Join Masterclass webinar: “Beyond-the-Pill” Disruptive Innovation within Pharma, Feb. 23, 2016

The pharmaceutical industry struggles with the fundamental changes of the healthcare systems worldwide. For many reasons, the traditional mindset and business models of the past are failing today. New approaches are needed for innovation “beyond the pill” to stay profitable and ahead of competitors.

But how to change a large organization bottom up and from within?

Sign up for the Masterclass: “Beyond-the-Pill” Disruptive Innovation within the Pharmaceutical Industry webinar hosted by the Intrapreneurship Conference at 5-7pm CET (11am-1pm ET) on February 23, 2016!

Intrapreneurship Conference

Why?  The pharmaceutical industry struggles with the fundamental changes of the healthcare systems worldwide. For many reasons, the traditional mindset and the business models of the past are failing. New approaches are needed for innovation “beyond the pill” to stay profitable and ahead of competitors.

But how to change a large organization bottom up and from within?

This session offers you a unique birds-eye and worms-eye view on pharma innovation and its shortcomings under the current paradigm, before diving into real-life case studies of intrapreneuring, disruptive transformation and strategic innovations within and beyond a Global FORTUNE 500 pharma company.

Join this masterclass and learn on how to bring intrapreneuring and transformation to life in a large pharma company.

Driving Innovation in Healthcare: New Executive Intrapreneuring Workshop

Experience the new two-day intrapreneurial journey to transform you organization with exponential results!

Don’t miss EBCG’s intense and hands-on Intrapreneuring Workshop “Building an innovation framework to design, launch and execute business projects” in the Driving Innovation in Healthcare series in the “Golden City” of Prague, Czech Republic, on April 6-7, 2016.

Sign up before December 23, 2015, to save during the special promotion period.


 

 

Eyeforpharma interview “Taking the entrepreneurial approach”

Read this insightful “Taking the entrepreneurial approach” interview conducted by Eyeforpharma on the impact of hierarchy and how executive mindset inhibits adapting to the rapidly changing commercial landscape.  It outlines how “intrapreneurs” and internal “angel investors” can get large, mature organizations moving again!

Read Intrapreneuring Case Study “Leading Innovation” by Ivey Business School!

The prestigious Ivey Business School of the Western University in Ontario, Canada, published an insightful new teaching case study on intrapreneuring and corporate innovation titled “Boehringer Ingelheim: Leading Innovation” in which the case writers, Professor J. Robert Mitchell, Ph.D., and Ramasastry Chandrasekhar, follow the footsteps of the newly appointed innovation director.

Meant to raise questions and serving as a learning opportunity for graduate students in academic program around the globe, this case study lifts the corporate curtain a bit to show how innovation through intrapreneuring really happens and decision points along the way.

Outline (by Ivey Publishing)

The newly appointed director of Innovation Management & Strategy at Boehringer Ingelheim, a German-based multinational pharmaceutical company, is finding his way forward in his firm’s new, first-of-its-kind role, which is central to the company’s growth rejuvenation strategy. His job has a threefold mandate: to build internal networks, to establish internal structures and to leverage internal ideas. His biggest challenge, however, may be transforming the organization’s DNA. The blockbuster business model that has characterized the company for decades is no longer appropriate. Instead, the firm needs to develop healthcare products available to end users over the counter. This shift in strategy requires innovative changes in distribution, delivery and customer focus. To accomplish this goal, he needs to institutionalize innovation so that it becomes sustainable. But in doing so, he must also identify the metrics for assessing progress. The case provides an opportunity for students to step into the shoes of an innovation leader, to develop an innovation roadmap for the organization in the face of uncertainty and to understand how to engage in innovation leadership at various levels of a global enterprise.

Learning Objective

This case has two key objectives. First, this case provides students an opportunity to grapple with the difficult decisions associated with innovation in an uncertain environment. Second, this case highlights that anyone has the ability to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset and to lead innovation. The case divides the attributes of an innovation leader into five components: observing, questioning, experimenting, networking and associating. It shows the real-life experiences of a manager doing seemingly routine activities, who evolved into a leader who transformed the DNA of a global enterprise. The case also provides a template of the tasks, responsibilities and value-added changes as an individual moves progressively within an enterprise from an operations manager to a senior manager to an innovation leader. This case can be used either toward the beginning or toward the end of any course that addresses innovation and creative thinking in a large organization. At the beginning of a course, it illustrates the challenges of acting in the face of uncertainty in a large organization. At the end of a course, the case provides an opportunity for students to apply what they have learned about innovation, entrepreneurial thinking and innovation leadership.

Is Disruptive Innovation a Myth?

When we talk about disruptive innovation, we can easily agree that going from the days of dim candle light and sooty oil lamps to electric light was one of these breakthrough innovations, right?  Its icon, the lightbulb serves as our symbol for a great idea today.

Lightbulb idea (www.istockphoto.com)
(source: http://www.istockphoto.com)

Who invented the lightbulb?

When you ask around “who invented the lightbulb?” the answer “Thomas Edison” first comes to mind – and the answer is wrong!  Truth is that we can give credit closer to 20(!) inventors of the lightbulb! – How so?

Thomas Edison patented the first practical and commercially viable incandescent lightbulb in 1878 and a revised design in 1879.  In addition, he  offered the first efficient electricity supply system for households and businesses, which laid the foundation and cleared the path for mass-producing light bulbs in 1880.  His design was an evolution from previous, inferior designs and enabled by improved technology.

Edison's Lightbulb (source: www.unmuseum.org)
Edison’s Lightbulb (source: http://www.unmuseum.org)

 

Sitting in the dark without Edison?

No worries, we would not stay sitting in the dark.  It appears safe to say that even if Thomas Edison was never born, the practical incandescent lightbulb would have been developed around the same time – by someone else.

Looking back in history, Humphrey Davy invented electric light in 1802; more than 75 years before Edison.  His “arc light” was unsuitable for mainstream application though it found specialty uses even today. Many more designs for incandescent light and lightbulbs were developed by several inventors, but neither were they practical nor suitable beyond demonstration stage. Prominently, Joseph W. Swan built a working prototype of a “light bulb” in 1850 – well before Edison.

Entrepreneurial Competition

Edison had access to improved technology such as a better vacuum pump for his breakthrough design. This technology was not available to previous inventors.  Edison also developed an efficient and economical way to distribute electricity when earlier designs drained batteries quickly.  (A nice example, by the way, on how a product can go a long way when bundled with a complementing service.)

