Intrapreneurship Case Study at the Foreign Trade University (FTU), Vietnam

Students of the Creativity, Innovation and New Value course at Colorado State University discuss the popular teaching case study “Boehringer Ingelheim: Leading Innovation” (available at Harvard Business Review (HBR) and the Ivey Business School) with intrapreneur Stephan Klaschka.

Intrapreneurship Case Study at the Foreign Trade University (FTU), 

As a cooperation between Colorado State University (CSU) and the Foreign Trade University (FTU) in Hanoi, Vietnam, FTU students are tasked to develop an opportunity in a team and conduct a feasibility analysis on the opportunity that they present to the class on June 4, 2018.

I will join the students and visiting CSU professor Robert Mitchell for a live discussion of the teaching case study Boehringer Ingelheim: Leading Innovation, which is available at Harvard Business Review (HBR) and the Ivey Business School,

In this teaching case study, the case writers Professor J. Robert Mitchell, Ph.D., and Ramasastry Chandrasekhar, of Ivey Business School, follow the footsteps of Stephan Klaschka’s intrapreneurial approach to innovation within a global pharmaceutical company (FORTUNE Global 500, Top 20 Pharma).

This intrapreneurship teaching case study is used by staff and students of Intrapreneurship and Innovation in business schools around the world. and features my career as an Intrapreneur at a major pharmaceutical company.

HBR-logoIvey-logo

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.


 

 

The Future of Pharma: Calls Moving to Consults (video)

Calls Moving to Consults is a thought leadership video in the “10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015” series that was hosted by the stellar Richie Etwaru, Chief Digital Officer with Cegedim.

This video addresses the question:  How can the pharmaceutical industry reskill representatives to be knowledgeable consultants to physicians?

Today, sales expertise is not enough. The pharmaceutical representative needs to be a broker of information. Physicians now have very limited time – and dictate when they can meet with representatives, from whom they need comprehensive information that they can pass along to their increasingly educated patients.

In this video, Jo Ann Saitta, Chief Digital Officer of the CDM Group, Stephan Klaschka, Innovation and Healthcare Consultant, and moderator, Richie Etwaru, Chief Digital Officer at Cegedim, examine this shift and the challenges pharmaceutical companies may face in properly retraining their people. These challenges include: adopting a culture of learning agility; integrating silos of information; having the ability to serve up dynamic content; and training representatives to utilize technologies that will maximize their brief but demanding visits with physicians.

Use this link to watch all 10 videos in the series on YouTube directly – enjoy!

  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Communication moving to Collaboration
    • Angela Miccoli
    • Wendy Mayer
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Content moving to Context
    • James Corbett
    • Craig DeLarge
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Care moving to Cure
    • Michael DePalma
    • John Nosta
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Compliance moving to Culture
    • Bill Buzzeo
    • Gus Papandrikos
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Supply Chains moving to Supply Constellations
    • Ray Wang
    • Aron Dutta
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Customization moving to Configuration
    • Tracy Maines
    • Krishna Cheriath
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Customer moving to Consumer
    • Paul Kandle
    • Mark Stevens
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Calls moving to Consults
    • Jo Ann Saitta
    • Stephan Klaschka
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Cloud moving to Crowd
    • Les Jordan
    • Krishnan Sridharan
  • 10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015- Charity moving to Cause
    • Janet Carlson
    • Beth Bengtson

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.

‘School for Intrapreneurs” finalist in eyeforpharma awards 2015!

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.

‘School for Intrapreneurs” nominated for 5th annual Corporate Entrepreneur Awards

We are honored that the Boehringer Ingelheim “School for Intrapreneurs” got nominated for Market Gravity announce the fifth annual Corporate Entrepreneur Awards in 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.

Meet me at the 5th annual Corporate Entrepreneur Awards, New York City, Nov. 4, 2014

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.

Innovation drives Diversity&Inclusion 2.0

The traditional world of corporate Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is being disrupted by a new take on D&I and combining it with innovation and talent management.  What some perceive as a threat to the D&I establishment may just be the next step of evolution that could invigorate and drive D&I to new heights.

