constantly evolving multi-channel marketing and social media world including:
Navigating the roadmap to a successful social media strategy
Leveraging the power of mobile to improve ROI & increase employee engagement
Creating a patient-centric digital experience
Measuring the ROI of a digital marketing campaign
Winning buy-in from patients, physicians, and payors
Identifying your brand through social media and digital media
Understanding the public health imperatives of social media
Identifying the five keys to creating highly trusted, shareable content
Implementing adherence programs to increase patient engagement
Tapping into patient communities to learn more about needs concerns
Integrating digital media into your overall marketing plan to maximize brand impact
“Why large organizations struggle to innovate” is my first post in a mini-series as a guest blogger for CURE. This first post looks at obstacles large organizations face to innovate, while the following posts will look at ways on how to overcome these obstacles over the next few weeks.
CURE serves as the bioscience cluster of Connecticut, a diverse network of small and large life-sciences and healthcare companies, ranging in scope from therapeutics, to healthcare technology, to medical devices. Universities, government agencies, scientists, educators, mentors, students, entrepreneurs, business experts, service providers and investors join in to begin to nucleate the breadth of the network.
As participants in CURE, we educate, cultivate entrepreneurship, support the build of bioscience companies and collaborate to ensure a sustainable, high-value bioscience and healthcare community that improves our quality of life and keeps the Connecticut community strong.
It is not without irony when a leadership team complains about their talent. As the saying goes, “Leaders deserve the talent they hired.”
Looking into the Abyss – Not kidding!
Let me give you an idea how bad it can get. Here is a real-life scenario I was asked at address as a consultant not long ago: A global leadership team identified the need to diversify their management across a distributed, global division. Business results were lagging, bureaucracy stifling and fresh ideas nowhere to be seen let be implemented. Despite an outspoken commitment to Diversity and Inclusion, the ‘corporate immune system’ and ‘group-think’ resisted much needed change with repercussions for those questioning the status quo or thinking differently out loud. Data-driven paralysis by analysis was the daily mode of operation. – You get the picture.
The leadership team had tried filling open positions by hiring the usual ‘best and brightest’ with a focus on expert skills and solutions they would bring from their previous employer – it did not solve the problem. It was common practice to hire staff for their expertise, primarily; the term used was “to hit the ground running.”
As if the situation was not bad enough already, the brightest brains have left or where about to leave. They so drained the ‘leaky pipeline’ of talent even more. Since we know that “talent attracts talent” also the opposite appears quite likely. Thereby, the quality of leadership team overall weakens and entails the nasty downstream effects for the staff and the organization as a whole. Obviously the situation was home-grown, which added a sensitive political dimension the whole situation.
The blunt question stuck with me, does the top leaders actually know what talent they need? What are their criteria for ‘talent’ when they search, so you would recognize it when you see it? And, do they have the guts of hiring someone who actually looks at things and truly thinks differently, comes up with unorthodox solutions and possibly has a very different profession background, career path and experiences?
Let’s leave this ‘case study’ here and step back to look at the bigger picture.
Fighting the wrong battle?
Sadly, there were many hidden assumptions at work that never surfaced or articulated. For example, the steepest careers were made by employees sharing the same professional discipline as their leaders, so the assumption was that only a specific professional background would qualify a candidate. Another ironclad assumption was that talent is hard to find – after all we read about this “war for talent” raging out there, as Steven Hankin of McKinsey coined it so dramatically, right?
I respectfully disagree. While it makes sense to hire from the outside for certain purposes such as short-term for specific skills or experience for a project or long-term for the right mindset and development potential, for example, it makes little sense to me to neglect the talent you already have. My take was not that there is a lack of talent but a lack of being able to identifying talent.
It seems that talent acquisition and development have eroded from an an art form to a dry and rigid process that -obviously- doesn’t work all that well for this organization. Little attention was paid to talent identification and retention within the organization or mindset and cultural fit of candidates, for example.
Here are just some examples for common practices that inhibited internal talent to develop and grow – and eventually drove employees away:
Internal applicants for open positions were in practice only considered when the already did the job they applied for. How is this supposed to work? Where is the potential for existing staff to develop and seize opportunities?
We know little about new hires but we a know a lot about our existing employees. What may look like an advantage for the employee often plays out the other way: This knowledge can induce a bias and limit our employees getting opportunities when we may still see them as ‘corporate infants’ despite many years of tenure; like parents who can be blindsided of their kids growing up and being ready for the challenge that we tend more easily to entrust a stranger with.
Graduates fresh out of college were preferred over employees meeting the job requirements, for a trainee rotation program, for example. This was despite the fact that the company often had paid for the employees’ advanced degrees. These employees came with relevant work experience and existing networks within the organization which minimized on-boarding efforts. They already knew the company culture and what to expect. So these employees would not get the job despite their qualifications. – How crazy is that? I call this ‘talent mismanagement.’
Take an even closer look: These employees went back to school in parallel to their day job, family, etc. They had proven their tenacity and commitment to develop personally as well as for the company over years – and are denied a chance to apply their new skills. What a waste! No wonder the talent pipeline leaked!
Three ways to identify talent you already have
Traditionally, talent identification is seen as a top-down process where executives pick employees from their pool based on who they believe has potential. The selected ‘talent’ then receives training, development or career opportunities to prepare them for their future leadership role. This was the model applied leading up to the sad situation of the case study above. It favors a bias of group-think and appointing or hiring people like yourself instead of focusing to find the best person for the job.
What if we looked at and selected internal ‘talent’ differently? What if we leveled the playing field to allow any employee to prove themselves and then select talent based on merits?