On the flip-side, Edison knew of his limitation too.  He made carbonized Japanese bamboo glow as filament between two electrodes knowing that carbonized Tungsten was the superior material.  However, the technology was not available at the time to produce a thin Tungsten thread.  We had to wait for William D. Coolidge to produce the Tungsten filament for General Electric in 1910, which is still the preferred material to illuminate our modern incandescent lightbulbs today.

This situation is typical and comparable to many big ideas that entrepreneurs work on today.  There is much competition among entrepreneurs, so every good idea usually has a handful of teams working on it independently and head-to-head at the same time.  Thus, it is highly likely that, if not Edison, another inventor would have come up with the lightbulb design we are so familiar with today.

R&D as a Legacy

Perhaps, the even more impactful and lasting heritage of Thomas Edison are not his inventions, useful as they are.  His products such as the lightbulb, phonograph, quadruplex telegraph, mimeograph, etc., have been replaced over time by more advanced technology.

Nonetheless, Edison has changed the way we discover concertedly today. Until his time, inventors matched the stereotypical image of a lonely genius experimenting and inventing in their lair burning the midnight oil over some ambitious idea.  Edison established the first research and development (R&D) organization in his famous Menlo Park lab, where a large number of researchers worked together in an orchestrated way to find solutions to specific problems coordinated strategically and systematically concerted.  Edison has industrialized research!

Until today every research-driven company or organization worldwide follows in Edison’s footsteps!  What an impressive legacy!

Summary

Disruptive innovations tend to have their origin in incremental steps and competition among inventors. First working individually and now increasingly in teams or even distributed R&D organizations across country borders.
A key success factor here is building trust and incentives within the team in order for all individual contributors to share information and findings freely.

The broader, cross-functional approach to research helps to identify ideas and technologies from other disciplines that can serve as stepping stones.  Edison used a better vacuum pump, which made his design possible.  Later, the capability to manufacture a thin Tungsten wire allowed General Electric to take the lightbulb the next level.
As the saying goes, “innovation happens at the intersections of disciplines.”  The development of the lightbulb serves as a nice example proving it to hold true once again.  Thus, innovation benefits by drawing from advances in other disciplines.

So, is disruptive innovation a myth?

Back to our original question, the story of the lightbulb is a great example for a breakthrough innovation with vast ramifications that disrupted and shaped the we live and work around the globe.

It can, however, not be seen as just one big and isolated scientific step but rather a series of many little steps in combination insights from other disciplines including manufacturing, economics and marketing leading to broad adoption that changed the world.

Lightbulb evolution (source: www.thewirelessbanana.com)
Lightbulb evolution
(source: http://www.thewirelessbanana.com)

Only when it all comes together you have a disruptive innovation like Edison’s famous design.  And it was still not the end.  The journey continued to evolve with a Tungsten wire and later fluorescence, halogen and LED lights.

In this light, every disruption seems as yet another incremental step, doesn’t it?

Xbox’s Hollywood Bust – when culture eats strategy for breakfast

Shut down

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.

Beyond gaming

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?

Culture Clash

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.

Learnings

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.

Want more?

Related posts on organizational culture include:

Angel Investing within the Company – Insights from an Internal Corporate Venture Capitalist

Breaking through the crust

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.

Seed-funding promising ideas

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.’

POC over ROI

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.

Aspired returns

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).

Governance and authorization

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.

Dealing with Risk

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.

Getting Funds

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.

Key Learnings

  • 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.

 

School for Intrapreneurs: Lessons from a FORTUNE Global 500 company

The earlier post “How you become the next Steve Jobs!” relies on an innovation ecosystem of sorts that already exists in your organization – but what if there is none?

What if you find yourself in a place that struggles with Why mature organizations can’t innovate and Overcoming the Three Big Hurdles to Innovation in Large Organizations?

It is not easy and takes time turning an organization’s mindset from what is into what if.  It’s a great and rewarding achievement, though, if you can pull it off!

Building an Ecosystem

So, let’s continue there:  If you find yourself in a company which does not provide an environment that supports intrapreneuring, you may need to build an innovation ecosystem within a large organization.  Practically, you choose to become a midwife helping ideas of your colleagues getting a chance to come to life.  This enables other aspiring intrapreneurs to step up, unite and act together.

It’s a bold step and disruptive approach but necessary to induce ability to meaningful and fundamental “10x” change again to an organization (see also 10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?) as part of an ambitious Innovation Strategy: Do you innovate or renovate?

Based on my personal experience, here are some key ingredients to succeed following words of Steve Jobs that “Creativity means connecting things.”

sustainable environment consists, at least, of

  • A safe-haven for employees to  experiment
  • perpetual pipeline  of ideas from all areas of the organization,
  • A  process to develop them without triggering the “organizational immune system” early on and
  • A  transition mechanism to feed these ideas back into the regular organization to become funded and implemented with strategic alignment to company goals
  • Preparing management how deal with intrapreneurs. You will need to build or teach
  • A set of relevant  intrapreneurial  skills for employees
  • A  supportive team  and for you to maintain
  • A  positive attitude that you will need to persist and push on.

The “School for Intrapreneurs” (SFI)

A very powerful approach and critical puzzle piece in the ecosystem is the School for Intrapreneurs.  We achieved to build this school successfully together with help from like-minded and supportive colleagues that I was fortunate to meet along my crooked intrapreneurial career path, if you want to call it that.  The underlying premise of the SFI is that innovation skills can be taught, as mentioned in  “How you become the next Steve Jobs!”  – So, we teach them in this program.

In the end, results count or in the words I adopted from Accenture’s advertisement:  “It is not how many ideas you have.  It’s how many you make happen.”

Program Focus

Building intrapreneurial skills systematically, however, is only part of the deal. The real value of the program for the participants lays in experiencing the obstacles an intrapreneur faces in an organization themselves: the rocky road of rejection trying to get an idea on its feet.

We prepare our fellow employees in a process where they form supportive teams to collaborate in order to develop their ideas together and experiment.  This includes ways to communicate with management in constructive and non-threatening ways on How Intrapreneurs avoid “No!”, for example.  It culminates in pitching ideas to experts and potential sponsors for funding, implementation and support.

Executive sponsorship ensures strategic alignment of ideas with company interests.  It also increases the chances dramatically for idea transitions into the established processes of the regular organization, i.e. the idea becoming a project to be implemented.  This is why special emphasis needs to be put on preparing management how to support and benefit from intrapreneurs; after all, there are risks involved with intrapreneuring for the individual (see also  The Rise of the Intrapreneur).