Though not an entirely novel approach (see also How to create innovation culture with diversity!) the new thinking gains traction.  As this could play out in different ways and only time will tell what worked, here are my thought on where we are heading.

Struggles of the  Front Runner

Many traditional D&I programs, let’s call them “version 1.0” of D&I, struggle transitioning beyond a collection of affinity groups, tallying corporate demographics and competing for D&I awards to post on their webpage.  In these traditional D&I programs ‘diversity’ is often understood to be reflected by more or less visible differences among individuals at the workplace while ‘inclusion’ translates to supporting defined sub-populations of employees through, for example, establishing affinity groups.

The United States is seen as the front runner of the D&I movement.  D&I has been around in the U.S. corporate world for decades.  For historic and demographic reasons it hones in on removing obstacles for minorities at the workplace supported also by strict legislature and execution; exercising Affirmative Action, for example.

This legacy in the U.S. lends itself to an inside focus on organizations that became the backbone of the traditional D&I programs.  It comes down to the question ‘what can or should the organization do for specific groups of people’ defined by ethnicity, gender, age, sexual preference, faith, disability, war history and so on.  Apparently, it still is work in progress as, for example, Silicon Valley just recently got on the public radar, which stirred up the debate afresh along the lines of D&I 1.0; see Google releases breakdown on the diversity of its workforce.

Stuck in the ‘Diversity Trap’?

The inside focus and minority messaging of D&I 1.0, however, can be limiting when D&I erodes to a process of ‘doing things right’ by pushing for quotas, ‘checking boxes’ and inflating variations of terminology perceived as ‘politically correct’.  This can in fact be different from ‘doing the right thing’ for the company overall, its employees as well as the affinity groups and their constituency.   It should not surprise that Affinity groups can be (and often get) stigmatized and perceived as self-serving and self-centered social networks without significant and measurable business impact.

Under this paradigm these D&I 1.0 programs struggle to get serious attention, support and funding from executives beyond operating on a minor level to ‘keep the lights on’ more for public image purposes than business drive.  The fundamentals seem to get forgotten: in the end, a business exists to generate a profit, so less profitable activities are likely to be discontinued or divested.  It’s a symbiosis and to say it bluntly: without healthy business there is no D&I program and no affinity groups.  When this symbiosis get lopsided, D&I 1.0 gets stuck in the trap.

D&I 2.0

“Diversity” is catching on beyond the United States in Europe, for example, where many countries do not have share a highly heterogeneous demographic composition, for example.  Here, companies can start with a fresh approach jumping straight to D&I 2.0 – and many do!  It reminds me of developing countries installing their first phone system by skipping the landlines and starting right away with mobile phones.

The 2.0 internal focus corresponds to hiring workers that truly think differently and have different backgrounds and life experiences some of which overlaps with D&I 1.0 affinity roots.  In addition, there is also an external focus putting the staff to work with a clear business proposition and reaching even beyond the organization.  So here a candidate would be hired or employee promoted for their different thinking (2.0) rather than more visible differences (1.0).

While need remains for affinity groups to tend to their members needs within the organization, the “new” D&I 2.0 opens to shift focus to go beyond the organization.  It goes along the lines of a statement President John F. Kennedy became famous for and that I tweaked as follows: “Don’t ask what the COMPANY can do for you ask what you can do for the COMPANY AND ITS CUSTOMERS.

D&I 2.0 gears towards actively contributing and driving new business results in measurable ways for the better of the employees as well as the organization and its customers.  A visible indicator for D&I 2.0 affinity groups helping their constituency beyond company walls is affinity groups identifying and seizing business opportunities specific to their constituency.  They translate the opportunity and shepherd it trough the processes of the organization to bring it to fruition.  For example, affinity groups are uniquely positioned to extending and leveraging their reach to relating customer segments in order to identify ‘small elephant’ business opportunities; see How to grow innovation elephants in large organizations.

The D&I 2.0 approach demonstrates sustainable business value which is why D&I 2.0 sells much easier to executives. It makes a compelling business case that contributes to new business growth, the life blood of every company.

