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.
The German Center for Research and Innovation and Physicians Interactive offers a high-level panel discussion on “Healthcare Delivery to Developing Countries Using Mobile Technology” at the German House, 871 United Nations Plaza (First Ave. at 49th Street), New York, NY. on Wednesday, October 22, 2014, from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. – Click here to sign up for an invite to this RSVP event.
The United Nations reports that a child born in the developing world is 33 times more likely to die by age five than a child born in the U.S. or in Germany. Tragically, the leading causes of death are entirely preventable. Given the shortage of health care providers worldwide and the explosive proliferation of mobile phones, devices, and apps, mobile health technology has a tremendous opportunity to help improve health in developing countries. How can we best deploy mobile health technology to help save lives and empower communities? Is there a role for human rights advocacy in the campaign to increase access to quality care? And, what lessons can the West learn from the developing world with regards to solving the problems of access, affordability, and even innovation?
Expert panelists address these and other pertinent questions about using mobile technology to solve the health care crisis:
Kerry Kennedy – President, Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights
Kerry Kennedy is President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. She is the bestselling author of Being Catholic Now and Speak Truth to Power. Ms. Kennedy started working in human rights in 1981 when she investigated abuses committed by U.S. immigration officials against Salvadoran refugees. Since then, her life has been devoted to the pursuit of justice and to the promotion and protection of basic rights. She established the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights in 1988 and has led over 50 human rights delegations across the globe. Ms. Kennedy founded RFK Speak Truth to Power, a global human rights education initiative that is taught to millions of students worldwide. In 2010, she founded RFK Compass, which convenes financial leaders to consider the impact of human rights violations, environmental degradation, and corruption on investment outcomes. Ms. Kennedy is Chair of the Amnesty International USA Leadership Council and serves on the boards of directors of Human Rights First, Inter-Press Service, and the United States Institute for Peace. She has three daughters, Cara, Mariah, and Michaela.
Donato J. Tramuto, Founder, CEO, and Chairman of Physicians Interactive, has more than 30 years of healthcare experience in both the product and service segments. Mr. Tramuto is the Chairman and Founder of the Tramuto Foundation, a non-profit organization that he created in 2001 to help young individuals achieve their educational goals and has also supported more than 40 organizations worldwide in helping the disadvantaged of our land. In 2011, following the devastating effects from the earthquake in Haiti, Mr. Tramuto founded Health eVillages, a program now residing at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights and funded through Physicians Interactive, which provides state-of-the-art mobile health technology to medical professionals in the most challenging clinical environments around the world. Mr. Tramuto serves on several executive leadership boards: The Boston University School of Public Health Dean’s Advisory Board, the Physicians Interactive Board of Directors, the Robert F. Kennedy U.S. Leadership Council, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights Europe Board, the HealthWays (NASDAQ) Board of Directors, and the Maine Economic Council. In 2005, 2009, and 2012, he was selected by PharmaVoice as one of the Top 100 Most Inspirational Healthcare Leaders in the Life Sciences Industry. Mr. Tramuto was selected as one of four distinguished recipients of the 2014 Ripple of Hope Award from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights.
Bernd Altpeter is Founder and CEO of the German Institute for Telemedicine and Health Promotion (DITG). Prior to this, he founded the boutique consulting firm “driving growth group,” which works for German and international life science companies. Previously, Mr. Altpeter was Global Business Partner at Monitors Marketing Practice M2C. Since 2006, he has been operating as a consultant, business angel, and entrepreneur in the eHealth business. In March 2013, he founded DITG, which to date has evolved into one of the leading eHealth companies in Germany, offering lifestyle intervention programs for chronic diseases such as type 1 and type 2 diabetes, in addition to servicing international companies in various sectors from health insurance to the pharmaceutical industry. Mr. Altpeter studied economics in Germany, France, and the U.S.
Wolfgang Renz is President of International Business at Physicians Interactive. Prior to this role, Dr. Renz was Corporate Vice President of Business Model & HealthCare Innovation at Boehringer Ingelheim, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. For over a decade, he has been involved in developing medicines and technology to help people lead healthier, more productive lives. At Boehringer Ingelheim, he led a team of specialists to find, test, and develop the disruptive technologies that will shape the way healthcare will be delivered in the future. In addition, he currently also serves as Adjunct Professor of Surgery at McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine in Montreal, Canada. Dr. Renz holds a medical degree and a Ph.D. from Freiburg University and is board certified in Germany in emergency medicine.