This SFI program design addresses How to grow innovation elephants in large organizations and deliver big results along the lines of 10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?. In fact, the return of the SFI program so far is a 1:10x return-of-investment (ROI), so we are right on 10x.

Building the School for Intrapreneurs together: Stephan Klaschka (left) and Gifford Pinchot III
Building the School for Intrapreneurs together: Stephan Klaschka (left) and Gifford Pinchot III

The three courses build upon each other; we named them DOORWAY, PATHWAY and JOURNEY:

  • DOORWAY is a two-hour awareness course that outlines how innovation happens in large organizations, what typical obstacles are, what is an intrapreneur and already hints towards what is offered in the succeeding courses, PATHWAY and JOURNEY.
  • PATHWAY is in its core an incubator and accelerator over a 12 weeks with a mix of training and group work.  Research suggests that approx. 5% of the workforce have the intrapreneurial spirit, which is consistent with our school’s enrollment numbers.  At the end of the course, the teams pitch their developed ideas to a panel of experts and managers representing different business functions for in-depth feedback and advice how to improve the ideas. – Think “Shark Tank” but without bloody teeth.  Teams with the most promising ideas then pitch to high level executives for sponsorship and support to turn their idea into an implementation project that enters the regular development processes in the organization.  Receiving executive sponsorship is another level of validation that confirms strategy alignment with company interests.
  • JOURNEY is a six-month course designed to accompany the team implementing their ideas by providing a mix of skill-building and team-customized coaching.  – Why is this needed and important?
    Even with executive sponsorship the project has neither been budgeted for nor are other resources planned and available for its implementation; so, the project still disrupts the establishment and may trigger resistance.

Shaping company culture

We also ask JOURNEY participants to connect with the next group going through the PATHWAY course to network, share their experiences and help guiding the “next generation” of graduates.  The goal is to achieve sustainability of the program by growing the number of like-minded, experienced and connected employees over time.

Over time, an increasing number of graduates keep the perpetual pipeline of fresh ideas open.  They also grow to become a powerful, far-reaching and growing network of active change-makers across all parts of the organization as they connect and pass on their knowledge to the next class going through the School for Intrapreneurs.

These are the self-identified leaders of change that share a common innovation terminology, skill-set and experience while they help shaping the organizational culture and mindset on the way towards a sustainable environment, an innovation ecosystem.

Lessons from the School for Intrapreneurs

My key learning from this challenge in a nutshell is as follows:

  • The personal journey and ‘intrapreneurial experience’ is of utmost importance for the School’s participants – a theoretical training alone does not do the trick.  It has to be hands-on and all the way to implementation.
  • This is why the participants value the safe space to operate and experiment in.
  • Typically, talent in large organizations is selected top-down by management.  In contrast, talent self-identifies bottom-up and based on –intrapreneurial- merits though the School for Intrapreneurs.
  • Alumni are hardened by their experience and become part of a growing community of capable and engaged change agents.
  • Successful pitches to executives validate the alignment with company strategy – not only for the individual idea but also broader for the entire program of the School for Intrapreneurs.
  • The program allows gives more disruptive, risky and outside-the-box ideas a chance that otherwise would not have been brought to executive attention, or so our executive sponsors said.
  • The School for Intrapreneurs is part of a larger framework to change company culture over time by cultivating discovery and 10x innovation capabilities once again.

 

Related Links:

Join me at the Pharmaceutical Multi-Channel Marketing Strategy Conference in Philadelphia, PA on April 24, 2014

Q1 Pharma Multi-Channel Marketing Strategy
Q1’s Pharmaceutical Multi-Channel Marketing Strategy

Location: Hilton Garden Inn Philadelphia Center City, 1100 Arch St., Philadelphia, PA 19107

Overcoming the Three Big Hurdles to Innovation in Large Organizations

Large organizations have vast resources – but this advantage inherently bears also a disadvantage: like large dinosaurs, with increasing size and maturity they lose the ability to adapt quickly to a changing environment as their smaller competitors can to seize business opportunities.

The Big Three

Let’s first identify the three typical obstacles that large organizations struggle with before we address how to disrupt and overcome them as intrapreneurs. The task at hand is to spark new energy, employee engagement and business growth opportunities in alignment with business strategy and company culture.
By the way, if you are new to intrapreneuring, see also The Rise of the Intrapreneur and the Top 10 posts for Intrapreneurs.

So, these three big hurdles are the

  1. Vertical Disconnect: Ideas from the bottom of the hierarchy do not find their way vertically to the top anymore to get implemented.
  2. Horizontal Divide: Functional silos separate the workforce horizontally which limits putting to effective action the full potential of the company’s resources and diversity in a concerted way.
  3. Inertia: More talking about change than taking action opens a widening gap between ideas and their implementation, as it is so much easier to lean back and improve incrementally than taking risks of major changes. Red-tape and ever mounting bureaucracy does its part to keep the wheels from turning and breeding a mindset of mediocrity.

These obstacles combine to form an unfavorable ecosystem of stagnation by containing innovative thoughts from growing and ripening, by inhibiting innovators to take action with passion and by blocking courageous action necessary to drive the organization’s future success and –possibly- survival.

Sketching a future innovation ecosystem

Here is what it takes to break the crust in order to reinvigorate and nourish innovation to flourish once again by creating an innovation-friendly ecosystem:

1. Vertical cut:  Connect grass-root ideas with executive sponsors

Too often, “middle management” gets blames from keeping ideas and funds flowing more freely up and down the hierarchy (see also Leadership vs Management? What is wrong with middle management?).

A mechanism is needed to pipe fresh and promising ideas in an appropriate format from the grass-roots to find their way to executives, where the ideas get recognized, sponsored and put into motion for the better of the company. This holds true for disruptive break-through ideas in particular and in contrast to the continuous incremental improvement (see also 10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?) that typically makes up most of the organizations day work.

Don’t be mistaken, executives worth their salt seek good ideas like the air they breathe. They are generally more open to necessary change and course corrections than one may think. The executives also hold the keys to feeding the ideas back into the machinery of the larger organization to get implemented.

A mechanism is needed that allows cutting vertically through the red-tape and hierarchical boundaries of the mature organization. It creates a pipeline of ideas that connect the top with the bottom of the organization and everything in between with intrapreneurial passion.

2. Horizontal cut: Connect across functions and geographical silos

Large organizations tend to foster functional (and geographical) silos to increase efficiency, quality, and reliability in their operations (again, see Leadership vs Management? What is wrong with middle management?). This, however, effectively inhibits ideas of game-changing nature to flow freely and being developed with input from diverse perspectives to the benefit of the larger organization.