Challenging Transition

U.S. companies stuck in D&I 1.0 are hard pressed to keep up with the D&I 2.0 developments and overcome their inner struggle and resistance.  With decades of legacy, D&I 1.0 programs in many organizations lack the vision and ability to make a compelling business case, to develop a sound strategy as well as capability and skill to implement it effectively.  This is the requirement, however, to truly see eye-to-eye with senior executives and get their full support.  This can become a serious disadvantage in the markets relating to products and customers but also in attracting talent.

In the end, the saying holds true that “talent attracts talent” and all organizations compete over talent to compete and succeed.  Therefore, a D&I 2.0 program combines business focus and talent management while tying it back to the core of diversity and inclusion: Fostering diverse thinkers and leveling the playing field for all employees.  This requires a level playing field that offers the same opportunities to all employees, which is the real challenge.

How do you level the playing field effectively in a large organization?  How this will be implemented becomes the differentiating success factor for companies transitioning to D&I 2.0!

Here is a example 2.0-style for a level playing filed that has its roots in the D&I affinity group space yet opened up to include the entire workforce.  It empowers and actively engages employees while leveraging diversity, inclusion and talent management for innovative solutions with profitable business outcomes.  It may take a minute or two to see the connection between D&I, talent and disruptive innovation but it is at work right here in the School for Intrapreneurs: Lessons from a FORTUNE Global 500 company.

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Previous posts relating to innovation and employee affinity groups / employee resource groups (ERG) / business resource groups (BRG):

Innovation Killers: The Corporate Immune System Strikes Back!

Parallel Universes

Our immune system protects our health and defends us against threats entering our body.  It identifies intruding germs, isolates them from the surroundings and flushes them out of the system to prevent further harm. Our immune system also keeps track of intruders formerly identified to reject them even more effectively should they ever reappear.

Large organization consist of humans who tend to follow behavioral patterns not unlike their inner immune systems when it comes to evaluating new ideas brought forward by an aspiring intrapreneur. Especially, if a new idea comes with a ‘wishlist’ of demands is needed from us to make it happen; typically, time and money.

Joining the Dark Side

It’s our human nature: we approve ideas we like or that further our objectives while we tend to reject ideas that don’t match our liking, beliefs, commitments or that cause disruption to our equilibrium or budget. Disruptive ideas come with uncertainty and may require uncomfortable or additional efforts on our side. The outcome may appear risky, could waste precious resources or have other undesirable repercussions for us.  The fear of losing something is stronger than the incentive of gain. And often enough, we just don’t fully understand the idea or its implications, don’t take the time or find the impetus to look into its details, so it seems safe and convenient to reject it.

This way, as managers and coworkers, we act as a part of the organizational immune system. We become part of the reasons why mature organizations can’t innovate – we join the ‘dark side,’ so to speak.

Our body remembers a previous intruder in order to respond even faster the next time – and so do we. Interestingly, though, we tend to remember better who presented the idea that we rejected rather than what the idea was about. So when the ‘quirky guy’ shows up again after a while with the next idea, our suspicion is already kindled, and we more easily reject this next idea too.

Facing Defeat

For intrapreneurs it is crucial to avoid the “No,” because it is hard to turn it into a “Yes” again later on. This is why we teach How Intrapreneurs avoid “No!” at the School for Intrapreneurs: Lessons from a FORTUNE Global 500 company, a highly effective talent and leadership development program.

Too often an intrapreneur lets their enthusiasm take over and confronts us straight on with their ideas bundled with a request for resources of sorts. Most often, this discussion ends quickly with a “No,” when we perceive this ‘frontal attack’ as a threat to the status quo, the establishment, and the well-oiled machine that the manager runs; and so it triggers the ‘corporate immune system’ leading to rejection.

