What is the difference between Intrapreneuring and Corporate Entrepreneuring?

Intrapreneuring and Corporate Entrepreneurship are very different and directly affect business outcomes.  Read about both approaches, their distinct opportunities, and challenges.

For many years I have worked as an Intrapreneur. I advised startups, built intrapreneurial eco-systems across global organizations, and mentored corporate teams applying Lean Startup and other entrepreneurial methodologies in Corporate Entrepreneurship programs.

The question that came up frequently was about the difference between intrapreneuring and corporate entrepreneuring: Are they the same?

The quick answer is ‘No’ as there are significant differences on many levels that directly affect the business outcomes.  Both approaches come with distinct opportunities and challenges (see also the comparison table below):

Idea Origin

  • The Intrapreneur finds a bold idea that can have the potential to transform or even save the business but may not align with the business plans and priorities of the company – more likely, the idea is not anywhere on the management’s radar.
  • The Corporate Entrepreneur receives the objective together with a project handed down by management. The idea (project scope) is a business goal of sorts that the Corporate Entrepreneur should address.

Ownership

In a large company, jobs are small. The increasing complexity and high specialization of work in a large organization narrow the responsibility and job descriptions for the individual employee. In a small company, in contrast, jobs are big since there are only a few people who need to step up and cover all aspects of the business – the individuals ‘own’ and contribute to the success of the business directly and to large degrees.

  • In this context, Intrapreneurs make an idea their own which determines the mission and scope of the intrapreneurial quest, the ‘intraprise’. The Intrapreneur assumes ownership and full responsibility for the idea and brings it to life – even against the resistance of the organization. Thus, the Intrapreneur runs his or her own, small ‘intraprise’ with full responsibility, freedom to operate and navigate in any way and direction imaginable, and -therefore- has a big job (just like an entrepreneur).
  • The Corporate Entrepreneur receives the project objectives handed down by management and is held responsible for delivering on project results as scoped. The idea directly translates down from a business goal of sorts. The Corporate Entrepreneur usually runs or contributes to a ‘small job’ project that is temporary. This project scope and small job perspective together with the time limit can also affect process and outcomes as it can easily narrow the solution space, or adjusting and ‘pivoting’ by re-aiming, for example, at opportunities beyond the original or change the scope of the idea altogether.

Passion

The Idea Origin and Ownership are key to the single most important driving force for an Intrapreneur: Passion.
The importance of being passionate about the idea is essential because passion is needed to persist and to bring about change against the resistance many obstacles an Intrapreneur runs into. The resistance of the organization is a sign of meaningful change entailing the intrapreneurial idea; therefore, facing resistance can be a positive sign.

  • An Intrapreneur committed and passionate about the idea will try everything and get very creative in bringing the idea to life.
  • The Corporate Entrepreneur usually is not truly passionate about a project handed down by management and being held responsible for delivering on the project as scoped.

Mandate

‘Intrapreneur’ is a self-assumed role in the organization and, therefore, operates without a formal mandate, organizational support or assigned resources. On the upside, the Intrapreneur does not have an answer to a superior. The challenge is, however, to get creative to find allies and resources in an organization unprepared to formally support the Intrapreneur. This lack of formal authority and institutional support by management also comes with considerable risk for the Intrapreneur and the idea.

The Corporate Entrepreneur has a clear mandate and already receives support from management usually within the given operational framework of the approved project. The project scope is narrow which translates into limited resources and restricted freedom to navigate. Furthermore, the project comes with timelines and expectations by sponsors whose patience can run out fast when the team misses milestones or falls short on expectations. Thus, Corporate Entrepreneuring, more often than not, is a glorified term for ‑usually‑ quite ordinary projects of incremental nature along established processes.

Mindset and Results

The limited scope, resources, and overall operational framework define a ‘box’ for the Corporate Entrepreneurs to operate in within the larger organization and the path on how to get there. Often enough these limits extend also into the mindset and open-mindedness of the team and their approaches. Real or perceived restrictions can originate from various factors present in the established organization such as formal process and procedures, authority and hierarchy, values and norms, group-think and taboos, etc.