In the contradictory, high-pressure, fast-moving, multi-stakeholder world in which you operate, more of the same won’t cut it. A special set of leaders is required.
In 2014 the World Business Forum brings you a unique group of speakers who are writing their own rules, challenging time-honored truths, and forging new paths to growth – our “PROVOCATEURS”. They will provide you with the ideas and learning to face your personal business challenges in new and innovative ways.
For ten years the World Business Forum has been a source of inspiration, learning and transformation for leaders looking to build better businesses and a better world. Our programs offer an incredible breadth of content, bringing you world-class speakers from diverse fields, all of whom have one objective in mind: To help you lead more effectively so as to meet the challenges of today’s global business environment.
The traditional world of corporate Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is being disrupted by a new take on D&I and combining it with innovation and talent management. What some perceive as a threat to the D&I establishment may just be the next step of evolution that could invigorate and drive D&I to new heights.
Though not an entirely novel approach (see also How to create innovation culture with diversity!) the new thinking gains traction. As this could play out in different ways and only time will tell what worked, here are my thought on where we are heading.
Struggles of the Front Runner
Many traditional D&I programs, let’s call them “version 1.0” of D&I, struggle transitioning beyond a collection of affinity groups, tallying corporate demographics and competing for D&I awards to post on their webpage. In these traditional D&I programs ‘diversity’ is often understood to be reflected by more or less visible differences among individuals at the workplace while ‘inclusion’ translates to supporting defined sub-populations of employees through, for example, establishing affinity groups.
The United States is seen as the front runner of the D&I movement. D&I has been around in the U.S. corporate world for decades. For historic and demographic reasons it hones in on removing obstacles for minorities at the workplace supported also by strict legislature and execution; exercising Affirmative Action, for example.
This legacy in the U.S. lends itself to an inside focus on organizations that became the backbone of the traditional D&I programs. It comes down to the question ‘what can or should the organization do for specific groups of people’ defined by ethnicity, gender, age, sexual preference, faith, disability, war history and so on. Apparently, it still is work in progress as, for example, Silicon Valley just recently got on the public radar, which stirred up the debate afresh along the lines of D&I 1.0; see Google releases breakdown on the diversity of its workforce.
Stuck in the ‘Diversity Trap’?
The inside focus and minority messaging of D&I 1.0, however, can be limiting when D&I erodes to a process of ‘doing things right’ by pushing for quotas, ‘checking boxes’ and inflating variations of terminology perceived as ‘politically correct’. This can in fact be different from ‘doing the right thing’ for the company overall, its employees as well as the affinity groups and their constituency. It should not surprise that Affinity groups can be (and often get) stigmatized and perceived as self-serving and self-centered social networks without significant and measurable business impact.
Under this paradigm these D&I 1.0 programs struggle to get serious attention, support and funding from executives beyond operating on a minor level to ‘keep the lights on’ more for public image purposes than business drive. The fundamentals seem to get forgotten: in the end, a business exists to generate a profit, so less profitable activities are likely to be discontinued or divested. It’s a symbiosis and to say it bluntly: without healthy business there is no D&I program and no affinity groups. When this symbiosis get lopsided, D&I 1.0 gets stuck in the trap.
“Diversity” is catching on beyond the United States in Europe, for example, where many countries do not have share a highly heterogeneous demographic composition, for example. Here, companies can start with a fresh approach jumping straight to D&I 2.0 – and many do! It reminds me of developing countries installing their first phone system by skipping the landlines and starting right away with mobile phones.
The 2.0 internal focus corresponds to hiring workers that truly think differently and have different backgrounds and life experiences some of which overlaps with D&I 1.0 affinity roots. In addition, there is also an external focus putting the staff to work with a clear business proposition and reaching even beyond the organization. So here a candidate would be hired or employee promoted for their different thinking (2.0) rather than more visible differences (1.0).
While need remains for affinity groups to tend to their members needs within the organization, the “new” D&I 2.0 opens to shift focus to go beyond the organization. It goes along the lines of a statement President John F. Kennedy became famous for and that I tweaked as follows: “Don’t ask what the COMPANY can do for you ask what you can do for the COMPANY AND ITS CUSTOMERS.”
D&I 2.0 gears towards actively contributing and driving new business results in measurable ways for the better of the employees as well as the organization and its customers. A visible indicator for D&I 2.0 affinity groups helping their constituency beyond company walls is affinity groups identifying and seizing business opportunities specific to their constituency. They translate the opportunity and shepherd it trough the processes of the organization to bring it to fruition. For example, affinity groups are uniquely positioned to extending and leveraging their reach to relating customer segments in order to identify ‘small elephant’ business opportunities; see How to grow innovation elephants in large organizations.