Stepping Stones to Success

So, just short of having “The Force” of a Jedi, how should an intrapreneur seek support for an idea from managers, potential sponsors or coworkers? While not ‘one-size-fits-all’ and there is no silver bullet, here is a selection of tried approaches for consideration:

  • Seek support: The trick is to ask in a ways that build support for driving the idea forward – and not necessarily for the whole implementation project at once. Even a small step is better than none. For example, supporting evidence can help to raise curiosity and deflate resistance. Find out if a similar approach worked out in another company or industry; it helps to emphasize validation elsewhere. It can help to frame and position your offer to a potential sponsor.
  • Build trust: Additional ‘selling tips’ I picked up from Gifford Pinchot III., the Grand-Master of intrapreneuring himself, suggest a more social approach that includes building a personal relationship first: It is much easier to connect from a position of mutual trust and openness to find support building the supportive network by asking for advice or references before you ask for resources.
  • Just a test: Cautious managers may open up when they hear the intrapreneur is not intending to change anything, just ‘trying something out,’ so not to threaten their established processes, investments or power-structures within the organization. Emphasizing the ‘experimental’ and non-threatening nature of the idea helps to prevent triggering the immune system at this early stage.
  • Gathering Insights: Successful intrapreneurs listen very closely to what the responses to learn from them. Rather than asking a closed question that puts them in a Yes-or-No cul-de-sac, it is much more insightful to carefully phrase questions in a way that the gate-keeper already solves the problem, or provides an answer or approach to the problem the intrapreneur is trying to solve.
  • Know the Goals: The larger a support network an intrapreneur can built for their idea, the better. Rather than the direct manager, it may be more informative to work with people who have insights into the goals and priorities of the organization, which may be sources of resistance. This way, the intrapreneur can learn about possible conflicting goals (for example, “do more with less” or “stability versus creativity”) that need to be known and understood in order to be addressed and dealt with constructively.
  • Show Gratitude: And finally, it is important for intrapreneurs to pay respect and express gratitude no matter what the outcome is of their conversation. A ‘thank you’ goes a long way and keeps the door open to talk more and possibly receive support in the future.

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:

Why mature organizations can’t innovate

Why mature organizations can’t innovate

Clayton Christensen is the icon and figurehead of disruptive innovation – after all, it was him who coined the term the first place!  (I am a big fan!)

Now, Professor Christensen concludes that large companies can’t innovate in his famous book “The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators” – and I’m out to prove him wrong!

Why? – In part, perhaps, driven by my passion for disruptive challenges but mostly out of compassion for my talented colleagues, and who deserve better; we we work hard every day to save and improve the lives of patients.

There must be a way of turning around a mature organization. After all, IBM reinvented itself several times and turned from a manufacturing to a services company, what a pivot is that!

Getting back to 10x innovation

So, can a mature pharmaceutical company adapt and pivot from within as well?  After all, innovation in ‘pharma’ is commonly understood to find, develop and bring to market new innovative medicinal drugs as the core business.  In a rapidly and fundamentally changing business environment (see “What is Digital Medicine?), however, the “selling pills” model alone runs flat, the company must find and adapt to new business models to survive and flourish.

Time will tell if “10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?” is possible once again.  Question is, can mature organization turn around? And if so, how?

Shift from Discovery to Delivery

It starts with understanding why innovation slows down in maturing organizations (outliers may confirm the rule) but stay with me here to get the basic principle.  The answer lays in the natural business life cycle: in the start-up phase of an new company, the most important skills are around discovery, i.e. to explore a radically new business opportunity.

As the business gains traction and needs to grows, delivery skills are needed most. Management composition needs to change in order to develop and expand the business professionally; disruptive input is not in demand and can becomes rather inhibiting to the operation that needs to focus on delivering output reliably and at scale. Innovation shifts from disruption to incremental improvement and rightly so, yet it comes at a price as it leads to predictable obstacles (see Overcoming the Three Big Hurdles to Innovation in Large Organizations)

Research shows that disruptive innovators are typically not good at delivery and growing the company.  As the business matures, they need help and often move on to do what they do best: starting some new, while the company matures in the hands of management that can deliver.

Downfall

Over time, however, markets get saturated and the established business model may no longer work, profits decline. Now here comes the inflection point: the management was hired for its delivery skills.  They don’t really know how to renew the business, since they never created one.  What they do know is how to prolong the downturn by clinging to the outdated business model while squeezing out inefficiencies and saving cost.  Research confirms, little surprise, that the maturity managers are good at delivery but mediocre at best when it comes to discovery.