Corporate Entrepreneurs operate openly and under the constant scrutiny of the larger organization. The latter can take uninvited influence on the project scope, progress, process, resources, results, and success as well as on the project team itself. Being able to leverage the resources of the larger organization can be very helpful when it comes to implementation and scaling (if it ever comes to his point) but operating in the limelight is not always helpful and may easily lead to compromises, trade-offs, and scope-creep induced by powerful stakeholder.

The Intrapreneur is not as limited by the formal boundaries, practices, and culture of the organization. Being able to operate outside the box lends itself to pursuing a bold and disruptive idea, taking unconventional and stealthy approaches and pathways that help to move the idea forward ‑ the sky is the limit. Operating in the shadows initially avoids drawing broader attention to the idea. Preventing premature exposure to the ‘organizational immune-system.’ Once triggered, it tends to quickly put an end to the unconventional idea and their champion. A stealthy Intrapreneur can more cautiously test the waters, find experts and executive supporters also outside the own business unit, and allow the idea to take shape, evolve, and mature before taking the risk of exposure.

Exposure comes with a range of possible outcomes where the idea can then can slip beyond the control of the Intrapreneur including:

  • Shutting down the idea and implementation altogether or watering it down by absorbing it into the regular structures and processes of the organization
  • Bringing the idea to life by creating a new company structure and business altogether
  • The Intrapreneur leaving the organization to pursue the idea elsewhere

I have seen all of these outcomes many times throughout my career as an Intrapreneur and executive consultant.

Reward

What are rewards can look very different for Intrapreneurs and Corporate Entrepreneurs. The latter delivers a project and may get recognition for it, a bonus or promotion even, before moving on to the next assignment.

The Intrapreneur, however, has a much greater sense of accomplishment and fulfillment for the passionate Intrapreneur having brought a great idea to life against all obstacles and resistance of the organization.

Comparison in Summary

From my perspective, the main difference is that an intrapreneur has a calling, a vision, that he or she wants to bring to life for the better of the organization even against the resistance of an organization. Intrapreneuring is an active expression of organizational citizenship behaviors (OCB), i.e. ‘helping behaviors’, with going beyond the call of an employee’s duty. It requires intrapreneurial spirit with passion and guts to pursue challenges and to overcome obstacles day after day which includes taking risks including to stand all alone against the organization at times. This can make some Intrapreneurs even leave their organization to make their dream come true elsewhere or on their own.

While Corporate Entrepreneuring propagates introducing entrepreneurial methods within an established organization, if you look beyond its fancy label and a vendor’s prospectus, the approach ‑most often in my experience‑ remains shackled by numerous institutional constraints. Therefore, these program falls short to deliver the true potential of entrepreneurship or intrapreneurship. Instead, the solutions tend to remain in the more predictable space of incremental improvement that large organizations are more accustomed to and feel comfortable to operate in.

Thus, the average Corporate Entrepreneur is not an Intrapreneur by any means and not an entrepreneur either.  Corporate Entrepreneurship then resembles a non-controversial, risk-free, and feel-good version of the intrapreneurial experience out of the safe position as an appointed corporate cogwheel in a glorified project with a marketing blast and a defined career path waiting at the end of the project.

The Golden Opportunity

Now having said all this, there is no reason why true Intrapreneurs and Corporate Entrepreneurship programs should not be compatible in ways where they can benefit from each other mutually.

A savvy Intrapreneur could use company’s Corporate Entrepreneurship program as a vehicle to forward the Intrapreneur’s agenda somewhat in alignment with company goals and avoiding a frontal collision with the organizational immune system. In return, the company benefits from a driven Intrapreneur in the driver seat who can bring intrapreneurial passion to the project – with a lot of ‘If’:

  • If they are willing to embrace the disruptive challenge of bringing about meaningful change,
  • If they are able to identify true Intrapreneurs in their organization and
  • If they are bold enough to take a chance on Intrapreneurs by allowing them into the program in the first place. Remember, Intrapreneurs tend to be disagreeable among other ‘features’ that, often enough, not win them an invitation by management to join their fancy Corporate Entrepreneurship program.