Here are three proposals on how to identify talent you already have within your organization but overlooked in the past:
Look closely at your employees who went back to school or underwent a significant challenge on top of their core job to learn and develop themselves, such as the ones mentioned above that graduated with advanced degrees in parallel to their day work. This are tough cookies, self-starters, driven to self-improve and seeking career opportunities; ignore them and they will leave. Read also: How to retain talent under the new workplace paradigm?
Meaningful change is likely to meet resistance within the organization. It takes determination to change established talent management practices. It takes guts to walk the walk despite a general intellectual agreement.
Time will tell how the above case study plays out for this particular organization, i.e. if the recommendations made will be adopted – or if this consulting appointment degrades to just a feel-good exercise without consequences, since taking action requires real leadership.
As the world rapidly changes new employer and employee skills such as changemaking, teamwork, empathy and leadership are fundamental to an institution’s ability to innovate and grow into the future. Ignoring the need for these new skills leads to loss of opportunity and competitiveness, along with increased redundancy and inefficiency. Social intrapreneurship is a methodology for sparking, cultivating, advancing and scaling social innovation within institutions by capitalizing on trends such as technology advancement and globalization, deploying agile and start-up strategies and building the core changemaker skill set. Check out why Forbes is calling the Social Intrapreneur the Most Valuable Employee of 2014.
Ashoka, the world’s largest network of social innovation and entrepreneurship, has teamed up with Boehringer Ingelheim, a world leading pharmaceutical lab with a corporate vision for “value through innovation”, to create a six-week online course in social intrapreneurship for innovation in health and wellness. In this course, you will connect with participants from institutions across the private, public, and nonprofit sectors and convene to learn entrepreneurial and start-up strategies for creating positive social and business impact in the health and wellness space.
In this course you will:
Prepare for a lead or supporting role in developing a health and wellness innovation with social and business impact
Gain skills and strategies to garner internal and external support for innovative projects
Learn how to collaboratively advance innovation in a bureaucratic setting
Connect with a network of intrapreneurs and innovators to share ideas, make critical connections, and get continuous support and feedback
Complete a final group prototype project using Ashoka’s innovative concept formation and collaboration techniques
Through an online dynamic learning environment, which utilizes Ashoka’s and Boehringer Ingelheim’s knowledge and networks in intrapreneurship, students will join facilitators and leading experts in the field to discuss case studies, major trends and social business ideas to keep you on the cutting edge of intrapreneurship.
Week 1: The Business Case for Social Intrapreneurship
Week 2: Selecting and Framing an Intrapreneurial Problem Statement
Week 3: Strategies for Advancing Social Innovation Within Your Institution
The otherwise mostly self-explanatory graphics (see below) shows how different approaches increase employee innovation mindset (vertical axis) with long-term impact (“Langfristig”) in the upper right. The study implicitly confirms the power of intrapreneurial and disruptive approaches. Note that it explicitly mentions several intrapreneurial approaches I developed and also covered in my www.OrgChanger.com blog in more detail:
The traditional world of corporate Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is being disrupted by a new take on D&I and combining it with innovation and talent management. What some perceive as a threat to the D&I establishment may just be the next step of evolution that could invigorate and drive D&I to new heights.
Though not an entirely novel approach (see also How to create innovation culture with diversity!) the new thinking gains traction. As this could play out in different ways and only time will tell what worked, here are my thought on where we are heading.
Struggles of the Front Runner
Many traditional D&I programs, let’s call them “version 1.0” of D&I, struggle transitioning beyond a collection of affinity groups, tallying corporate demographics and competing for D&I awards to post on their webpage. In these traditional D&I programs ‘diversity’ is often understood to be reflected by more or less visible differences among individuals at the workplace while ‘inclusion’ translates to supporting defined sub-populations of employees through, for example, establishing affinity groups.
The United States is seen as the front runner of the D&I movement. D&I has been around in the U.S. corporate world for decades. For historic and demographic reasons it hones in on removing obstacles for minorities at the workplace supported also by strict legislature and execution; exercising Affirmative Action, for example.
This legacy in the U.S. lends itself to an inside focus on organizations that became the backbone of the traditional D&I programs. It comes down to the question ‘what can or should the organization do for specific groups of people’ defined by ethnicity, gender, age, sexual preference, faith, disability, war history and so on. Apparently, it still is work in progress as, for example, Silicon Valley just recently got on the public radar, which stirred up the debate afresh along the lines of D&I 1.0; see Google releases breakdown on the diversity of its workforce.
Stuck in the ‘Diversity Trap’?
The inside focus and minority messaging of D&I 1.0, however, can be limiting when D&I erodes to a process of ‘doing things right’ by pushing for quotas, ‘checking boxes’ and inflating variations of terminology perceived as ‘politically correct’. This can in fact be different from ‘doing the right thing’ for the company overall, its employees as well as the affinity groups and their constituency. It should not surprise that Affinity groups can be (and often get) stigmatized and perceived as self-serving and self-centered social networks without significant and measurable business impact.
Under this paradigm these D&I 1.0 programs struggle to get serious attention, support and funding from executives beyond operating on a minor level to ‘keep the lights on’ more for public image purposes than business drive. The fundamentals seem to get forgotten: in the end, a business exists to generate a profit, so less profitable activities are likely to be discontinued or divested. It’s a symbiosis and to say it bluntly: without healthy business there is no D&I program and no affinity groups. When this symbiosis get lopsided, D&I 1.0 gets stuck in the trap.
“Diversity” is catching on beyond the United States in Europe, for example, where many countries do not have share a highly heterogeneous demographic composition, for example. Here, companies can start with a fresh approach jumping straight to D&I 2.0 – and many do! It reminds me of developing countries installing their first phone system by skipping the landlines and starting right away with mobile phones.