The company, a supertanker, became a slowly sinking ship.  Group-think, the mindset and engrained culture, prevents disruption from breaking through.  After all, no passionate out-of-the-box thinker or entrepreneur has been hired for years.  Instead, Ivy League graduates with MBAs are favored that runs the business more administratively, bureaucratically, without taking significant risks – who would ever take the risk and hire a crazy guy, right?

Turning to Intrapreneuring

So, where should the turnaround come from?  Here comes the The Rise of the Intrapreneur!

To connect things again in news ways to create and build an innovation-friendly ecosystem while chipping away the on the resistance of the “organizational immune system.”

Over the next posts we will introduce and explore intrapreneurial methods using the example of a pharmaceutical company and member of the FORTUNE Global 500 club.

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 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.

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

Podcast on Innovation in Large Organizations, Intrapreneurs and Corporate Venturing

Podcast Announcement 2013-09-24futurethink 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.

Click here to get to the podcast.

Stephan will be leading the session “Reassessing the Organizational Culture to Better Engage Corporate Venturing Prospects” at the upcoming Corporate Venturing in the Life Sciences Conference November 13-14, 2013 in Boston, MA

How to make virtual teams work! (part 2)

This second part of the blog post looks at how to make virtual teams work.  Don’t miss the first part: Why virtual teams fail

Telecommuting is on the rise.  It leads to more ‘virtual teams’, which means co-workers collaborate separated from another by location and often also time.

Bitter-sweet 

There is a bright side and a dark side to telecommuting.

Here is the upside:  According to Staples Advantage’s study (see “Employers say work from home works“), 93% of employers found programs that allow employees to work from home benefits employees as well as companies.  Half of the employers report more productive employees and 75% agree that telecommuting makes their employees happier.  No wonder that the amount of telecommuters has roughly doubled in the US over the past 10-or-so years (http://www.globalworkplaceanalytics.com/telecommuting-statistics).

The stubborn tendency remains that work may get done at home, but careers are made in the office.  The benefit of control over one’s work place and time comes at a price for the career as a recent study by Stanford University revealed: working from home cuts the chances for a promotion in half!

Obviously, there is a disconnect between where the professional world is moving towards rapidly and our mindset that seem to adapt slower and less flexibly to change using digital interaction for effective collaboration.

Because the world is not flat…

Even the most advanced and latest ‘virtual presence’ technology does not offer the same bonding with senior management as face-time does.  The ones working from home can be overlooked or -when opportunity knocks- forgotten, even though they often work harder compared to in-office workers and their productivity is higher, as the study showed.

When it comes to telecommuting the world is not flat.  Simply put, the playing field is not level between in-office and at-home workers, explains the gap between the positive perception of remote working by employers and employees alike, and the sobering reality of career crunch.

Furthermore, it is not the remote workers alone that require attention and need to be managed differently.  It is also the staff remaining in the office (if there are any), since both parties are affected and need to perceive the same leveled plain.

Breaking habits

It is human nature to favor those whom we feel close to and whom we work and spend time with in close proximity. To make working-from-home (or from anywhere else outside the office) work successfully, it is the management’s responsibility to level this playing field effectively and sustainably.

Achieving this is anything but easy; in particular, if managers are used to working out of an office.  For them it means to break with their habits for the better of the organization.  – It’s not impossible though: our habits of sitting at a table in front of a computer all day is just as unnatural for humans; yet we get used to it.

Cover the bases

There are some key aspects to make remote working work:

1. The work itself
First, the work must lend itself to be conducted remotely.  Quite a no-brainer: other than in a factory setting, the necessary tangible tools and resources to collaborate cannot be concentrated in one place but must be accessible to the remote staff where ever they work from.  For example, remote working is not possible for a factory assembling gadgets along a conveyor belt, where each worker contributes to some part of the process assembling the product.  Tools are expensive and immobile, so resources need to be concentrated in around the tools to allow for efficient collaboration.

Not much different from factory workers, the collaboration of knowledge workers is enabled by tools to communicate and to share data and information.  The difference is that technology allows information to be transmitted, so we can collaborate effectively and efficiently from all corners of the world. Choosing the most suitable collaboration tools can become a differentiating competitive advantage; you don’t want to lose quality or effectiveness when collaborating remotely.

