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!
We are honored by eyeforpharma’s announcement for Boehringer Ingelheim “School for Intrapreneurs” to be a Finalist for yet another award: the prestigious eyeforpharma Philadelphia awards 2015 in the Most Impactful Emerging or Global Initiative category!
One juror, for example, believes the Boehringer Ingelheim School for Intrapreneurs adds value beyond the pill to patients and customers: “Great program that ensures that the company keeps up to date and a competitive edge. I also like that everybody has the opportunity to contribute and participate.”
The winners will be announced on April 7th during the upcoming eyeforpharma Philadelphia 2015 conference (from April 7-8th, 2015, Hyatt Regency Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing, Philadelphia, PA.), so join the conference and stay connected via Twitter at #efpPhilly
About the Awards
The eyeforpharma Philadelphia Awards recognize those in the pharmaceutical industry who are driving pharma forwards not just with higher short-term profits, but with better customer innovation, value and outcomes leading to longer-term success.
eyeforpharma’s mission is to make the pharmaceutical industry more open and valued, which means these awards are a literal translation of why we exist. It is our responsibility to shine a light on where pharma does well, to inspire others into similar or better action.
The awards will be held at an inspiring new venue, 7 World Trade Center, and include the opportunity to explore some of the top corporate innovations in North America, network with innovation leaders, and hear from our guest speaker from Virgin Galactic.
The awards recognize and celebrate the achievements of individuals and teams who are working within large companies to deliver game changing innovation and growth.
After four successful years, Market Gravity is proud to announce the fifth annual Corporate Entrepreneur Awards, and this year the Awards are coming to New York.
The awards will be held at an inspiring new venue, 7 World Trade Center, and include the opportunity to explore some of the top corporate innovations in North America, network with innovation leaders, and hear from our guest speaker from Virgin Galactic.
The awards recognize and celebrate the achievements of individuals and teams who are working within large companies to deliver game changing innovation and growth.
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.
- Related: Why mature organizations can’t innovate and Overcoming the Three Big Hurdles to Innovation in Large Organizations
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.’
- Related: How to grow innovation elephants in large organizations and Innovation Killers: The Corporate Immune System Strikes Back!
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.
- Related: How Intrapreneurs avoid “No!”
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.
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.
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?
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:
- “a question that challenged the status quo,
- an observation of a technology, company, or customer,
- an experience or experiment where he was trying out something new,
- 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.
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:
- Don’t work alone
- 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.
Pharma Customer Experience Summit 2014 at The Nassau Inn Hotel, 10 Palmer Square, Princeton, NJ on March 6, 2014
Driving innovation in large organizations is like herding elephants. Big and small elephants. – How so?
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.
futurethink spoke with Stephan Klaschka, Director of Global Innovation Management at Boehringer Ingelheim, who is responsible for encouraging disruptive innovation within the firm. He spoke about creating “intrapreneurs” in large organizations by instilling an entrepreneurial mindset into employees and ways to use partnerships to get to new ideas.
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.
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.
Here are my Top 10 posts for Employee Resource Groups (ERG) / Business Resource Groups (BRG):
The answer is as simple as this: Because it makes good business sense!
The increasing diversity of employees at the workplace led to employees gathering along affinity dimensions like birds-of-a-feather to form networking groups within organizations. The next step goes beyond affinity and establishes employee resource groups (ERGs) strategically as a business resource and powerful driver for measurable business impact and strategic innovation bottom-up.
Let’s start with what it takes to found a successful ERG on a high level and then drill down to real-life examples and practical advice. What you cannot go without is a strategy that creates a business need before you drum up people, which creates a buzz!
While many companies demand creativity and innovation from their staff few companies seem to know how to make it work. – Is your organization among those hiring new staff all the time to innovate? The hire-to-innovate practice alone is not a sustainable strategy and backfires easily.
Strategic innovation hands-on: Who hasn’t heard of successful organizations that pride their innovation culture? But the real question is what successful innovators do differently to sharpen their innovative edge over and over again – and how your organization can get there!
What every new employee resource group (ERG) requires most are people: the life-blood for ideas and activities! But how do you reach out to employees, help them understand the value of the ERG and get them involved to engage actively?
What do Generation Y (GenY) oriented Employee Resource Groups (ERG) share with the military? – More than you expect! A constant supply of active members is the life-blood for any ERG to put plans to action and prevent established activists from burning out. The U.S. Army faces a similar challenge every year: how to attract and recruit the youngest adult generation? Next-generation ERGs listen up: Let the U.S. Army work for you and learn some practical lessons!
If you are planning to found an ERG or are a new ERG Leaders, you might find the attached Q&A helpful.
It’s a long list to describe Generation Y with a commonly unfavorable preconception. This youngest generation at the workworkplacern after 1980, also called Millennial) is said to be: lazy, impatient, needy, entitled, taking up too much of my time, expecting work to be fun, seeking instant gratifications, hop from company to company, want promotions right away, give their opinion all the time and so on. But is it really that easy to characterize a new generation?Don’t miss my Top 10 Innovation posts and Top 10 posts for Intrapreneurs!
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!
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!
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!