A wise saying goes: “Innovation happens at the intersection of disciplines.” It is these diverse perspectives and adding brains to a problem that help to improve and develop an idea to become more robust, innovative and feasible. Thus, a mechanism is needed to effectively cut horizontally through organizational walls to allow employees to effectively collaborate, network and connect the established silos and islands.

Are you stuck with organizational silos too?  (source: (communities.netapp.com)
Are you stuck with organizational silos too?
(source: (communities.netapp.com)

3. Tangible results: Bridge the “Idea to Implementation” gap

In the end, what we to achieve is giving good ideas a chance that otherwise would never get considered or implemented – especially in a mature business environment that favors low-risk incremental improvement over more risky breakthrough experimentation (see 10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?).

We need a mechanism that frees the intrapreneurial spirit of employees and directs the passion and potential of our employees’ ideas to tangible results that, ultimately, drive new business growth.

How does it work?

The intrapreneurial instruments and mechanism of this innovation ecosystem include, for example:

  • School for Intrapreneurs,
  • Internal corporate venturing,
  • Networks for implementation and
  • Opening to outside perspectives.

Over the next blog posts I will address each of these approaches (and perhaps more) and share my experiences from implementing exactly that successfully in a FORTUNE Global 500 company. So, check back soon or get updates via Twitter @OrgChanger.

 

Be the next Steve Jobs!

Can you innovate?

It a strange question.  Isn’t it astonishing how many people say “I am not creative” or believe “innovators” are so much different from themselves.  As if innovators are an enlightened lot of geniuses that come up with breakthrough innovations that nobody else could have thought of or made happen but them.  Icons such as Steve Jobs (Apple), Elon Musk (Tesla) or Jeff Bezos (Amazon) stand out.  They apparently think differently and changed the world.

The question for the rest of us is: could I be a Steve Jobs too?  Or do have to be born gifted to be able to innovate in ways that “make a ding in the universe” like Steve Jobs?

Are you a Steve Jobs? (photo credit: http://scrapetv.com/News/News%20Pages/Technology/images/steve-jobs-3g-iphone.jpg)
Are you a Steve Jobs?
(photo credit: http://scrapetv.com/News/News%20Pages/Technology/images/steve-jobs-3g-iphone.jpg)

You can learn creativity!

If you ask kids in kindergarten or preschool if they are creative, they enthusiastically respond “Yes!”  At that age we are convinced we are creative and express our views, thoughts and ideas in many ways.  We design rockets to Mars or create new animals, nothing is out of bounds or out of reach.

What has happened to us that we believe as grown-ups and employees we can no longer create and change the world? I heard “I could never do that” and “nothing will change anyway” too many times.

Good news is that genetic predisposition only attributes one-third to your creativity and innovative-ness (if this is a word), while two-thirds are skills that can be learned, as research confirmed many times over (see Marvin Reznikoff et al, Creative abilities in identical and fraternal twins, Behavior Genetics 3, no. 4, 1973).

Therefore, innovation can be taught, “nurture trumps nature.”  So, you can learn it too!

Are you an intrapreneur or entrepreneur? 

However, not everyone wants to take the risk and uncertainty to make an entrepreneurial dream come true by starting a new business on their own.  Many of us work in large organizations and would like to improve the company from within somehow.

This is where intrapreneuring comes into play.  Intrapreneurs are also called corporate entrepreneurs, since they apply entrepreneurial methods within the organization to create intraprises.   (See also The Rise of the Intrapreneur)

What innovators have in common

So is there anything that great innovators share and which we ‘mortals’ can replicate or do similarly to succeed? – In fact, there is!

In his iconic book “The Innovator’s DNA,” famous disruptive innovation guru Clayton Christensen (who is also known for coining the term ‘disruptive innovation’) identified four common catalysts that sparked the great ideas:

  1. “a question that challenged the status quo,
  2. an observation of a technology, company, or customer,
  3. an experience or experiment where he was trying out something new,
  4. a conversation with someone who alerted him to an important piece of knowledge or opportunity”

This comes down to the four following behaviors, as Christensen found out:  questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting.

Thinking different

While, typically, the underlying information is not unique, the innovator’s associative thinking combines information and connects dots that seem random or unrelated to others.  They create a picture or vision of a need or opportunity to pursue.

Now, on your way to become an intrapreneur (or entrepreneur), how can you get to these insights, find a suitable target and make it happen?

There are two basic steps:

  1. Don’t work alone
  2. Seek a fertile environment.

1. Don’t work alone

An  African proverb says “If you want to walk fast, walk alone; but if you want to walk far, walk together”.  Developing and bringing a disruptive idea to life takes time, work and -more than anything- collaboration.  It’s not a fast shot and you will need help.  What you can do is tapping into more brains: ask others and bring together a diverse team around an idea.  You want to get as many different perspectives to see the fuller picture, risks, needs, opportunities to tackle the problem you are working on.

You may be blindsided or unaware of things critical for your success including much needed political cover, validating your assumptions or technical aspects outside your expertise.  If you try to do everything yourself, you are setting yourself up for failure for a simple reason: you are not an expert in everything!  Stick with what you are good at and let other experts help you with what they are good at.

2. Seek a fertile environment

If you want to start your own business as an entrepreneur, you may want to move where you find the best condition for a supportive business environment, an ecosystem.  For entrepreneurs, for example, Stanford University and Silicon Valley remain a major tech magnets with ample and easy access to top talent and money.  Also accelerators can serve this purpose.  Comparable conditions for an innovative ecosystem exist at the US-East coast in the Boston area.  Depending on your business idea, other locations and ecosystems may be more suitable – do your homework and find the right one for you.

As an intrapreneur, your available ecosystem seems more limited: it typically is the company you work in that defines the perimeter of your freedom to navigate.  Your advantage here can be that you already know the environment and who could be supporting or funding your idea.  If not your, you could more easily ask colleagues for help than people outside your company could, which significantly lowers the bar for access to resources.

Let’s continue by focusing on intrapreneuring.  Compared to the entrepreneurial world out there, within an organization you may have more opportunities to help shape the fertile ecosystem for breakthrough ideas if none exists yet.

Now, if you are stuck with a company that does not provide an environment that supports intrapreneuring, you may consider becoming the innovation leader (see How to become the strategic innovation leader? (part 2 of 3)) to build an ecosystem within a large organization.

– Stay tune to find out how.