2. The workers

Working from home is not for everyone for different reasons.  It does require continued motivation and self-discipline to work from home as if in the office among co-workers.  It takes establishing a new work-day routine in the isolated home environment that is invisible to co-workers.  It becomes just as import for the home-workers to take regular breaks:  Burnout can easily become an issue when home-workers over-compensate because they either feel under scrutiny by management and/or co-workers in the office.  Also less interruptions at home can lead to missing breaks and working longer hours continuously than in the office.

When I introduced remote working as a pilot project in my department several years ago, one of my staff reported in the beginning that he felt guilty taking a bio-break at home, so not to appear unavailable to staff from other departments who remained working from the office.

3. The management

Managing a remote workforce requires a different management style.  Managers need to become more pro-active, use communication channels that the staff is comfortable with and adopt ways to communicate with their staff transparently and effectively.  Key points for managers are to:

  • Establish shared team goals
  • Establish communication best-practices together with the team; this also helps to mitigate timezone, language and cultural differences as well as choosing the proper communication channel depending on content
  • Manage by performance, not by face-time or physical presence
  • Actively create equal opportunities for on-site and off-site staff
  • Set clear rules for management and staff alike aiming to show transparency and leveling the playing field by incentivizing favorable behavior (a matter of organizational justice)
  • Remain flexible and ask your staff for ideas on how to improve knowledge-sharing and collaboration.

4. The performance metrics

Leveling the playing field comes down to truly embracing a performance culture that incentivizes results – not face-time.  Managers need to articulate clear and measurable goals for the team and its individuals in advance and sometimes also more frequently than they used to.  Acting transparently and objectively can be a serious challenge for managers and requires leaving the personal comfort zone.

To achieve this, training may be necessary to shift the culture of the organization and prepare management and their staff alike.

As an example, when I first introduced remote working, I asked my managers to establish and document weekly goals with each staff member and to review them for completion the following week.  After a couple of months, I left it to the managers to use any other way to set and track performance with their staff.  When some managers wanted to put away with the weekly goal agreement sheets, it was their staff who asked to keep them, as they valued the clear and documented goals in their hand.  The staff also found them helpful to discuss facts during their following periodic performance reviews.  Though not planned for, the weekly goal setting contributed measurably to increase trust of staff in their managers.

Plan for the “soft factors”

Interesting are the “soft factors”, which are the real make-or-break but often tend to get overlooked, forgotten or just not taken into account seriously.  What it boils down to is the relationship (trust) and interaction (communication) between managers and their staff as well as among the members of a virtual team.  These soft factors are subtile and often require behavioral changes or adaptation, more for managers than their staff.

Do you trust?

Take the time to ask yourself two questions honestly:

  • Do you trust yourself to be as productive working from home as in the office?

Now this:

  • Do you trust your coworkers or your direct reports to work as productive from home too?

My own experiences are consistent with the research: we trust ourselves more than others. – And this is where the problem starts.

Why trust matters

A trustful personal connection is unsurpassed to build trust as a foundation for robust and sustainable business relationships and collaboration.  Individuals trusting a person we don’t want to work or do business with this individual.

Trust also makes up much of the ‘social glue’ that holds together teams and organizations. Trust is critical for the success of virtual teams. With lack of trust also the willingness to share information dwindles and so does productivity.

When this happens, our energy gets wasted every day with concerns and redundant or counterproductive work.  Workers focus to avoid perceived threats from others, which takes over more and more of their work time, focus, and productivity. In contrast, for people we trust we happily go the ‘extra mile.’

Trust (or the absence thereof) has been identified as the pivotal element ranging from detailed investigations in hundreds of organizations (by Virtual Distance International) to recent bestsellers like “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni.

Coming back to the two earlier questions, it proves hard turning the mirror towards ourselves and to accept that also we need to build trust with our co-workers to build and fuel our most robust and valuable business connects and relations.

What is trust?