All these ‘If’ remain the biggest obstacles across corporations to embrace Intrapreneurs. More recently, the phrase “culture fit” tends to disqualify Intrapreneurs and their passion ‑or‑ as the Contently founder Shane Snow puts it: “When an organization has an ethos rooted in ‘culture fit,’ a nasty hidden habit develops. Whenever someone has an idea that doesn’t ‘fit’ the established way of thinking or of doing things, they’ll either shut up or they’ll get shut down.”

There is something about the passionate individual and somewhat renegade employee with a vision and a transformative idea that challenges the status quo, group-think, or widely accepted goals in

an organization who may just need that disruptive or transformational idea to grow, outrun their competition, or even survive while rejecting the change initially. In the end, it comes down to the power of one individual that envisions greatness and brings it to life against all obstacles.

Table Intra vs Corp Entre v2

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.

“Better before Worse” – are you dropping off the cliff?

Most change initiatives fail.  Statistics from MIT research suggest that for leaders managing change the ‘capability trap’ is the single major failure mode.  So, what is this trap, how is it set up and, more importantly, how to avoid it?

As a quick disclaimer, the charts and examples are schematic and simple to get my point across.  This is a blog, not a textbook.

Under pressure

New leaders get appointed to solve a business problem such as improving poor results of sorts.  So from the start the new guy or gal is under pressure to perform and succeed.  In politics the common public expectations are to see result or bold actions within the first 100 days – and business is not known for being less demanding.

Tough Choice

So, soon enough the new leader faces a tough decision. Which choice do you favor?

  1. “Worse before better” means doing “the right thing.” However, this approach may not deliver sustainable results fast and is a hard sell to impatient or less reasonable superiors.
  2. “Better before worse” is a less stellar route to reap short-term benefits and lessen the immediate pressure but it comes at a price:  knowing that the this choice is not sustainable and will cost more later down the road.
By the way, this is really not rocket-science but straight-forward logic yet many executives still get seduced by the low hanging fruit, namely “better before worse”… so stay with me for a moment to see what happens next.

“Better before Worse” 

It starts out easy: you cut cost all over the place and look like a hero immediately.  For example, you could reduce machine maintenance or cut the employee training budget.  Schematically it looks somewhat like this:

Cutting costs equals savings
Cutting costs equals savings

What happens is that not only your balance sheet looks better quickly, you also increase productivity short-term.  The machines keep running and people keep on working, so in the short-term you produce the same output with less input.

After short-term gains, productivity plummets
After short-term gains, productivity plummets

Productivity and the Capability Inertia

The problems arrive with a delay when ‘capability inertia’ starts kicking in.  So here is what happens:  You didn’t maintain the machines yet the machines keep working – for while. Then, they break really bad and it takes a lot more money to get them fixed than having them maintained.  It’s like not putting oil in your car’s engine and driving on – somewhere down the road the engine will die on you.  You will have to spend money to fix it and live with the downtime while fixing the machines.

With a delay, the organization's capabilities suffer and are very costly to regain later
With a delay, the organization’s capabilities suffer and regaining them later proves very costly

At that time you find yourself in deep water and all your previous savings go up in smoke together with what else you didn’t budget for.

On the people side with employee training, for example, the effect is quite similar but often less obvious: You save the money for keeping them up-to-date with new technology, skilled, etc. and saved short-term.  The real problem is your staff losing its professional capabilities to continue to perform on a high level in the face of competition or adapting to changing markets and environments.  External focus comes with a cost of doing business – that you just eliminated, thereby fostering group-think and internal focus.  Getting the crew back in shape later on takes effort and is expensive: not only will you have to train them but also they are unproductive during the training period.

Furthermore, shortsighted cost-cutting inhibits seizing business growth opportunities such as ‘small elephant’ projects (see also How to grow innovation elephants in large organizations), which can jeopardize the business foundation for the future.