Join me at the Customer Experience Summit 2014 in Princeton/NJ on March 6, 2014

Pharma Customer Experience Summit 2014 at The Nassau Inn Hotel, 10 Palmer Square, Princeton, NJ on March 6, 2014

Pharma Customer Experience Summit 2014 at The Nassau Inn Hotel, 10 Palmer Square, Princeton, NJ on March 6, 2014

Join me for the SAPA-CT Milestone Celebration Meeting at Yale University on Feb 22

“Bridging between US and China in Current Pharmaceutical World – Strategies, Innovation and Implementation”

Join me at 11:15am at the Sino-American Pharmaceutical Professionals Association‘s new Connecticut Chapter (SAPA-CT) Milestone Celebration Meeting held at Yale University (N107 The Anlyan Center, 300 Cedar St, New Haven, CT, 06511), 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Feb 22, 2014.

SAPA-CT Milestone Celebration Meeting, "Bridging between US and China in Current Pharmaceutical World - Strategies, Innovation and Implementation"
SAPA-CT, Boehringer Ingelheim, BMS, and Association of Chinese Students and Scholars at Yale (ACSSY) will co-sponsor this event

How open offices kill productivity – and how to make it work

Open offices are not a new invention.  They have been around for a long time as hallmark of start-up companies that simply cannot afford glitzy corporate skyscrapers with plush corner offices (yet). Open offices emerged less by deliberate design than driven by need.

Start-ups typically run on a vibrant culture of passionate people wanting to spend time together to create something great, everyone works together closely in the tight space available.  Information flows fast and freely.  Recreational elements and other services offered remove the need or motivation to leave.  Employees hang out to work maximum hours as a team in a fun, inspiring and supportive environment.  Productivity is up and work gets done.

Start-up open office (source: theepochtimes.com)
Start-up open office (source: theepochtimes.com)

Growing pains

Large companies are attracted by this powerful value-proposition for open offices – or so it seems.  Mature organizations struggle with their increasing size that, over time, entails increasing specialization and complexity with a stifling system of red tape and inertia.

While jobs are large in small companies and come with broad scope and high accountability, which are diluted when jobs narrow in large companies by increased specialization over time.  Functional silos emerge and sub-optimize often to the detriment of other business functions.

This siloed corporate world only contributes to a climate that works against diverse collaboration and inhibits breakthrough innovations; and business results degrade from 10x to 10%.  (See also 10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?)

Cutting costs is a questionable driver

The reasons for large organizations moving to an open floor plan are often glorified and communicated as a measure to increase creativity and productivity in an appealing modern working environment: employees connect casually and spontaneously at the ‘water cooler’ to network and innovate together again.

The true and paramount driver for tearing down the office walls, however, is often more sobering: it comes down to simply cutting costs by reducing the expensive office footprint.  Fitting more people into less space comes at a price for the workforce.

Cost savings only get you so far.  It’s an easy approach but not a sustainable business model for productivity.  What do you really save if productivity goes down?  How sustainable is your business then?  Sacrificing productivity for cost savings is a narrow-minded approach lacking long-term perspective and, therefore, not worth it.  That is unless your goal is to achieve short-term gains without consideration for the future of the business, which is a disqualifying business perspective altogether.

The popular phenomenon in large companies is a move for the wrong reasons (the better driver being increased productivity) and entails serious consequences that jeopardize the company’s productivity, workforce satisfaction, and even the bottom line.

Design constraints

It gets even worse when the new environment is retrofitted space with structural limitations, founded in the legacy of existing buildings and investments, and if no flanking measures taken to enable effective collaboration needs.

A design from scratch has the potential support the collaboration needs and flow of the workforce best.  This is an advantage start-ups have when they can shape and rearrange loft space to their immediate needs without limitations carried forward.

Size matters

Controlling cost is necessary and reducing office footprint is an effective business measure.  Aetna, for example, has nearly half of their 35,000 employees working from home already, which saves ~15% to 25% on real estate costs – that’s about $80 million saving per year.

Do not get me wrong, there are undeniable benefits to open office spaces – when applied for the right reasons in the right context, with right priorities and proper execution.  The point I am making is that cost reduction alone is not a worthwhile driver if it sacrifices productivity.  There comes a point where a hard decision has to be made and if you prioritize cost savings, you sacrifice productivity and other aspects automatically.

Open Office Plan (source: Foundation 7)
Open Office Plan (source: Foundation 7)

What does it take?

Unfortunately, the start-up company model with open office space and its agile and enthusiastic does not scale for large organizations.  The corporate one-size-fits-all approach does not do the trick for several reasons.

Let us look at aspects that make the open office work:

  1. Tear down cost center walls
  2. Make presence easy
  3. Level the (remote) playing field
  4. Embrace work style differences

1.  Tear down cost center walls

Proximity favors who needs to work together closely.  In a start-up company, staff is few and jobs are big.  This ratio flips in large organizations where many employees work in highly specialized functions.  With increasing specialization comes complexity that leads to functional silos.  The employees become separated by every rising departmental and organizational walls.

In large organizations, work space is typically paid for by department and charged to cost centers.  Staff gets corralled this way and kept separated in functional clusters that are easier to administer but counteract productivity, streamlined workflow, and diverse collaboration cross-functionally.  After all, it wouldn’t make sense to have any department operating completely independent from the rest of the organization.

These artificial and structural boundaries make no sense (unless you are an accountant, perhaps).  Therefore, trade the urge for financial micro-management for what makes the workforce more productive, as this is the most important aspect of collaboration and, ultimately, the bottom line.

2.  Make presence easy

Make it easy for your employees to go the extra mile.  Now here is where large companies can learn from how start-ups: offer incentives for employees to hang out and remove reasons for them to leave to maximize time to work and collaborate.

The list seems endless: free beverages and food, services such as laundry, hair dresser, spa or receiving deliveries, exercise equipment, healthy snacks, child and pet care, and other useful perks that cost-cutting companies often omit.

Sounds like a waste to many large companies.  But is it really?  You get more out of your employees’ carefree working along longer than by pinching the free coffee and have them leave during the day or early to run their necessary errands.

3.  Level the (remote) playing field

It may sound counter-intuitive but when cost saving rules, the open office space often only works when not all employees are around at the same time.  If all employees showed up on the same day there may not be enough room and resources (seating, access to power and networks, etc.) to fit and accommodate everyone, since the physical office footprint is now too small ‑ a Catch-22.