The D&I 2.0 approach demonstrates sustainable business value which is why D&I 2.0 sells much easier to executives. It makes a compelling business case that contributes to new business growth, the life blood of every company.
U.S. companies stuck in D&I 1.0 are hard pressed to keep up with the D&I 2.0 developments and overcome their inner struggle and resistance. With decades of legacy, D&I 1.0 programs in many organizations lack the vision and ability to make a compelling business case, to develop a sound strategy as well as capability and skill to implement it effectively. This is the requirement, however, to truly see eye-to-eye with senior executives and get their full support. This can become a serious disadvantage in the markets relating to products and customers but also in attracting talent.
In the end, the saying holds true that “talent attracts talent” and all organizations compete over talent to compete and succeed. Therefore, a D&I 2.0 program combines business focus and talent management while tying it back to the core of diversity and inclusion: Fostering diverse thinkers and leveling the playing field for all employees. This requires a level playing field that offers the same opportunities to all employees, which is the real challenge.
How do you level the playing field effectively in a large organization? How this will be implemented becomes the differentiating success factor for companies transitioning to D&I 2.0!
Here is a example 2.0-style for a level playing filed that has its roots in the D&I affinity group space yet opened up to include the entire workforce. It empowers and actively engages employees while leveraging diversity, inclusion and talent management for innovative solutions with profitable business outcomes. It may take a minute or two to see the connection between D&I, talent and disruptive innovation but it is at work right here in the School for Intrapreneurs: Lessons from a FORTUNE Global 500 company.
Previous posts relating to innovation and employee affinity groups / employee resource groups (ERG) / business resource groups (BRG):
It’s not only successful innovations that can get shut down (see “Shut down! Why Successful Innovations Die“) but also those that don’t get a chance to take of in the first place: In the small print of Microsoft’s recent announcement to eliminate 18,000 jobs (mainly in the light of the Nokia acquisition) you could also find 200 jobs cut to end the Xbox Hollywood aspirations.
After a history of failures entering the hardware sector, Microsoft struck gold with its powerful Xbox gaming console series powered by popular games such as the epic HALO. Long forgotten seem the times of the “PocketPC” handheld to rival the PalmPilot or the “Zune” MP3 player to dwarf Apple’s iPod. (Let’s keep the Surface tablets with its awful Windows 8 mosaic tile interface out of the equation for now – even a recent promotion is just a sad parody.)
Without doubt, the Xbox is a success, Microsoft’s media flagship. It faces serious competition, so creative and disruptive solutions are needed to dominate the console market.
To expand on this solid Xbox console foundation and fend off competitors, the idea was to produce engaging and original video content. This added value would expand the Xbox platform to broaden Xbox attractiveness and deepen customer loyalty by appealing to its gamer audience in new ways. The gap between gaming and film converged over the past years when new game productions became sophisticated, quality productions with celebrity actors and voice overs, music by top Hollywood composers, high-end visual effects and not only budgets to rival studio movie productions but revenue exceeding blockbuster movies.
Inspired by, for example, Netflix’s success in producing original content such as “Orange” and “House of Cards,” this strategy looked very promising. Well equipped with CBS’ highly accomplished Nancy Tellem and ties to Steven Spielberg, the Microsoft Hollywood team of 200 was up to a great start – or so it seemed.
Two years in, however, the there was very little to show for, so Microsoft finally divested.
– What went wrong?
A key inhibitor for the Hollywood team, so it turned out, was clashing organizational cultures between Microsoft and the quick-paced and decision-friendly media world Tellem was used to from CBS. Nanny Tellem learned the hard way that effectiveness of decision-making at the lower hierarchical levels and fast execution was not the strong suit of the established culture, red-tape processes and deep hierarchy of the Redmond software giant. Down four levels in hierarchy under the CEO, Microsoft’s convoluted processes diluted Tellem’s authority and effectiveness. It slowed down decisions to a point where the ambitious and energetic start-up became practically shackled and impotent to operate effectively in the media world.
Even the best strategy cannot be executed when unaligned with organizational culture or, as Peter Drucker has put it so famously, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
Culture is what most employees say and do routinely. It translates into a company’s processes, structures, systems, etc. This is why failing to understand or outright ignoring culture can be so disastrous for leaders. From my experience, the magic sauce is in aligning corporate culture and strategy with the passion of competent employees.