With it comes the ‘leaky pipeline’ effect where valuable talent leaves.  It is the best people who leave first (see How to retain talent under the new workplace paradigm?) if they see sweeping cost savings affecting critical investments in the company’s future capabilities and not surgically cuts.  Talent does not wait it out on a sinking ship.  If you are unfamiliar with the horrendous costs of turnover, check with your Human Resources person to get a sense for your burn-rate!

Despite all of this, many managers still embrace “better before worse” as the scenario of choice and believe they are “doing it the right way”.

Rewards for all the Wrong Reasons?

Unfortunately, performance and compensation frameworks in mature organizations usually support this easier approach.  ‘Success’ is typically measured quarterly or yearly as a basis for bonuses, raises or promotions.  The typical incentive systems don’t take long-term sustainability into account enough (other than stock options for publicly traded companies, for example) to change behavior.

Instead, rewards keep getting handed out on a short-term basis of evaluation.  Research showed many times over that this approach simply doesn’t work for more challenging jobs of the 21st century.  Don’t believe it? – Check out Dan Pink’s famous 18 minute TED talk “The Puzzle of Motivation” relating to the candle problem and motivation research.

As a bottom line, if don’t plan to hang around to ride out the consequences of your choice (or even have a golden parachute ready), “better before worse” appears an attractive shortcut to short-term success.  Deep down, however, you know it was not the right thing to do.  Your staff, your successor, and sometimes the entire company will suffer and face the consequence when you are gone. – So what could you do instead?

“Worse before Better” 

There is an alternative choice: the stony road of “worse before better” by doing what is right.  For leaders accepting responsibility this may be the only choice.

Right from the starts is gets tough: you increase cost to invest where things need to change most, be it people or technology. For example, invest in getting the best people to do the job and train them as well as you can for the challenges to come and step out of their way.  Establish or overhaul technology, processes and managerial framework needed to deliver results reliably.

Invest in future capabilities
Invest in future capabilities first
This takes time and money, so as you would expect, productivity suffers at first but then, if the change is executed well, recovers and quickly exceeds the additional costs by far while you deliver outstanding results reliably.
It is important here not to address all problems at one time but to prioritize and tackle change in smaller steps.  Mind that change is a development process that doesn’t lend itself to shortcuts.
With a delay, productivity recovers sustainably
After dipping down at first, productivity grows sustainably
While this is clearly the more sustainable strategy the tough part is getting your stakeholders and superiors to buy in (especially if they are looking for short-term “better before worse” results) by setting realistic expectations.  After all, “worse before better” is a sustainable basis for a business model where “better before worse” is not.
You may also have to accept not receiving the short-term performance incentives for doing the right thing if your incentive system does not reward building capabilities.  However, there are other kinds of meaningful rewards to consider.  They range from feeling good about withstanding the temptation, doing good for the company and its employees, as well as possibly getting attention from more forward-thinking parties who may want to hire you in the future as a leader with guts and brains.

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.

SOX for Snowden?

Quick Recap

Edward Snowden, a former member of the U.S. intelligence community, released classified government data to the public in 2013.  He faces prosecution under the U.S. Espionage Act, remains on the run from the U.S. government and ended up seeking asylum in Moscow, Russia.

The 1.3 million documents he released are the largest known security breach in U.S. history.  They also unveiled highly questionable if not outright illegal action by US intelligence agencies relating to widespread spying domestically and abroad.

Traitor or Patriot?

In the light of an exclusive interview with NBC News on May 28, 2014, the popular NBC “Today” show asked its viewers in a polarizing poll to decide for themselves whether Snowden was a “Traitor” or a “Patriot.”  The morning before the interview aired, 53% of viewers saw Snowden as a “traitor”. The morning after, 61% found him a “patriot.”  Though the responses do not necessarily reflect a representative sample of the U.S. population, let’s go with it for now, since an interesting majority swing took place in favor of Snowden’s action.