When only a subset of employees can be present in the office at any given workday, the rest has to work remotely forming an –at least- virtual organization.  Consequently, the random personal connection “at the water cooler” becomes less likely as does spontaneous cooperation by “pulling together a team” since your pool of physically available staff is limited.

Management needs to take deliberate and determined measures to level the playing field for remote workers by giving them the same opportunities as colleagues present in the office.  Why?  “Out of sight, out of mind” is a powerful and human nature.  If not managed effectively, it only becomes worse when remote staff easily is continuously overlooked when it comes to projects staffing, development opportunities and promotions, for example. The resulting inequities undermine workforce cohesion, effectiveness, and talent development.

Read more on virtual teams at Why virtual teams fail, and how to make them work (part 1) and How to make virtual teams work! (part 2).

4.  Embrace work style differences

There are too many individual work styles to list them all – for example, just think of

FastCompany recently came up with a list of reasons by workers arguing against open offices, which is a good indicator where the pain-points are.  Representative or not, the list tends to resonate with people that experienced first-hand working in a corporate open office environment.

The key complaints are about

  • Distraction – hard to concentrate with surrounding noises of all sort; loud speaking coworkers; interruptions of coworkers stopping by at any given time
  • Discomfort – no privacy; by-passers looking at your screen and documents; food, bodily and other odors; white-noise generators blamed for headaches; spreading contagious illnesses; having to talk to people when you don’t feel like it; “hiding” by wearing earphones
  • Workflow obstacles – competing over quiet spaces, conference rooms or other rare resources; no place to store personal items or personalize the space.

In summary

One size does not fit all and it does not do the trick for large companies, in particular.  So if you have to downsize office space or accommodate more employees, take a sound and sustainable approach by making productivity the driving priority and not cost.

After all, we are human beings that work best when we have control over our work environment and schedule.  When we perform at our best, it is also for the better of the company as a whole.  Flexibility, empowerment and inclusion go a long way – otherwise, mind FastCompany’s warning: “What was supposed to be the ultimate space for collaboration and office culture was having the opposite effect” – also for the bottom line.

Join me in Boston for the Corporate Venturing in the Life Sciences conference this week!

Join me at the Corporate Venturing in the Life Sciences conference this week!
Join me at the Corporate Venturing in the Life Sciences conference this week!

How to grow innovation elephants in large organizations

Driving innovation in large organizations is like herding elephants.  Big and small elephants. – How so?

Elephants come in different sizes
Elephants come in different sizes

Big Elephants in the Back-Office

In large organizations, departments gravitate to sub-optimize their core business.  Silos form under local management to run their department more efficient – following the old mantra: do more with less.
(Read more about silos forming at Leadership vs Management? What is wrong with middle management?)

Although all business functions are affected, corporate Information Technology (IT) departments often lend themselves as best examples for a “big elephant” world: they are critical enablers in a pivotal position of every modern organization.  Even though the success of practically every business function hinges on IT, also IT is not immune to this silo-forming phenomenon in large organizations.

Over time and with ‘organizational maturity’, the IT department tends to end up focusing on what they do best: large back-office projects that cannot be funded or run by any business function in isolation, since they span across disciplines or impact the entire enterprise.  Just one examples for a “big elephant” project is implementing a comprehensive Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system across multiple locations internationally.

This is the back-office domain and comfort zone of IT with technology know-how, big budgets, long duration, high visibility, rigid governance and clear processes to follow.

Small Elephants in the Front-Office

In contrast, the front-office typically comprises Marketing, Sales and Product Development.  Here, a small tweak or agile change (that requires some IT input) can go a long way and have significant impact on organizational effectiveness and business results.  – These micro-innovations are “small elephants” as recent Gartner research coined them.

These little disruptions to the slower-moving big elephant world easily trigger the “corporate immune-system” that favors large elephants and suppressing small emerging ones.

Typically, most projects in large organization aim to reduce cost in some way.  Only a minority of projects address new business and growth opportunities that tend to come with uncertainty and greater risk.

While big elephants are typically incremental improvement project to save cost, it’s the small elephants that are more likely to be disruptive drivers of growth and future business opportunities: the much needed life-blood of sustaining business and future prosperity.

Barriers in the Big Elephant World

IT departments tend to struggle the farther they move away from their ‘core competency’ meaning leaving the big-elephant back-office and dealing with the myriad of small needs of the customer-facing units in the small-elephant front-office.

Many reasons contribute to say “No!” to emerging small elephants:

  • Small elephants are disruptive to the big elephant world, perhaps even threatening to the establishment
  • It is hard for the back-office to accept that there cannot be much standardization around these small small elephant solutions by the very nature of their scope and scale
  • It is cumbersome to plan and manage resources scattered across small projects that pop up left and right without significantly impacting big elephant projects.  Unfortunately, pressure to save cost only fuels the focus on fewer, bigger elephants.
    Gartner brings the dilemma to the point: “[..] the focus on optimization, standardization and commoditization that underlies IT’s success in the back office is contrary and even detrimental to the needs of the front office.”
  • Insights in front-end processes and customer needs are essential (and not usual IT back-office competencies) to seize small elephant opportunities, which are often disruptive and driven by the agile intrapreneurial spirit that makes full use of the diversity of thought and understanding customers deeply.
    – See also The Rise of the Intrapreneur
  • On top of it all, the challenge for IT is to understand the potential and pay-off for initiatives that rely on IT in a domain outside of IT’s expertise:  In the mature world of big elephants, ROI projections are demanded upfront and based on models that apply to mature organizations.  These models typically do not apply well to measure project ROI in the emergent worlds of small elephants, which puts the small elephants at a disadvantage; another disconnect that easily leads big elephant organizations to reject proposed small elephants.

As a bottom-line, for large IT departments it is simple and convenient to say ‘No!’ to requests for “micro-innovations” coming in from employees scattered across the front-offices.  And, sadly, often enough this is exactly what happens. Despite the lasting impact of “No!” (see also How Intrapreneurs avoid “No!”), turning ideas and proposals down too fast also leaves out opportunity for huge innovation potentials (see also 10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?).

What happens to IT without small elephants?

Ignoring the need for micro-innovations and not supporting them effectively will not serve IT departments well in the long-run.  With only big-elephant focus IT departments are at high risk to lose sight of the needs of their internal customers.  Consequently, IT undermines and finally loses its broader usefulness, acceptance and footing in the business functions they intend to serve.

When small elephants are neglected or blocked, it practically forces the front-office to look for other resources sooner or later in order IT-services providing resources to get their needs taken care of.  Over time, the big IT department drifts to become more and more obsolete, and finally replaced by agile and responsive agencies and contractors that deliver on their front-office customer needs.