Microsoft’s Hollywood adventure is just one more example how disruptive innovation struggles when measured and governed by processes of a mature and bureaucratic organization with matrix structure. With reigns held too close and not leaving room to experiment, innovation suffers, as this missed opportunity for Microsoft demonstrates.
“Hindsight is 20/20” people say and in all honesty, other factors may have contributed too, but looking at it from the outside, perhaps this train wreck could have been prevented had Tellem paid closer attention to the culture of her new employer and ‘how we do business around here.’
Cultural fit with conductive structures and processes downstream are serious business factors that often get overlooked and then backfire for the blind-sided executive. – Only perhaps there could have been a proper Hollywood ending.
After all, disruptive innovations is a delicate flower that needs some room to flourish – especially in mature organizations.
Why successful innovations get shut down. WhIle we expect unsuccessful initiatives and projects to get shut down, what sense does it make to stop hugely successful ones?
Punished Despite Success
It doesn’t make sense to shut down profitable programs – or does it? It happens all the time when the current yet wilting business model still tastes sweet. Investing in building a disruptive, future business model appears less palatable as it takes uncomfortable transformation that comes with investment cost and lower profits initially. The sobering reality is that short-term gains often win over long-term investments, sustainability and bold moves to explore uncertainty and white space.
Here is a quick example from the fossil oil and gas industry straight out of Bloomberg Businessweek, “Chevron Dims the Lights on Green Power” (June 2-8, 2014): Chevrons renewable power group successfully launched several projects generating solar and geothermal power for over 65,000 homes. Despite margins of 15-20%, the group was surprisingly dissolved earlier this year after they had just about doubled their projected profits from $15 million to $27 million in 2013, the first year of their full operation. – Why would you kill a profitable new business?
Clashing Business Models
As for reasons for the shut-down, a former Chevron employee and Director of Renewable Energy notes that Chevron’s core businesses, oil and gas, still remain more profitable than renewable energy. This development signals that Chevron’s leadership is willing to experiment with renewable energy but does not seem fully committed – it makes Chevron’s slogan “Finding newer, cleaner ways to power the world” sound like lip-service.
Instead, Chevron continues to hold on tightly to their old business model to squeeze out the last drop of oil. Chasing short-term profit margins may prove not only a questionable path for long-term company sustainability but also from a business model perspective. While oil and gas prices have been on the rise for the past decades, it is well-known that these natural resources become scarce, so extraction from more challenging locations becomes increasingly expensive. It cuts into the company’s profits and the consumers’ pockets. To date, Chevron already pays a higher cost for extracting oil compared to competitors.
Chevron focuses on the upper tail of the S-curve of the current technology instead at the expense of preparing for the disruptive jump to the next technology platform. (See section “Technology S-curves” in 10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?)
The risk here is to lose out on developing and acquiring new technologies that will be the make-or-break competitive advantage in the industry’s future.
Interestingly, Chevron’s competitor and largest oil company, Exxon-Mobil, takes a different approach. Even after initial setbacks where proof-of-concept did not scale to industrial size, Exxon-Mobile now partnered with Craig Venter’s Synthetic Genomics to produce oil from micro-algae at industrial scale. Hopes are high that this bio-tech and bio-agriculture approach proves more practical, profitable and sustainable to replace fossil fuels in the future.
Sounds risky? It sure is, but with profits from oil and gas still in the tens of billions this is the time to invest heavily in the jump on to the next technological S-curve. You may recall Craig Venter as a most successful entrepreneur and also the first to sequence the human genome, so there is no shortage of top bio-brainpower, which opens the flow also for more investment capital.
Truth being told, several other bio-fuel ventures of this nature exist all around the world. Neither made it to produce in industrial scale needed to satisfy the world demand for crude oil – yet. There is no question, however, that the world is running out of affordable oil and gas at accelerating speed. Disruptive technologies will emerge to fill the gap and redefine the energy sector.
The learning here is that even profitable disruptive ventures get shut down at times when the leadership is comfortable and holds on tightly to the existing business model they are familiar with and doing what they always did rather than taking transformative steps to prepare the organization for the future. Even with the writing clearly on the wall, the way of how profitability of a new venture is measured and the (still higher) margins of the established business (fossil fuels) make short-term focus attractive despite concerns over business model sustainability. So often enough there is little patience to further develop even successful, transformative ventures of tomorrow in favor of enjoying the sweet but wilting fruits of today.