We are not going deeper into whether or not Snowden did the right thing or not.  His disclosures spurred and continue to fuel a worldwide discussion on where the boundaries are for covert operations and government surveillance programs.  It’s not a new question and comes down to the ancient question the Roman poet Juvenal famously raised:  “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” or “Who guards the guards?”

Apparently, the continued decisions of U.S. secret courts approving intelligence programs of the disputed nature did not resonate with the viewers.  If Snowden was tried under the U.S. Espionage Act, the public may never hear of Snowden again nor details of his prosecution with most certain conviction.  The covered surveillance programs may continue without meaningful oversight.

It makes Secretary John Kerry’s strong request sound weak and questionable for Snowden to face U.S. authorities and trust the legal system.  Continued messages from high-ranking politicians up to President Barack Obama himself depict Snowden as a “low-ranking analyst” and “high school drop-out.”  – Doesn’t this makes you wonder how such an acclaimed  ‘bum’ got access to such large amounts of sensitive government information in the first place and who else is granted ‘Top Secret” security clearance, which is shared by 1 million(!) Americans?

SOX for Government Employees and Contractors?

Countering illegal practices by companies let the U.S. Congress to pass the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) in 2002.  While SOX overhauls regulatory standards for record keeping practices, it -perhaps- became more known to the public for protecting employees of publicly traded companies from discrimination who report violations of regulations by the company.  Every major business now has a process in place to ensure SOX is enforced effectively.

However, SOX only covers publicly traded companies in order to protect shareholders from fraud.  What about the public sector, namely the government?  Shouldn’t there be a similar ruling that effectively protects government employees and contractors, such as Edward Snowden, when they witness and wish to report apparent illegal actions by government institutions?

Check and Balances? (source: en.wikipedia.com)
Where are the “Checks and Balances”?
(source: en.wikipedia.com)

Checks and Balances

Snowden claimed that he repeatedly approached his manager raising concerns and was told to shut up.  Certainly, national security interests must be protected and safeguarded by the clandestine functions of government.  But then, again, who guards the guards, when “national security” becomes an obscure blanket excuse without an effective system of checks and balances that the U.S. Constitution mandates and the United States are founded on?

The Snowden affair made painfully clear that the existing legal parameters for governmental “whistle blowers” are insufficient to non-existent.  How else would the public have found out about the abuse of governmental power?  Going public and risking prosecution, currently, appears to remain the only viable option to truly allow and push for effective checks and balances until legislation catches up with a SOX for future Snowdens in order to keep our democracy working for the people.

Starting an ERG as a strategic innovation engine! (part 3 of 3)

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.

An alternative and sustainable way to tap deep into your employees’ creative potential and turning it into solid business value is by forming an employee resource group (ERG). A well-crafted ERG serves as a powerful and strategic innovation engine for your organization!

Losing the innovative edge?
It is the large companies that seem to struggle with innovation most. When companies grow they tend to become less innovative. When this happens we see great talent turning into under-performing employees. – Why is that and is there a way out?

Stuck in mental models of the past?
Remember the heavy dinosaurs that finally got stuck in the pre-history tar pits and starved, too heavy to move themselves out of the calamity? Mental models are the tar pits that companies grow to get stuck in – unless they find a way to shed (mental) weight and think nimble again to survive.

The mental models often originate from days past when the business started and flourished with initial success. The models worked when the company grew back then but models out-date easily over time. At some point the company began to work harder to standardize its processes to ensure the output is delivered reliably and predictably and costs are driven down: the focus shifted from innovation to efficiency. Specialized and refined business functions create increasingly complex and bureaucratic processes, ‘standard operating procedures’ rule the course of action. Things don’t move fast here anymore. Improvement ideas from employee on the floor hardly make it to the top executives and starve somewhere in between, probably in the famous ‘idea box’…

> For more general insight on complexity as a leadership challenge, read this: ‘Complexity’ is the 2015 challenge! – Are leaders prepared for ‘glocal’?