After all, IT’s general role is one of an enabler for the core businesses rather than being perceived by its customers as a stop-gap.

How to raise Small Elephants

So, what can a mature yet forward looking IT organization do to support micro-innovations – or ‘balance the herd,’ so to speak, to include a healthy number of small elephants in the mix?

  • Brad Kenney of Ernest&Young recommends limited but dedicated resources (including time) for micro-innovations in Ernest&Young’s 2011 report “Progressions – Building Pharma 3.0”;
    for example, dedicate 10% of the expert’s time to implement micro-innovations
  • Test changes in emerging markets first, if possible, where agility is high at a lower risk of jeopardizing the bottom line or threatening the established organization and its investments in mature markets
  • Establish effective collaboration platforms that make it easy for employees to openly and conveniently share content among each other as well as with external parties.

How Intrapreneuring helps

A systematic approach to Intrapreneuring can go a long way to help move these micro-innovations forward.  It starts with systematic intrapreneurial skill-building for employees across all levels of hierarchy and includes:

  • Understanding how innovation happens in large organizations, i.e. large and small elephants and the need for both to exist
  • Helping employees become aware of and overcome their own mental barriers and silo-thinking
  • Attracting, inspiring and engaging employees to take their idea forward knowing there are obstacles in their way
  • Training skills that help to frame, develop and pitch ideas to potential supporters and sponsors
  • Building and presenting a business case for review and improvement by peers and management
  • Enabling and empowering employees to bring their small elephants to life and sharing the story of their success to inspire others
  • Working to gradually change the mindset of the organization, its culture, as needed, to become more balanced on the elephant scale, to unlock the resources within the own workforce and to seize opportunities for growth and the future of the business.

Just as out there in the wild, without raising small elephants the life-span of organizations with only big elephants is limited.

Women in Life-Sciences: Pharma Think Tank at UCSF on Oct. 30, 2013

UCSF WILS BI Think Tank announcement
UCSF WILS BI Think Tank announcement

Join me in Boston for the Corporate Venturing in the Life Sciences conference this week!

Join me at the Corporate Venturing in the Life Sciences conference this week!
Join me in Boston this week: Corporate Venturing in the Life Sciences conference

How Intrapreneurs avoid “No!”

Say “No!”

Books teach us how to say “No!” – they fill up entire shelves in bookstores to help us achieve professional success and personal freedom.  Rejecting requests from others helps us de-clutter our busy day and protect us from time-suckers and commitments we immediately regret.

On the other end, we are asked to delegate more to boost our productivity.  This comes easier for your client or boss, who has a mandate or authority over what we work on and what process to follow.  And then there are Intrapreneurs: champions of ideas they want to turn into reality within large organizations without mandate or authority. (Read also The Rise of the Intrapreneur)

The “No” trap for Intrapreneurs

Intrapreneurs are driven by their passion and belief in the idea they develop and seek support for.  They also often stand outside the ordinary structure and processes of the organization.  Intrapreneurs need to pull voluntary favors from people they have no control over in order to find support, funding, protection, expertise or whatever else their project requires to get off the ground or move forward.

For Intrapreneurs, avoiding the “No” becomes even more crucial: once they received a “No” to their proposal or request, it is hard to change their mind no matter how much sense the project makes.

– Why is that?

Why it’s hard to say “Yes” again

Put yourself in the shoes of a potential sponsor, lets say a manager, executive or technical expert:  this Intrapreneur, a person you may or may not know well, walks into your office and requests resources,  money, time, or whatever to fuel an uncalled for project with an uncertain outcome that was not budgeted for and that disrupts your operations.

The safe and easy thing is to say “No.”  When rationalizing in retrospect, you just saved the company diverting and possibly wasting resources on this crazy project that may even have felt like a surprise attack! – And so you feel good, right?

Now, when the Intrapreneur comes back later to try his or her luck again, perhaps equipped with more data, what can you do?  If you said “Yes” this time around, wouldn’t you be inconsistent with your previous position and possibly even undermine your own authority?

Subconsciously, you may already be biased and seeking a face-saving way to get over this discussion. So it’s safe again to stay with “No,” and remain consistent – and feel good!  After all, it’s human nature!

“No” doesn’t turn to “Yes” easily

As an Intrapreneur, coming back to ask for a “Yes” again is an uphill battle, a double sell.  You are basically wasting your energy fighting human nature rather than helping your cause effectively.  Chances are you will not be able to turn around a previous “No” into a “Yes,” no matter how much more data and other good arguments you throw at the aspired sponsor.  When seeking voluntary support from others, hearing a “No” is a huge obstacle that is hard to overcome.

So, for an Intrapreneur, the million-dollar question (perhaps literally!) is, how to avoid the “No” in the first place and get support for the idea.

How to avoid “No” and thrive your project

For an Intrapreneur, it is most important to listen closely and be open to the questions and concerns the sponsor to-be brings up:  they may just as well uncover valid flaws or complementing areas to be addressed to make the idea succeed in the end.

Gifford Pinchot, the author of the best-selling book Intrapreneuring, suggests these nifty tactics for Intrapreneurs to approach helpers or sponsors in a non-threatening or overly demanding way that would trigger the negative response.  A small step forward is better than a full stop of the “organizational immune system” kicking in.  Don’t ask bluntly for resources of sorts.  Instead, ask for advice or a reference to a co-worker!

People love to talk about themselves and being asked for their expertise and opinion.  This works with employees on all levels of the hierarchy no matter if you seek a sponsor or advice from an expert.

Intrapreneuring
Intrapreneuring

By asking for advice, there is no Yes-or-No dead-end involved.  It’s just a factual discussion among professionals about an idea and what it would take to improve it and to move it forward.  Even softer is the question for help to find someone else, who could help or whom the Intrapreneur should talk to next.  Even if not interested in the idea themselves, it allows the potential sponsor or expert to refer to another person, who is possibly better suited or more interested without losing face or appearing unsupportive.

Thumbs up all around

In case the idea or project tanks, as the expert/sponsor you didn’t waste any resources nor will you be held accountable.  If, in contrast, the idea has a positive outcome down the road, you may even claim having supported it at an early stage or have made a key introduction that led to the project’s success.  Now, that feels good no matter what happens with the Intrapreneur’s idea or project, right?  That’s human nature too.