Let’s take a closer look – what makes up trustful work relationships?  Trust is an interpersonal phenomenon. It comes down to three factors that make up trust at the workplace as Karen Sobel Lojeski, NYU professor at Stony Brook and CEO of Virtual Distance International explains:

  • Benevolence  –  our co-workers have your best interest at heart
  • Ability  –  our co-workers have the knowledge and ability to get the job done
  • Integrity  –  our co-workers will do what they promise.

Innovation needs trust
High trust correlates with more successful innovation – why?

When colleagues trust another they open up and share information. Besides the obvious benefit of cross-fertilization that leads to more ideas and creative approaches, by giving away our views and knowledge we become vulnerable as an individual and even more so in a competitive professional environment. This openness comes with a risk to fail that people are only willing to take if failure is acceptable and does not come with repercussions.

Sharing ideas alone is not enough though. Asking thoughtful questions, constructive criticism and mutual support lead to better solutions while curbing hostility and competitiveness. Opening up happens when a task-related conflict will not easily deteriorate into a personal conflict. Innovation within an organization relies on trust among colleagues as a key ingredient that cannot be substituted otherwise.

How we build trust

Trust requires communication and is built most effectively face-to-face with another person, which offers the broadest information channels.  An MIT study found a 47% higher performance in companies that are highly effective communicators.  Team success is consistently tied to robust team communications. (I wonder if this communication-related increase in performance was ever considered by companies focusing on saving cost…)

Customer-facing business knows that no technology today can offer the same quality and trust-building dialog as in person face-to-face.

Thus, travel to meet business partners and team members remains essential at least in the beginning. Traveling more to meet in person is out of the question for organizations who boarded the ‘cost-cutting’ train: it is considered too expensive.  Saving cost here, though, does not pay off over time when it cuts into building trust for good working relationships.

Even more important is trust-building when on-boarding new staff. It is a challenge if most or all work is done remotely by team members who already know and trust each other.  It comes back to human nature that we tend to rely on the same people we worked with before, which puts newcomers at a natural disadvantage.  Here, management must intervene to level the playing field and provide opportunities also for the new staff.

Perhaps, women are at a natural advantage to connect with others given a higher social sensitivity, i.e. the ability to ‘read’ other people’s emotions face to face better than men.  This is also one of the three criteria that increases group intelligence (see “Boost ‘Group Intelligence’ for better decisions!“)

Investing in trust and technology

Since it is not possible (and defeats the purpose) to meet in person especially in virtual teams, we use digital technology to bridge the distance.  Consequently, we need to invest in effective tools to remove communication barriers and open broad, information-rich channels of communication among all team members.

Rather than relying on one channel or system, it is more effective to enable the team to communicate by offering many channels that cater to the individual team member’s preferences; for example, phone, instant messaging, video chat, email, etc).  For example, waiting more than one minute to establish a video-conference connection is too long and already poses a significant communication barrier.

‘Tele-presence’ seems to be the gold-standard for remote communication but sadly often remains reserved only for executive use if the technology is invested in at all.

Nonetheless, enabling technology can also enhance performance and add value by

  • Indicating if people are online and available to communicate
  • Finding experts or collaborators easily within large organizations
  • Share and exchange information to relevant audiences directly and without delay.

In contrast, here are some examples for communication barriers of organizations with a cost-saving focus that tends to include also ‘technological disablement’ such as

  • Using slow or time-delaying communication or productivity equipment
  • Users spending more time trying to connect than actually communicating
  • Information-poor channels or poor call quality
  • Resolving technology-related problems consumes a long time or is a cumbersome process.

The Deep Dive

Virtual Distance ™ is a powerful framework to identify and quantify barriers within virtual teams.  This methodology helps not only to evaluate existing teams, but to anticipate barriers in future teams.  Virtual Distance makes for a superb strategic forecasting and planning tool to build effective virtual teams.

For more detail, see Virtual Distance International.

Too much trust can hurt innovation

Just as a side note for completeness, there is a risk that too much trust within a team can become and obstacle to innovation (see “Why too much trust hurts innovation“).

It comes down to management again to be observant and vigilant to detect and counteract such tendencies.

While introducing remote work in virtual teams comes with significant change and challenges for everyone involved, the burden and responsibility to make it work in the end remains with the manager.

Have you read part 1 yet? “Why virtual teams fail