The 2.0 internal focus corresponds to hiring workers that truly think differently and have different backgrounds and life experiences some of which overlaps with D&I 1.0 affinity roots. In addition, there is also an external focus putting the staff to work with a clear business proposition and reaching even beyond the organization. So here a candidate would be hired or employee promoted for their different thinking (2.0) rather than more visible differences (1.0).
While need remains for affinity groups to tend to their members needs within the organization, the “new” D&I 2.0 opens to shift focus to go beyond the organization. It goes along the lines of a statement President John F. Kennedy became famous for and that I tweaked as follows: “Don’t ask what the COMPANY can do for you ask what you can do for the COMPANY AND ITS CUSTOMERS.”
D&I 2.0 gears towards actively contributing and driving new business results in measurable ways for the better of the employees as well as the organization and its customers. A visible indicator for D&I 2.0 affinity groups helping their constituency beyond company walls is affinity groups identifying and seizing business opportunities specific to their constituency. They translate the opportunity and shepherd it trough the processes of the organization to bring it to fruition. For example, affinity groups are uniquely positioned to extending and leveraging their reach to relating customer segments in order to identify ‘small elephant’ business opportunities; see How to grow innovation elephants in large organizations.
The D&I 2.0 approach demonstrates sustainable business value which is why D&I 2.0 sells much easier to executives. It makes a compelling business case that contributes to new business growth, the life blood of every company.
U.S. companies stuck in D&I 1.0 are hard pressed to keep up with the D&I 2.0 developments and overcome their inner struggle and resistance. With decades of legacy, D&I 1.0 programs in many organizations lack the vision and ability to make a compelling business case, to develop a sound strategy as well as capability and skill to implement it effectively. This is the requirement, however, to truly see eye-to-eye with senior executives and get their full support. This can become a serious disadvantage in the markets relating to products and customers but also in attracting talent.
In the end, the saying holds true that “talent attracts talent” and all organizations compete over talent to compete and succeed. Therefore, a D&I 2.0 program combines business focus and talent management while tying it back to the core of diversity and inclusion: Fostering diverse thinkers and leveling the playing field for all employees. This requires a level playing field that offers the same opportunities to all employees, which is the real challenge.
How do you level the playing field effectively in a large organization? How this will be implemented becomes the differentiating success factor for companies transitioning to D&I 2.0!
Here is a example 2.0-style for a level playing filed that has its roots in the D&I affinity group space yet opened up to include the entire workforce. It empowers and actively engages employees while leveraging diversity, inclusion and talent management for innovative solutions with profitable business outcomes. It may take a minute or two to see the connection between D&I, talent and disruptive innovation but it is at work right here in the School for Intrapreneurs: Lessons from a FORTUNE Global 500 company.
Previous posts relating to innovation and employee affinity groups / employee resource groups (ERG) / business resource groups (BRG):
We are living in a digital world and sometimes more than we realize. Still one of my favorite takes on humans in the digital age: Marshall Davis Jones’ “Touchscreen” brings it to the point.
If you haven’t seen this, sit back, relax and enjoy…
Most change initiatives fail. Statistics from MIT research suggest that for leaders managing change the ‘capability trap’ is the single major failure mode. So, what is this trap, how is it set up and, more importantly, how to avoid it?
As a quick disclaimer, the charts and examples are schematic and simple to get my point across. This is a blog, not a textbook.
New leaders get appointed to solve a business problem such as improving poor results of sorts. So from the start the new guy or gal is under pressure to perform and succeed. In politics the common public expectations are to see result or bold actions within the first 100 days – and business is not known for being less demanding.
So, soon enough the new leader faces a tough decision. Which choice do you favor?
“Worse before better” means doing “the right thing.” However, this approach may not deliver sustainable results fast and is a hard sell to impatient or less reasonable superiors.
“Better before worse” is a less stellar route to reap short-term benefits and lessen the immediate pressure but it comes at a price: knowing that the this choice is not sustainable and will cost more later down the road.
By the way, this is really not rocket-science but straight-forward logic yet many executives still get seduced by the low hanging fruit, namely “better before worse”… so stay with me for a moment to see what happens next.
“Better before Worse”
It starts out easy: you cut cost all over the place and look like a hero immediately. For example, you could reduce machine maintenance or cut the employee training budget. Schematically it looks somewhat like this:
What happens is that not only your balance sheet looks better quickly, you also increase productivity short-term. The machines keep running and people keep on working, so in the short-term you produce the same output with less input.
Productivity and the Capability Inertia
The problems arrive with a delay when ‘capability inertia’ starts kicking in. So here is what happens: You didn’t maintain the machines yet the machines keep working – for while. Then, they break really bad and it takes a lot more money to get them fixed than having them maintained. It’s like not putting oil in your car’s engine and driving on – somewhere down the road the engine will die on you. You will have to spend money to fix it and live with the downtime while fixing the machines.
At that time you find yourself in deep water and all your previous savings go up in smoke together with what else you didn’t budget for.
On the people side with employee training, for example, the effect is quite similar but often less obvious: You save the money for keeping them up-to-date with new technology, skilled, etc. and saved short-term. The real problem is your staff losing its professional capabilities to continue to perform on a high level in the face of competition or adapting to changing markets and environments. External focus comes with a cost of doing business – that you just eliminated, thereby fostering group-think and internal focus. Getting the crew back in shape later on takes effort and is expensive: not only will you have to train them but also they are unproductive during the training period.
With it comes the ‘leaky pipeline’ effect where valuable talent leaves. It is the best people who leave first (see How to retain talent under the new workplace paradigm?) if they see sweeping cost savings affecting critical investments in the company’s future capabilities and not surgically cuts. Talent does not wait it out on a sinking ship. If you are unfamiliar with the horrendous costs of turnover, check with your Human Resources person to get a sense for your burn-rate!
Despite all of this, many managers still embrace “better before worse” as the scenario of choice and believe they are “doing it the right way”.