Somehow this short-term mindset painfully reminds me also of the established car industry who, obviously, had little interest to bring electric vehicles to market at scale over the past decades until a Tesla comes around to show them how it can and should be done.
As for our example, time will tell whether Chevron or Exxon-Mobil made the better choice in the long run to win the new business model race leading us into the post-crude oil era – or if they both get disrupted by an even different new technology altogether.
Innovation projects are risky explorations. Disruptive innovation projects even more so, and individual projects can be quite a gamble. So, how can you limit the risk across your portfolio of innovation projects? The goal is to increase the likelihood for the portfolio to succeed overall even if individual projects fail.
(Quick note for project management professionals: I am deliberately not differentiating terms like “portfolio” and “program” here. My goal is to get the basic idea across. More particular definitions don’t add value here.)
In mature organizations, incremental improvement can easily be and often is interpreted as ‘innovation’, which makes sense when optimizing a production environment, for example. Here, at the back-end of operations, big “elephant” projects tend to bind the organizations resources (How to grow innovation elephants in large organizations). The innovation project portfolio I am referring to, in contrast, aims at the disruptive end: the “small elephant projects” with higher risk but the potential of extraordinarily high returns if they succeed.
Why to manage risk
In large organizations you hardly get a “carte blanche” to manage just highly risky projects. With a corporate focus on predictable, short-term results there is too much concern of the portfolio easily becoming an unpredictable money pit. You are likely to get shut down after playing around a while without demonstrating clear success in terms of return-of-investment. Thus, you will need to come up with a strategy on how to compose your project portfolio to keep your stakeholders happy and your experimental playground open.
Managing risk across a project portfolio comes down to finding the right blend of high-risk/high-return projects and lower risk projects that come with less impressive potential for revenue or savings. You also want to include a few projects that produce returns short-term to demonstrate you are making progress and reap some quick wins for impatient stakeholders while the longer-term projects need time to mature.
A common way to approach categorizing projects into into Core, Adjacent and Transformational based on their risk and return profiles:
Core projects are merely optimizations to improve the existing landscape of systems, processes, assets or products in existing markets and with existing customers. These incremental improvements are the “safe bet” and “next small step” that, typically, comes with low risk, predictable outcomes but also limited returns. They do not need high level sponsorship, are easy to predict and plan resources for, and so they are the favored playing field of mature, large organizations. These can often be ‘large elephant’ projects seen as ‘necessary’ that the organization more easily buys into.
Adjacent projects come with more uncertainty and risks as they usually extend existing product lines into new markets. Though not an entire novelty it is may be new territory for your company. Sometime, ‘imitating’ a successful model in a different industry does the trick (read also: Imitators beat Innovators!).
Adjacencies add to the existing business(es), which requires a higher level sponsorship (such as Vice President level) to move forward, to allocate resources and to accept the risk to fail.
Transformative projects are experimental and risky. They create new markets and customers with bold, disruptive “break-through” products and new business model. While the risk to fail is high, the returns could be huge when you succeed. Highest level (C-level) sponsorship and support is crucial for this category not only to persist and get resources during the development phase but also for the mature organization to adopt and support it sustainably.
Finding the balance
When you manage a portfolio of disruptive (read: transformative) innovation projects, you should expect projects not to succeed most of the time. Instead of calling it “failure,” see it as a learning opportunity. As Thomas Edison put it so famously referring to his experiments leading to the invention of the light-bulb: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
The common rule for playing a safe portfolio is a 70-20-10 mix, i.e. 70% core, 20% adjacent and 10% transformative projects. This way, many low-risk/low-return core projects keep the lights on while you play with few high-risk/high-return transformative projects.
From my personal experience with the portfolio I manage, I leans towards accepting more risk, so you would expect and be comfortable with a lower success rate as a consequence but also higher returns. To my own surprise, we completed 55% of our projects successfully and ended up discontinuing 26%. Fortunately, also the average ROI from our “small elephant” projects is substantial and pays the bills for many years out. Thus, for my portfolio, the 70-20-10 mix is too conservative.
Before re-balancing your portfolio in favor of a majority of risky transformative projects, however, make sure you have continued high-level sponsorship and alignment with strategy and organizational culture of your organization. – If culture, strategy and sponsorship don’t align to support your innovation portfolio efforts, your risk increases for painful learning without sufficient business success.