From the Intrapreneur’s perspective, for starters, you achieved to avoid the “No” kiss-of-death. You may have even got another lead or hint on what to improve or consider, something you overlooked or were not aware of before.  Addressing this may require some more research, data or conversations, but for now, it drives your idea forward to take the next step, which is good and helpful.

It’s not really rocket-science but rather dealing with human nature in a resourceful and constructive way that keeps the intrapreneurial project moving forward.

The Rise of the Intrapreneur

The Rise of the Intrapreneur
How to become an ‘Intrapreneur’?  Why are Intrapreneurs needed?  What is the difference to Entrepreneurship?  – The future of innovation within large organizations lies within, if you know how to tap into it with intrapreneurship!

What is Intrapreneurship?

Did you know that ‘Intrapreneur’ and ‘Intrapreneurship’ are not new terms but were coined nearly 35 years ago by Elizabeth and Gifford Pinchot in 1978?

As a definition for our purposes, an intrapreneur takes responsibility in large organizations for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation.  In contrast to an entrepreneur, the Intrapreneur operates within an existing organization with an internal focus.  Intrapreneurship requires an organization of considerable size for an intrapreneurial role to become applicable in the first place.

What is the difference to Entrepreneurship?

‘Intrapreneur’ is not as well known as the more established term ‘Entrepreneur’ which it derives from.  It even takes a deliberate effort to pronounce the word Intrapreneur so doesn’t sound like and get confused with Entrepreneur.

The word ‘Entrepreneur’ has been around since the 19th century with its functional roots reaching even farther back into the 16th century.  According to the original definition, an Entrepreneur is “one who undertakes an enterprise […] acting as intermediatory between capital and labour” or in other words, to “shift economic resources out of lower and into higher productivity and greater yield.”  (source: Wikipedia)

The role of an Entrepreneur is not so different from the Intrapreneur but many differences exist relating to the environment they operate in and the approach they take.  An Entrepreneur founds a new venture, a business, or company, as an independent economic entity.  This new entity then typically competes for profit in a market with other companies.  Today, Entrepreneurship has fanned out to include specializations such as lifestyle, serial, or social Entrepreneurship that also expanded in markets (in lieu of a better word) previously dominated by non-for-profit, clerical or government institutions.

As a bottom-line, Entrepreneurship roots in competition between companies or organizations by introducing and building a new entity that grows as a company to stand alone in an economic marketplace – while the Intrapreneur connects “capital and labour” using somewhat entrepreneurial methods within an existing organization.  You can even see Intrapreneurship as a downstream evolution for a successful and matured entrepreneurial venture.

Why do we need Intrapreneurs?

With increasing size, an organization slows.  Inertia and paralysis set in to replace agility and effectiveness.  This is often caused by the organization’s own success: The focus shifts towards delivering with increasing efficiency (cost, time) and consistency (quality).  You can easily observe the results in many organizations – it looks somewhat like this:

  • Business functions specialize and sub-optimization to become more efficient and productive; they thereby form ‘silos’ with communication and interactions thinning between them to the detriment of the organization as a whole.
  • Hierarchical structures become steeper to manage more employees; they effectively disconnect the executives on the top from the workers at the bottom of the hierarchy.
  • Promising innovation ideas from the grassroots don’t get through to the executive level for backing or funding to be developed and implemented; the ideas starve and innovation suffers overall.
  • More rules and procedures regulate the growing workforce and detailed aspects of work processes; governance, red tape, and bureaucracy pour over the organization like concrete and become obstacles to change.
  • Career paths become linear, job profiles and responsibilities narrow, entailing an equally narrow view and mindset of the staff that eats away motivation and creativity over time.
  • Talented and creative employees are the first to leave or become hard to retain, as they are always in demand and easily find interesting work elsewhere.
  • Innovation suffers while competitive pressure increases when nimble competitors and start-ups outpace the organization.
  • Management used to command-and-control eagerly seeks fresh talent and ideas externally, i.e. ‘hiring the best and brightest’, to reanimate the organization – yet the leaky pipeline continues bleeding talent, as also the new ‘super stars’ find themselves trapped and escape to new adventures elsewhere.

It takes a jolt to overcome this inertia, revive it, and get an organization moving nimble again ‑ this is the hour of the Intrapreneur!

Time for Action - Clock
Time for Action – Clock

How to become an Intrapreneur?

It takes a new role in the organization to jump-start it, so we “Innovate to Implement“.  Sometimes, a new CEO is hired to turn the corporate ship around from the top; sometimes it works.  The Intrapreneur, however, also considers working bottom-up by pulling the loose ends together and connecting people again across all functions and levels of hierarchy.  The Intrapreneur bridges the various gaps within the organization vertically and horizontally.

It takes a different approach to include, and engage all employees in ways outside their immediate job description that makes best use of all dimensions each individual brings to the (work) table.  The Intrapreneur inspires and spreads a new sense of enablement throughout the workforce.

The Intrapreneur looks differently at how we conduct our business and unlocks innovative value chains, new business models, or propositions.  It takes a strategic lead to become a facilitator for the organization, to adapt continuously and make best use of the changing environment.  The Intrapreneur builds networks and alliances to help actively moving the organization towards its business goals.

The Intrapreneur is a much-in-need and critical role within the matured organization.  It can come in different flavors too!  Being the ‘Executive Champion’, for example, is an intrapreneurial role (see “How to become the strategic innovation leader? (part 2 of 3).”

As an Intrapreneur it is important to be aware what hat to wear and when.  Sometimes an ‘architect’ is needed and an ‘orchestrator’ at other times, for example.  ‑ For more details see: “Innovation Strategy: Do you innovate or renovate?

Risks becoming an Intrapreneur

Now, as a word of warning, being an Intrapreneur is not always easy:  You tent to step on many people’s toes if you want to make a difference.  It can be so risky, that Gifford Pinchot even formulated The Intrapreneur’s Ten Commandments starting with: “Come to work each day willing to be fired.”

So brace yourself because there are many obstacles to innovation and change out there that the Intrapreneur will face.  Intrapreneurship is most and foremost a leadership role, which has a natural tendency to conflict with managers (see “Leadership vs Management?  What is wrong with middle management?”).

Prepare to hit the obstacles to an innovation environment that Irving Wladawsky-Berger in Business Week calls “indifference, hostility, and isolation” – I couldn’t agree more!

The bottom-line

It is not always easy to become an Intrapreneur.  It takes skill and persistence as well as courageous leadership and risk taking.  Truly making a difference and reviving an organization though is rewarding in itself – at least you will learn a lot and make new friends.  ‑ Most of all make sure you have fun!