Rewards for all the Wrong Reasons?
Unfortunately, performance and compensation frameworks in mature organizations usually support this easier approach. ‘Success’ is typically measured quarterly or yearly as a basis for bonuses, raises or promotions. The typical incentive systems don’t take long-term sustainability into account enough (other than stock options for publicly traded companies, for example) to change behavior.
Instead, rewards keep getting handed out on a short-term basis of evaluation. Research showed many times over that this approach simply doesn’t work for more challenging jobs of the 21st century. Don’t believe it? – Check out Dan Pink’s famous 18 minute TED talk “The Puzzle of Motivation” relating to the candle problem and motivation research.
As a bottom line, if don’t plan to hang around to ride out the consequences of your choice (or even have a golden parachute ready), “better before worse” appears an attractive shortcut to short-term success. Deep down, however, you know it was not the right thing to do. Your staff, your successor, and sometimes the entire company will suffer and face the consequence when you are gone. – So what could you do instead?
“Worse before Better”
There is an alternative choice: the stony road of “worse before better” by doing what is right. For leaders accepting responsibility this may be the only choice.
Right from the starts is gets tough: you increase cost to invest where things need to change most, be it people or technology. For example, invest in getting the best people to do the job and train them as well as you can for the challenges to come and step out of their way. Establish or overhaul technology, processes and managerial framework needed to deliver results reliably.
This takes time and money, so as you would expect, productivity suffers at first but then, if the change is executed well, recovers and quickly exceeds the additional costs by far while you deliver outstanding results reliably.
It is important here not to address all problems at one time but to prioritize and tackle change in smaller steps. Mind that change is a development process that doesn’t lend itself to shortcuts.
While this is clearly the more sustainable strategy the tough part is getting your stakeholders and superiors to buy in (especially if they are looking for short-term “better before worse” results) by setting realistic expectations. After all, “worse before better” is a sustainable basis for a business model where “better before worse” is not.
You may also have to accept not receiving the short-term performance incentives for doing the right thing if your incentive system does not reward building capabilities. However, there are other kinds of meaningful rewards to consider. They range from feeling good about withstanding the temptation, doing good for the company and its employees, as well as possibly getting attention from more forward-thinking parties who may want to hire you in the future as a leader with guts and brains.
It’s not only successful innovations that can get shut down (see “Shut down! Why Successful Innovations Die“) but also those that don’t get a chance to take of in the first place: In the small print of Microsoft’s recent announcement to eliminate 18,000 jobs (mainly in the light of the Nokia acquisition) you could also find 200 jobs cut to end the Xbox Hollywood aspirations.
After a history of failures entering the hardware sector, Microsoft struck gold with its powerful Xbox gaming console series powered by popular games such as the epic HALO. Long forgotten seem the times of the “PocketPC” handheld to rival the PalmPilot or the “Zune” MP3 player to dwarf Apple’s iPod. (Let’s keep the Surface tablets with its awful Windows 8 mosaic tile interface out of the equation for now – even a recent promotion is just a sad parody.)
Without doubt, the Xbox is a success, Microsoft’s media flagship. It faces serious competition, so creative and disruptive solutions are needed to dominate the console market.
To expand on this solid Xbox console foundation and fend off competitors, the idea was to produce engaging and original video content. This added value would expand the Xbox platform to broaden Xbox attractiveness and deepen customer loyalty by appealing to its gamer audience in new ways. The gap between gaming and film converged over the past years when new game productions became sophisticated, quality productions with celebrity actors and voice overs, music by top Hollywood composers, high-end visual effects and not only budgets to rival studio movie productions but revenue exceeding blockbuster movies.
Inspired by, for example, Netflix’s success in producing original content such as “Orange” and “House of Cards,” this strategy looked very promising. Well equipped with CBS’ highly accomplished Nancy Tellem and ties to Steven Spielberg, the Microsoft Hollywood team of 200 was up to a great start – or so it seemed.
Two years in, however, the there was very little to show for, so Microsoft finally divested.
– What went wrong?
A key inhibitor for the Hollywood team, so it turned out, was clashing organizational cultures between Microsoft and the quick-paced and decision-friendly media world Tellem was used to from CBS. Nanny Tellem learned the hard way that effectiveness of decision-making at the lower hierarchical levels and fast execution was not the strong suit of the established culture, red-tape processes and deep hierarchy of the Redmond software giant. Down four levels in hierarchy under the CEO, Microsoft’s convoluted processes diluted Tellem’s authority and effectiveness. It slowed down decisions to a point where the ambitious and energetic start-up became practically shackled and impotent to operate effectively in the media world.
Even the best strategy cannot be executed when unaligned with organizational culture or, as Peter Drucker has put it so famously, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
Culture is what most employees say and do routinely. It translates into a company’s processes, structures, systems, etc. This is why failing to understand or outright ignoring culture can be so disastrous for leaders. From my experience, the magic sauce is in aligning corporate culture and strategy with the passion of competent employees.
Microsoft’s Hollywood adventure is just one more example how disruptive innovation struggles when measured and governed by processes of a mature and bureaucratic organization with matrix structure. With reigns held too close and not leaving room to experiment, innovation suffers, as this missed opportunity for Microsoft demonstrates.
“Hindsight is 20/20” people say and in all honesty, other factors may have contributed too, but looking at it from the outside, perhaps this train wreck could have been prevented had Tellem paid closer attention to the culture of her new employer and ‘how we do business around here.’
Cultural fit with conductive structures and processes downstream are serious business factors that often get overlooked and then backfire for the blind-sided executive. – Only perhaps there could have been a proper Hollywood ending.
After all, disruptive innovations is a delicate flower that needs some room to flourish – especially in mature organizations.