Our immune system protects our health and defends us against threats entering our body. It identifies intruding germs, isolates them from the surroundings and flushes them out of the system to prevent further harm. Our immune system also keeps track of intruders formerly identified to reject them even more effectively should they ever reappear.
Large organization consist of humans who tend to follow behavioral patterns not unlike their inner immune systems when it comes to evaluating new ideas brought forward by an aspiring intrapreneur. Especially, if a new idea comes with a ‘wishlist’ of demands is needed from us to make it happen; typically, time and money.
Joining the Dark Side
It’s our human nature: we approve ideas we like or that further our objectives while we tend to reject ideas that don’t match our liking, beliefs, commitments or that cause disruption to our equilibrium or budget. Disruptive ideas come with uncertainty and may require uncomfortable or additional efforts on our side. The outcome may appear risky, could waste precious resources or have other undesirable repercussions for us. The fear of losing something is stronger than the incentive of gain. And often enough, we just don’t fully understand the idea or its implications, don’t take the time or find the impetus to look into its details, so it seems safe and convenient to reject it.
This way, as managers and coworkers, we act as a part of the organizational immune system. We become part of the reasons why mature organizations can’t innovate – we join the ‘dark side,’ so to speak.
Our body remembers a previous intruder in order to respond even faster the next time – and so do we. Interestingly, though, we tend to remember better who presented the idea that we rejected rather than what the idea was about. So when the ‘quirky guy’ shows up again after a while with the next idea, our suspicion is already kindled, and we more easily reject this next idea too.
Too often an intrapreneur lets their enthusiasm take over and confronts us straight on with their ideas bundled with a request for resources of sorts. Most often, this discussion ends quickly with a “No,” when we perceive this ‘frontal attack’ as a threat to the status quo, the establishment, and the well-oiled machine that the manager runs; and so it triggers the ‘corporate immune system’ leading to rejection.
Stepping Stones to Success
So, just short of having “The Force” of a Jedi, how should an intrapreneur seek support for an idea from managers, potential sponsors or coworkers? While not ‘one-size-fits-all’ and there is no silver bullet, here is a selection of tried approaches for consideration:
Seek support: The trick is to ask in a ways that build support for driving the idea forward – and not necessarily for the whole implementation project at once. Even a small step is better than none. For example, supporting evidence can help to raise curiosity and deflate resistance. Find out if a similar approach worked out in another company or industry; it helps to emphasize validation elsewhere. It can help to frame and position your offer to a potential sponsor.
Build trust: Additional ‘selling tips’ I picked up from Gifford Pinchot III., the Grand-Master of intrapreneuring himself, suggest a more social approach that includes building a personal relationship first: It is much easier to connect from a position of mutual trust and openness to find support building the supportive network by asking for advice or references before you ask for resources.
Just a test: Cautious managers may open up when they hear the intrapreneur is not intending to change anything, just ‘trying something out,’ so not to threaten their established processes, investments or power-structures within the organization. Emphasizing the ‘experimental’ and non-threatening nature of the idea helps to prevent triggering the immune system at this early stage.
Gathering Insights: Successful intrapreneurs listen very closely to what the responses to learn from them. Rather than asking a closed question that puts them in a Yes-or-No cul-de-sac, it is much more insightful to carefully phrase questions in a way that the gate-keeper already solves the problem, or provides an answer or approach to the problem the intrapreneur is trying to solve.
Know the Goals: The larger a support network an intrapreneur can built for their idea, the better. Rather than the direct manager, it may be more informative to work with people who have insights into the goals and priorities of the organization, which may be sources of resistance. This way, the intrapreneur can learn about possible conflicting goals (for example, “do more with less” or “stability versus creativity”) that need to be known and understood in order to be addressed and dealt with constructively.
Show Gratitude: And finally, it is important for intrapreneurs to pay respect and express gratitude no matter what the outcome is of their conversation. A ‘thank you’ goes a long way and keeps the door open to talk more and possibly receive support in the future.
Technological advances are enabling revolutionary changes across industries and throughout every sector of business. Disruption is rife In 2014 WOBI on Innovation invites you to embrace disruption and learn to thrive in the chaos.
Disruption can be a tremendous source of opportunity and new value. It can also be scary and at times seemingly easier to bury our heads in the sand when faced with new challenges. But for those willing to embrace it, disruption can be a powerful propellant of positive change. WOBI on Innovation will focus on the multifarious disruptions that are impacting business – and the massive upside opportunities they present for those alert and nimble enough to both spot them and react accordingly.