This focus on incremental efficiency also traps R&D departments to a point where true creativity and innovation get stifled, the innovative output drops. In short, the larger a company the less it innovates. Sounds familiar?

Many companies chose the dangerous and seemingly easy way out in buying new ideas from the outside through acquisitions and hiring ‘new talent’. The danger lays in applying this practice too broadly and becoming reliant on this practice, i.e. getting trapped in a vicious and reinforcing cycle. This practice also alienates and frustrates the more seasoned employees who feel underutilized and –quite rightly so see their career opportunities dwindling. Soon enough the sour side of the hire-for-innovation practice for employees becomes transparent also to the newer employees and drives them away in frustration. This organization just found the perfect recipe to turn top talent into poor performers!

Don’t waste your human capital
Bringing in fresh brains to an organization may justify mergers, acquisitions or hiring at times – but not as a strategy for continuous innovation and without also at least trying to tap into the innovative capacity that lays dormant within the organization.

Don’t write your staff off easily by following blindly the common yet wrong assumption that an employee loses the creative spirit after a few years and that new hires would be more innovative than whom we already have working for us. Haven’t we hired the best and brightest consistently in the past? Well, then this logic doesn’t add up, right?

Ask yourself: have you lost your innovative edge? Will you personally be more innovative once you change to another employer? – I don’t think so either. The good news is that even if you don’t believe it, changes are that managers and human resource experts of your new employer do, at least the ones who follow the outdated mental model! – But then, how long can you expect to last there before you get written off? It’s like getting on a train to nowhere.

Derailing the train to nowhere
But seriously, the seasoned employees’ intimate knowledge of the organization and its people can hold enormous potential for innovation not only under financial considerations but also as a morale booster for staff. Getting personally involved more and engaging them in driving change again actively leads the way to measurable and favorable results for the organization. These employees are the people who know your business, your markets, your customers and where to find resources and short-cuts if needed to get things done! Remember the “Radar” character in M*A*S*H who creatively procured whatever his unit needed by knowing how to play ‘the system’ and navigate the cliffs of bureaucracy on unconventional routes?

So, how can you motivate and (re-)activate your employees to come forward with brilliant ideas and getting them implemented to boost the organization’s profitability? How can you spread new hope and direct the enthusiasm to practical and meaningful outcomes for the company and the individual employee alike?

Facing organizational barriers
There is no shortage of good ideas in the heads of employees. Too few of them, however, actually get picked up and implemented since organizational barriers have many dimensions the need to be overcome first. Here are some examples:

  • A vertical barrier effectively disconnects employees from the executive level which hold the (financial and other) resources to make things happen. Penetrating this barrier means to connect the people within the organization closely and effectively again. > Readers of my previous post What does take to keep innovating? (part 1) will recognize that an executive champion is needed who brings together the technical and business champions. If you feel intrapreneurial and consider becoming an executive champion, check this out: How to become the strategic innovation leader? (part 2)
  • The horizontal barrier separates business functions and operating units that evolved to become silos or manager’s ‘fiefdoms’ of sub-optimized local productivity often with lesser concern to the overall performance of the organization. What you are up against here is often enough beyond specialized deep expertise but also defensive egos and managerial status thinking that led to a comfortable and change-adverse local equilibrium. As an intrapreneur you bring a much needed yet disruptive element to the organization. Since you are rocking the boat you can get caught up in ‘politics’ easily. Functional managers and their staff may perceive you as throwing a wrench into their well-oiled and fine-tuned machine that could jeopardize not only their unit’s efficiency but also their personal incentives for keeping operations running smoothly. > For more insight on the tension field of management vs. leadership check out Leadership vs Management? What is wrong with middle management?
  • Another barrier relates to the perceived value that your work creates for the organization, so let’s call it the value barrier: When you start acting intrapreneurial, you may be seen as someone wasting resources, incurring additional cost or generating questionable value (if any value at all) in the eyes of executives and other managers.

Therefore it is of critical importance to clearly demonstrate the business value your work adds to the organization. Based on an unambiguous success metrics the value proposition needs to be communicated clearly and frequently especially to executive management to gain their buy-in and active support.