Why successful innovations get shut down. WhIle we expect unsuccessful initiatives and projects to get shut down, what sense does it make to stop hugely successful ones?
Punished Despite Success
It doesn’t make sense to shut down profitable programs – or does it? It happens all the time when the current yet wilting business model still tastes sweet. Investing in building a disruptive, future business model appears less palatable as it takes uncomfortable transformation that comes with investment cost and lower profits initially. The sobering reality is that short-term gains often win over long-term investments, sustainability and bold moves to explore uncertainty and white space.
Here is a quick example from the fossil oil and gas industry straight out of Bloomberg Businessweek, “Chevron Dims the Lights on Green Power” (June 2-8, 2014): Chevrons renewable power group successfully launched several projects generating solar and geothermal power for over 65,000 homes. Despite margins of 15-20%, the group was surprisingly dissolved earlier this year after they had just about doubled their projected profits from $15 million to $27 million in 2013, the first year of their full operation. – Why would you kill a profitable new business?
Clashing Business Models
As for reasons for the shut-down, a former Chevron employee and Director of Renewable Energy notes that Chevron’s core businesses, oil and gas, still remain more profitable than renewable energy. This development signals that Chevron’s leadership is willing to experiment with renewable energy but does not seem fully committed – it makes Chevron’s slogan “Finding newer, cleaner ways to power the world” sound like lip-service.
Instead, Chevron continues to hold on tightly to their old business model to squeeze out the last drop of oil. Chasing short-term profit margins may prove not only a questionable path for long-term company sustainability but also from a business model perspective. While oil and gas prices have been on the rise for the past decades, it is well-known that these natural resources become scarce, so extraction from more challenging locations becomes increasingly expensive. It cuts into the company’s profits and the consumers’ pockets. To date, Chevron already pays a higher cost for extracting oil compared to competitors.
Chevron focuses on the upper tail of the S-curve of the current technology instead at the expense of preparing for the disruptive jump to the next technology platform. (See section “Technology S-curves” in 10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?)
The risk here is to lose out on developing and acquiring new technologies that will be the make-or-break competitive advantage in the industry’s future.
Interestingly, Chevron’s competitor and largest oil company, Exxon-Mobil, takes a different approach. Even after initial setbacks where proof-of-concept did not scale to industrial size, Exxon-Mobile now partnered with Craig Venter’s Synthetic Genomics to produce oil from micro-algae at industrial scale. Hopes are high that this bio-tech and bio-agriculture approach proves more practical, profitable and sustainable to replace fossil fuels in the future.
Sounds risky? It sure is, but with profits from oil and gas still in the tens of billions this is the time to invest heavily in the jump on to the next technological S-curve. You may recall Craig Venter as a most successful entrepreneur and also the first to sequence the human genome, so there is no shortage of top bio-brainpower, which opens the flow also for more investment capital.
Truth being told, several other bio-fuel ventures of this nature exist all around the world. Neither made it to produce in industrial scale needed to satisfy the world demand for crude oil – yet. There is no question, however, that the world is running out of affordable oil and gas at accelerating speed. Disruptive technologies will emerge to fill the gap and redefine the energy sector.
The learning here is that even profitable disruptive ventures get shut down at times when the leadership is comfortable and holds on tightly to the existing business model they are familiar with and doing what they always did rather than taking transformative steps to prepare the organization for the future. Even with the writing clearly on the wall, the way of how profitability of a new venture is measured and the (still higher) margins of the established business (fossil fuels) make short-term focus attractive despite concerns over business model sustainability. So often enough there is little patience to further develop even successful, transformative ventures of tomorrow in favor of enjoying the sweet but wilting fruits of today.
Somehow this short-term mindset painfully reminds me also of the established car industry who, obviously, had little interest to bring electric vehicles to market at scale over the past decades until a Tesla comes around to show them how it can and should be done.
As for our example, time will tell whether Chevron or Exxon-Mobil made the better choice in the long run to win the new business model race leading us into the post-crude oil era – or if they both get disrupted by an even different new technology altogether.
Innovation projects are risky explorations. Disruptive innovation projects even more so, and individual projects can be quite a gamble. So, how can you limit the risk across your portfolio of innovation projects? The goal is to increase the likelihood for the portfolio to succeed overall even if individual projects fail.
(Quick note for project management professionals: I am deliberately not differentiating terms like “portfolio” and “program” here. My goal is to get the basic idea across. More particular definitions don’t add value here.)
In mature organizations, incremental improvement can easily be and often is interpreted as ‘innovation’, which makes sense when optimizing a production environment, for example. Here, at the back-end of operations, big “elephant” projects tend to bind the organizations resources (How to grow innovation elephants in large organizations). The innovation project portfolio I am referring to, in contrast, aims at the disruptive end: the “small elephant projects” with higher risk but the potential of extraordinarily high returns if they succeed.
Why to manage risk
In large organizations you hardly get a “carte blanche” to manage just highly risky projects. With a corporate focus on predictable, short-term results there is too much concern of the portfolio easily becoming an unpredictable money pit. You are likely to get shut down after playing around a while without demonstrating clear success in terms of return-of-investment. Thus, you will need to come up with a strategy on how to compose your project portfolio to keep your stakeholders happy and your experimental playground open.
Managing risk across a project portfolio comes down to finding the right blend of high-risk/high-return projects and lower risk projects that come with less impressive potential for revenue or savings. You also want to include a few projects that produce returns short-term to demonstrate you are making progress and reap some quick wins for impatient stakeholders while the longer-term projects need time to mature.
A common way to approach categorizing projects into into Core, Adjacent and Transformational based on their risk and return profiles:
Core projects are merely optimizations to improve the existing landscape of systems, processes, assets or products in existing markets and with existing customers. These incremental improvements are the “safe bet” and “next small step” that, typically, comes with low risk, predictable outcomes but also limited returns. They do not need high level sponsorship, are easy to predict and plan resources for, and so they are the favored playing field of mature, large organizations. These can often be ‘large elephant’ projects seen as ‘necessary’ that the organization more easily buys into.