One of my favorite and most successful approaches to building a powerful intrapreneuring ecosystem is internal corporate venturing!
It is an exquisite tool to cut through the crust of ‘red tape’ that bureaucracy builds up over time. Internal corporate venturing or “Angel investing” allows for nimble decision-making with a lean process to give disruptive innovation ideas a chance again in a large company.
How does it work? Think of becoming a venture capitalist within the company: You invest in ventures within the organization and help building ‘intraprises’ in contrast to funding start-up enterprises outside the company. The difference is a you don’t venture for your own profit but for the better of your organization.
The idea here is to seed-fund promising disruptive ideas that otherwise would not be implemented or even seriously considered. These opportunities –typically‑ were rejected by the ‘corporate immune system’ previously, when an employee with an idea approached their line manager or a governance committee of sorts requesting approval to ‘try something out.’
Often enough, there is no clear return-of-investment (ROI) predictable for these early ideas. What you may be looking for is rather risky and experimental, a proof-of-concept (POC). The metrics for payoff and ROI of disruptive ideas does not follow the same approach we are used to measure the more predictable returns of common cost reduction and incremental improvement projects. Disruptive POC projects often don’t have an ROI projection when you explore technology of sorts or its application that may become a game-changer for our future business.
In my experience, communicating the POC nature of the project over focusing on ROI can actually help! It prevents the ‘organizational immune system’ from kicking in early on, since there is little threat to established practices. Why? It does not come across as competing with ‘big elephant’ projects over significant amounts of governed resources following the conventional processes of the company’s machinery. Instead, we just try something out! It’s a little experiment that doesn’t change anything, so it poses no threat to established practices, investments or the power-base of individuals defending their fiefdoms.
Having said this, there is of course a commercial end to all projects. After all, we have no resources to waste and will have to demonstrate down the road that our ‘experiments’ pay off somehow. Our working assumption is that the disruption should lead to a ten-fold (10X) payoff – at least.
Personally, I prefer aiming at a bold 100X ROI target; two orders of magnitude, that is. It sets an ambitious target and -if things work out- a great success story. It’s a powerful point to make for disruptive innovation as part of our innovation ecosystem and shifting the mindset within an organization. Sharing these success stories with executive stakeholders is crucial (for future support) as well as with employees (for future ideas).
Interestingly, what employees are looking for more than funds is authorization to do what is right and worthwhile for the company. Often, the obstacles are perceived and only exist in peoples’ minds. These barriers are formed by many factors over time, such as the management style they experienced and organizational silos that mold a company’s culture as well as the employees’ mindset.
In this particular company, a lean oversight board makes funding decisions. It is composed of a diverse team of more forward-thinking executives and a very lean decision process. The team acts as enabling ‘go-keeper’ for accelerated innovations instead of pushing the breaks as ‘gate-keeper.’
The little monies offered for trying something new only help smoothen the path for innovators in the company. The most important part is them feeling empowered and “authorized” to take action that overcomes complacency, inertia and organizational paralysis. On the spectrum of strategic innovation roles, the board serves as a “sponsor” and sometimes as a “coach,” when an idea aims to overcome internal barriers to increase efficiency, for example.
The purpose of this governance board is to enable the exploration of disruptive ideas by giving internal innovators a chance. The focus is on projects that can be characterized as early stage experiments to explore transformative enabling technologies and value-adding services of higher risk or less predictable outcomes than conventional project portfolios in the mature organization would feel comfortable with.
Naturally, this approach comes with an elevated risk of failure when projects do not produce profitable outcomes or simply prove infeasible or poorly timed. This ‘price’ is accepted as long as it generates learning.
The potential damage is low, since we are talking about swift and low-cost experimentation: try often and fail fast. Thus, these risky projects complement regular and more conservative project portfolios in the various businesses of the organization. In addition, the innovation project portfolio is somewhat risk-balanced, which avoids having too many high risk projects that may jeopardize the likelihood of profitability across the portfolio. Reality is that also the disruptive innovation project portfolio has to demonstrate tangible returns over time, so the mature organization sees the economic benefit of experimenting and not shut down this ‘playground.’
Branding the projects as experiments with a proof-of-concept (POC) endpoint helps to calm the ‘organizational immune system’ and to argue that these risky ‘small elephant’ projects complement the other ‘big elephant’ project portfolios across the organization.