These and possibly more barriers are a tough challenge. Now, I assume you are not the almighty ‘Vice President of Really Cool Stuff’ (that would be my favorite future job title!) but hold a somewhat lower rank. Perhaps you got stuck in the wrong department (the one without the Really Cool Stuff).

So, where do you start to innovate and ‘rescue’ your organization from a looming train-wreck scenario?

Breaking down barriers by innovating from within using ERGs

A vehicle I tried out quite successfully over the past years was forming an employee resource group (ERG). This grassroots approach has the power to crash right through the vertical, horizontal and value barriers while driving change effectively and sustainably through the organization as a strategic innovation engine.

> A previous post discusses the business model behind the ERG approach in more detail: Build ERGs as an innovative business resource!

Here are the first steps on the way to founding an ERG:

  • Identify a business need and build a business case, i.e. a clear value proposition aimed at executive management convincing them of the need and benefits of forming an ERG within the limits of company policies. Attracting an influential executive sponsor to gain buy-in is a key requirement for instituting an ERG successfully. The sponsor serves as a political and resourceful ally, an experienced advisor and advocate but also ensures strategic alignment of the ERG’s activities with the broader goals of the company.Since executives value their time more than yours, keep it short and to the point. Think executive summary style and offer details separately for those who chose to dig deeper and to demonstrate that you thought this whole thing through. If your organization already has a distinguished officer or departments with a vested interest in employee engagement for example then connect, collaborate and leverage your joint forces. > More on how to build a case study for an ERG at: Q&A – Case study for founding a business-focused ERG
  • Get organized! Seek voluntary members and reach out to future constituency of the ERG. Active members are needed as the driving force and source of ideas that the ERG turns into business projects aimed to innovate and energize the organization.
    The first ERG I founded was “NxGen”, which stands for the “Next Generation at the Workplace”. The NxGen ERG has a generational orientation but is open to all employees regardless of their age or workplace generation. Nonetheless, from the start mostly the youngest employees (Generation Y) drove NxGen. In many cases they did not know of each other as the GenY-ers were spread thin across the various business functions of the company.The GenY-ers, in particular, found a forum in the NxGen ERG to get to know each other in the first place. We then focused on goals based on shared values or needs to build a strong support network within the company. At all times we kept the ERG open and inclusive to interested employees join from other workplace generations.

    The ERG offers its members a safe environment to discuss issues and ideas. It also serves as an informal forum to find coaches and mentors for personal development or specific projects and initiatives. Active ERG membership allows less experienced employees to quickly acquire new skills and test them in real-life by running a project hands-on even in areas outside of their job description or business function to address needs close to their heart with tangible business value. Here, the ERG serves as a very practical leadership development pipeline and safe ground for experimentation within the organization.

    > More on the virtues of Generation Y as I experience it in NxGen under: Generation Y for managers – better than their reputation?

  • Get active by launching business-focused projects. Again, you are targeting management and executives in particular to build credibility and thereby become more effective over time.Start with feasible projects of high visibility and short duration that address a significant business need with a clear and quantifiable success metrics. For each project seek executive sponsorship at the highest level you can attain from the business area that the project affects. Make sure to communicate your successes broadly and frequently to kick-start the ERG. Stick to a clear, specific and unambiguous metrics for your success; if you can tie it to a monetary ROI the better, as this is the language of business. > More on establishing a success metric under: Driving the ROI – where to start your projects metrics?

    Showcasing and celebrating your successes as an ERG motivates the already active members, keeps attracting new members and builds credibility among executives to keep the ERG wheels turning as a strategic innovation engine for your organization.

On a personal note
The example of the NxGen ERG is very real. NxGen was nationally recognized as best-practices ERG within 5 months (!) of its founding and became a valued and frequent sounding board for C-level executives within one year. The ERG has no funds of its own yet runs projects and initiatives nationally and internationally that already shifted the company culture and opened it more for change.

References and additional reading

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