Adjacent projects come with more uncertainty and risks as they usually extend existing product lines into new markets. Though not an entire novelty it is may be new territory for your company. Sometime, ‘imitating’ a successful model in a different industry does the trick (read also: Imitators beat Innovators!).
Adjacencies add to the existing business(es), which requires a higher level sponsorship (such as Vice President level) to move forward, to allocate resources and to accept the risk to fail.
Transformative projects are experimental and risky. They create new markets and customers with bold, disruptive “break-through” products and new business model. While the risk to fail is high, the returns could be huge when you succeed. Highest level (C-level) sponsorship and support is crucial for this category not only to persist and get resources during the development phase but also for the mature organization to adopt and support it sustainably.
Finding the balance
When you manage a portfolio of disruptive (read: transformative) innovation projects, you should expect projects not to succeed most of the time. Instead of calling it “failure,” see it as a learning opportunity. As Thomas Edison put it so famously referring to his experiments leading to the invention of the light-bulb: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
The common rule for playing a safe portfolio is a 70-20-10 mix, i.e. 70% core, 20% adjacent and 10% transformative projects. This way, many low-risk/low-return core projects keep the lights on while you play with few high-risk/high-return transformative projects.
From my personal experience with the portfolio I manage, I leans towards accepting more risk, so you would expect and be comfortable with a lower success rate as a consequence but also higher returns. To my own surprise, we completed 55% of our projects successfully and ended up discontinuing 26%. Fortunately, also the average ROI from our “small elephant” projects is substantial and pays the bills for many years out. Thus, for my portfolio, the 70-20-10 mix is too conservative.
Before re-balancing your portfolio in favor of a majority of risky transformative projects, however, make sure you have continued high-level sponsorship and alignment with strategy and organizational culture of your organization. – If culture, strategy and sponsorship don’t align to support your innovation portfolio efforts, your risk increases for painful learning without sufficient business success.
Our immune system protects our health and defends us against threats entering our body. It identifies intruding germs, isolates them from the surroundings and flushes them out of the system to prevent further harm. Our immune system also keeps track of intruders formerly identified to reject them even more effectively should they ever reappear.
Large organization consist of humans who tend to follow behavioral patterns not unlike their inner immune systems when it comes to evaluating new ideas brought forward by an aspiring intrapreneur. Especially, if a new idea comes with a ‘wishlist’ of demands is needed from us to make it happen; typically, time and money.
Joining the Dark Side
It’s our human nature: we approve ideas we like or that further our objectives while we tend to reject ideas that don’t match our liking, beliefs, commitments or that cause disruption to our equilibrium or budget. Disruptive ideas come with uncertainty and may require uncomfortable or additional efforts on our side. The outcome may appear risky, could waste precious resources or have other undesirable repercussions for us. The fear of losing something is stronger than the incentive of gain. And often enough, we just don’t fully understand the idea or its implications, don’t take the time or find the impetus to look into its details, so it seems safe and convenient to reject it.
This way, as managers and coworkers, we act as a part of the organizational immune system. We become part of the reasons why mature organizations can’t innovate – we join the ‘dark side,’ so to speak.
Our body remembers a previous intruder in order to respond even faster the next time – and so do we. Interestingly, though, we tend to remember better who presented the idea that we rejected rather than what the idea was about. So when the ‘quirky guy’ shows up again after a while with the next idea, our suspicion is already kindled, and we more easily reject this next idea too.
Too often an intrapreneur lets their enthusiasm take over and confronts us straight on with their ideas bundled with a request for resources of sorts. Most often, this discussion ends quickly with a “No,” when we perceive this ‘frontal attack’ as a threat to the status quo, the establishment, and the well-oiled machine that the manager runs; and so it triggers the ‘corporate immune system’ leading to rejection.
Stepping Stones to Success
So, just short of having “The Force” of a Jedi, how should an intrapreneur seek support for an idea from managers, potential sponsors or coworkers? While not ‘one-size-fits-all’ and there is no silver bullet, here is a selection of tried approaches for consideration:
Seek support: The trick is to ask in a ways that build support for driving the idea forward – and not necessarily for the whole implementation project at once. Even a small step is better than none. For example, supporting evidence can help to raise curiosity and deflate resistance. Find out if a similar approach worked out in another company or industry; it helps to emphasize validation elsewhere. It can help to frame and position your offer to a potential sponsor.
Build trust: Additional ‘selling tips’ I picked up from Gifford Pinchot III., the Grand-Master of intrapreneuring himself, suggest a more social approach that includes building a personal relationship first: It is much easier to connect from a position of mutual trust and openness to find support building the supportive network by asking for advice or references before you ask for resources.
Just a test: Cautious managers may open up when they hear the intrapreneur is not intending to change anything, just ‘trying something out,’ so not to threaten their established processes, investments or power-structures within the organization. Emphasizing the ‘experimental’ and non-threatening nature of the idea helps to prevent triggering the immune system at this early stage.
Gathering Insights: Successful intrapreneurs listen very closely to what the responses to learn from them. Rather than asking a closed question that puts them in a Yes-or-No cul-de-sac, it is much more insightful to carefully phrase questions in a way that the gate-keeper already solves the problem, or provides an answer or approach to the problem the intrapreneur is trying to solve.
Know the Goals: The larger a support network an intrapreneur can built for their idea, the better. Rather than the direct manager, it may be more informative to work with people who have insights into the goals and priorities of the organization, which may be sources of resistance. This way, the intrapreneur can learn about possible conflicting goals (for example, “do more with less” or “stability versus creativity”) that need to be known and understood in order to be addressed and dealt with constructively.
Show Gratitude: And finally, it is important for intrapreneurs to pay respect and express gratitude no matter what the outcome is of their conversation. A ‘thank you’ goes a long way and keeps the door open to talk more and possibly receive support in the future.
Edward Snowden, a former member of the U.S. intelligence community, released classified government data to the public in 2013. He faces prosecution under the U.S. Espionage Act, remains on the run from the U.S. government and ended up seeking asylum in Moscow, Russia.
The 1.3 million documents he released are the largest known security breach in U.S. history. They also unveiled highly questionable if not outright illegal action by US intelligence agencies relating to widespread spying domestically and abroad.
Traitor or Patriot?
In the light of an exclusive interview with NBC News on May 28, 2014, the popular NBC “Today” show asked its viewers in a polarizing poll to decide for themselves whether Snowden was a “Traitor” or a “Patriot.” The morning before the interview aired, 53% of viewers saw Snowden as a “traitor”. The morning after, 61% found him a “patriot.” Though the responses do not necessarily reflect a representative sample of the U.S. population, let’s go with it for now, since an interesting majority swing took place in favor of Snowden’s action.
We are not going deeper into whether or not Snowden did the right thing or not. His disclosures spurred and continue to fuel a worldwide discussion on where the boundaries are for covert operations and government surveillance programs. It’s not a new question and comes down to the ancient question the Roman poet Juvenal famously raised: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” or “Who guards the guards?”
Apparently, the continued decisions of U.S. secret courts approving intelligence programs of the disputed nature did not resonate with the viewers. If Snowden was tried under the U.S. Espionage Act, the public may never hear of Snowden again nor details of his prosecution with most certain conviction. The covered surveillance programs may continue without meaningful oversight.
It makes Secretary John Kerry’s strong request sound weak and questionable for Snowden to face U.S. authorities and trust the legal system. Continued messages from high-ranking politicians up to President Barack Obama himself depict Snowden as a “low-ranking analyst” and “high school drop-out.” – Doesn’t this makes you wonder how such an acclaimed ‘bum’ got access to such large amounts of sensitive government information in the first place and who else is granted ‘Top Secret” security clearance, which is shared by 1 million(!) Americans?
SOX for Government Employees and Contractors?
Countering illegal practices by companies let the U.S. Congress to pass the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) in 2002. While SOX overhauls regulatory standards for record keeping practices, it -perhaps- became more known to the public for protecting employees of publicly traded companies from discrimination who report violations of regulations by the company. Every major business now has a process in place to ensure SOX is enforced effectively.
However, SOX only covers publicly traded companies in order to protect shareholders from fraud. What about the public sector, namely the government? Shouldn’t there be a similar ruling that effectively protects government employees and contractors, such as Edward Snowden, when they witness and wish to report apparent illegal actions by government institutions?
Checks and Balances
Snowden claimed that he repeatedly approached his manager raising concerns and was told to shut up. Certainly, national security interests must be protected and safeguarded by the clandestine functions of government. But then, again, who guards the guards, when “national security” becomes an obscure blanket excuse without an effective system of checks and balances that the U.S. Constitution mandates and the United States are founded on?
The Snowden affair made painfully clear that the existing legal parameters for governmental “whistle blowers” are insufficient to non-existent. How else would the public have found out about the abuse of governmental power? Going public and risking prosecution, currently, appears to remain the only viable option to truly allow and push for effective checks and balances until legislation catches up with a SOX for future Snowdens in order to keep our democracy working for the people.
After tip-toeing around the makeup of its workforce for a while, Google (s goog) released a blog post Wednesday afternoon that gave a breakdown of the company’s diversity in both gender and ethnicity.
Collected from data gathered in January of 2014, the employee base of Google is predominantly white and male (61 percent and 70 percent, respectively), with nearly a third of employees identifying as Asian.
But the overall numbers not entirely representative of the diversity in the company’s most important parts. For example, employees in leadership roles at Google are 72 percent White and 79 percent male:
But the biggest disparities, perhaps unsurprisingly, are in the company’s tech employees. Women don’t even make up a fifth of the company’s tech workforce — representing just 17 percent.
Laszlo Bock, Senior Vice President of People Operations and blog author, said that Google is actively trying to recruit more women and minorities for its staff:…
Technological advances are enabling revolutionary changes across industries and throughout every sector of business. Disruption is rife In 2014 WOBI on Innovation invites you to embrace disruption and learn to thrive in the chaos.
Disruption can be a tremendous source of opportunity and new value. It can also be scary and at times seemingly easier to bury our heads in the sand when faced with new challenges. But for those willing to embrace it, disruption can be a powerful propellant of positive change. WOBI on Innovation will focus on the multifarious disruptions that are impacting business – and the massive upside opportunities they present for those alert and nimble enough to both spot them and react accordingly.
One of my favorite and most successful approaches to building a powerful intrapreneuring ecosystem is internal corporate venturing!
It is an exquisite tool to cut through the crust of ‘red tape’ that bureaucracy builds up over time. Internal corporate venturing or “Angel investing” allows for nimble decision-making with a lean process to give disruptive innovation ideas a chance again in a large company.
How does it work? Think of becoming a venture capitalist within the company: You invest in ventures within the organization and help building ‘intraprises’ in contrast to funding start-up enterprises outside the company. The difference is a you don’t venture for your own profit but for the better of your organization.
The idea here is to seed-fund promising disruptive ideas that otherwise would not be implemented or even seriously considered. These opportunities –typically‑ were rejected by the ‘corporate immune system’ previously, when an employee with an idea approached their line manager or a governance committee of sorts requesting approval to ‘try something out.’
Often enough, there is no clear return-of-investment (ROI) predictable for these early ideas. What you may be looking for is rather risky and experimental, a proof-of-concept (POC). The metrics for payoff and ROI of disruptive ideas does not follow the same approach we are used to measure the more predictable returns of common cost reduction and incremental improvement projects. Disruptive POC projects often don’t have an ROI projection when you explore technology of sorts or its application that may become a game-changer for our future business.
In my experience, communicating the POC nature of the project over focusing on ROI can actually help! It prevents the ‘organizational immune system’ from kicking in early on, since there is little threat to established practices. Why? It does not come across as competing with ‘big elephant’ projects over significant amounts of governed resources following the conventional processes of the company’s machinery. Instead, we just try something out! It’s a little experiment that doesn’t change anything, so it poses no threat to established practices, investments or the power-base of individuals defending their fiefdoms.
Having said this, there is of course a commercial end to all projects. After all, we have no resources to waste and will have to demonstrate down the road that our ‘experiments’ pay off somehow. Our working assumption is that the disruption should lead to a ten-fold (10X) payoff – at least.
Personally, I prefer aiming at a bold 100X ROI target; two orders of magnitude, that is. It sets an ambitious target and -if things work out- a great success story. It’s a powerful point to make for disruptive innovation as part of our innovation ecosystem and shifting the mindset within an organization. Sharing these success stories with executive stakeholders is crucial (for future support) as well as with employees (for future ideas).
Interestingly, what employees are looking for more than funds is authorization to do what is right and worthwhile for the company. Often, the obstacles are perceived and only exist in peoples’ minds. These barriers are formed by many factors over time, such as the management style they experienced and organizational silos that mold a company’s culture as well as the employees’ mindset.
In this particular company, a lean oversight board makes funding decisions. It is composed of a diverse team of more forward-thinking executives and a very lean decision process. The team acts as enabling ‘go-keeper’ for accelerated innovations instead of pushing the breaks as ‘gate-keeper.’
The little monies offered for trying something new only help smoothen the path for innovators in the company. The most important part is them feeling empowered and “authorized” to take action that overcomes complacency, inertia and organizational paralysis. On the spectrum of strategic innovation roles, the board serves as a “sponsor” and sometimes as a “coach,” when an idea aims to overcome internal barriers to increase efficiency, for example.
The purpose of this governance board is to enable the exploration of disruptive ideas by giving internal innovators a chance. The focus is on projects that can be characterized as early stage experiments to explore transformative enabling technologies and value-adding services of higher risk or less predictable outcomes than conventional project portfolios in the mature organization would feel comfortable with.
Naturally, this approach comes with an elevated risk of failure when projects do not produce profitable outcomes or simply prove infeasible or poorly timed. This ‘price’ is accepted as long as it generates learning.
The potential damage is low, since we are talking about swift and low-cost experimentation: try often and fail fast. Thus, these risky projects complement regular and more conservative project portfolios in the various businesses of the organization. In addition, the innovation project portfolio is somewhat risk-balanced, which avoids having too many high risk projects that may jeopardize the likelihood of profitability across the portfolio. Reality is that also the disruptive innovation project portfolio has to demonstrate tangible returns over time, so the mature organization sees the economic benefit of experimenting and not shut down this ‘playground.’
Branding the projects as experiments with a proof-of-concept (POC) endpoint helps to calm the ‘organizational immune system’ and to argue that these risky ‘small elephant’ projects complement the other ‘big elephant’ project portfolios across the organization.
Here are my experiences as an internal corporate venturer or ‘angel investor’ from the past years: First of all, I don’t have much money to spend. The budget I have for this kind of ventures is pathetically meager – and I overcommit it all the time! Nonetheless, I came in under budget once again by 46% last year. It sounds like an oxymoron, and since I don’t have a money tree growing in the backyard, how does this work?
The secret is in the psychology of acting as the “first investor.” Think of this way: when someone wants you to invest into their idea first with nobody else having made an investment before you, you are skeptical and most hesitant to put down your money, right?
All I do is to commit paying for an idea in full to overcome this initial threshold and get things started. What typically happens next is that an executive from the business affected by or potentially benefiting from the project hears of my investment, reconsiders and wants to get on board too – as a second investor. Once the ‘innovation guys’ have put money down first, the investment in the idea appears less risky to the business executive, so either we split the bill or the business takes on the cost completely!
I’ve seen it happen many times with managers turning around 180 degrees after they had rejected the idea previously. This is how to deal with them: to save (their) face, don’t point out their earlier resistance but rather thank and recognize them for their support and foresight as valued contributors to change and success for the organization. Celebrate them as enablers, win them over as allies and keep the connection for future collaborations!
Alignment and validation
Don’t be mistaken, funding by the business is not only crucial given the fact that my funds are few. It is even more important because it validates that the idea makes sense to the business. It aligns with strategy and goals of the organization but also helps implementing it once the business has ‘skin’ in the game! Otherwise, even if I funded a project alone, the intrapreneur running it would have a hard time getting it implemented without the support of a business sponsor.
So all it takes is making it easy for business executives to invest in a good ideas by making them feel comfortable not to invest first, which reduces their perceived risk and lowers their threshold to act.
The lean innovation governance board is an instrument for reasonable oversight that benefits from diverse perspectives.
The “Go keeper” instead of “Gate keeper” process is crucial as is the willingness to accept risk of failure for disruptive projects.
The model proves highly effective to get around a convoluted “red-tape” bureaucracy as well as generating a surprisingly high return-of-investment (ROI) – even without the latter being the primary focus.
The “first investor” psychology validates the alignment of ideas with business needs and strategy while opening the flow of funds from the businesses and facilitating the implementation.
This internal corporate venturing or “angel investing” approach became a beacon of hope for employees and a very profitable innovation engine for the organization that starts to change the organizational culture to the better.