Here are my experiences as an internal corporate venturer or ‘angel investor’ from the past years: First of all, I don’t have much money to spend. The budget I have for this kind of ventures is pathetically meager – and I overcommit it all the time! Nonetheless, I came in under budget once again by 46% last year. It sounds like an oxymoron, and since I don’t have a money tree growing in the backyard, how does this work?
The secret is in the psychology of acting as the “first investor.” Think of this way: when someone wants you to invest into their idea first with nobody else having made an investment before you, you are skeptical and most hesitant to put down your money, right?
All I do is to commit paying for an idea in full to overcome this initial threshold and get things started. What typically happens next is that an executive from the business affected by or potentially benefiting from the project hears of my investment, reconsiders and wants to get on board too – as a second investor. Once the ‘innovation guys’ have put money down first, the investment in the idea appears less risky to the business executive, so either we split the bill or the business takes on the cost completely!
I’ve seen it happen many times with managers turning around 180 degrees after they had rejected the idea previously. This is how to deal with them: to save (their) face, don’t point out their earlier resistance but rather thank and recognize them for their support and foresight as valued contributors to change and success for the organization. Celebrate them as enablers, win them over as allies and keep the connection for future collaborations!
Alignment and validation
Don’t be mistaken, funding by the business is not only crucial given the fact that my funds are few. It is even more important because it validates that the idea makes sense to the business. It aligns with strategy and goals of the organization but also helps implementing it once the business has ‘skin’ in the game! Otherwise, even if I funded a project alone, the intrapreneur running it would have a hard time getting it implemented without the support of a business sponsor.
So all it takes is making it easy for business executives to invest in a good ideas by making them feel comfortable not to invest first, which reduces their perceived risk and lowers their threshold to act.
The lean innovation governance board is an instrument for reasonable oversight that benefits from diverse perspectives.
The “Go keeper” instead of “Gate keeper” process is crucial as is the willingness to accept risk of failure for disruptive projects.
The model proves highly effective to get around a convoluted “red-tape” bureaucracy as well as generating a surprisingly high return-of-investment (ROI) – even without the latter being the primary focus.
The “first investor” psychology validates the alignment of ideas with business needs and strategy while opening the flow of funds from the businesses and facilitating the implementation.
This internal corporate venturing or “angel investing” approach became a beacon of hope for employees and a very profitable innovation engine for the organization that starts to change the organizational culture to the better.
HxRefactored 2014 in NYC on May 13-14 at the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge.
HxRefactored is a revolutionary design and technology conference that will gather over 500 designers, developers and leaders in health for two days of thought provoking talks, workshops and discussions on how to improve the quality of the health experience. The conference fuses the technical and creative elements of Health 2.0’s Health:Refactored and Mad*Pow’s Healthcare Experience Design Conference.
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.
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 intrapreneurialskills for employees
A supportiveteam 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.”
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).
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 perpetualpipeline 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.
Large organizations have vast resources – but this advantage inherently bears also a disadvantage: like large dinosaurs, with increasing size and maturity they lose the ability to adapt quickly to a changing environment as their smaller competitors can to seize business opportunities.
The Big Three
Let’s first identify the three typical obstacles that large organizations struggle with before we address how to disrupt and overcome them as intrapreneurs. The task at hand is to spark new energy, employee engagement and business growth opportunities in alignment with business strategy and company culture. By the way, if you are new to intrapreneuring, see also The Rise of the Intrapreneur and the Top 10 posts for Intrapreneurs.
So, these three big hurdles are the
Vertical Disconnect: Ideas from the bottom of the hierarchy do not find their way vertically to the top anymore to get implemented.
Horizontal Divide: Functional silos separate the workforce horizontally which limits putting to effective action the full potential of the company’s resources and diversity in a concerted way.
Inertia: More talking about change than taking action opens a widening gap between ideas and their implementation, as it is so much easier to lean back and improve incrementally than taking risks of major changes. Red-tape and ever mounting bureaucracy does its part to keep the wheels from turning and breeding a mindset of mediocrity.
These obstacles combine to form an unfavorable ecosystem of stagnation by containing innovative thoughts from growing and ripening, by inhibiting innovators to take action with passion and by blocking courageous action necessary to drive the organization’s future success and –possibly- survival.
Sketching a future innovation ecosystem
Here is what it takes to break the crust in order to reinvigorate and nourish innovation to flourish once again by creating an innovation-friendly ecosystem:
1. Vertical cut: Connect grass-root ideas with executive sponsors
A mechanism is needed to pipe fresh and promising ideas in an appropriate format from the grass-roots to find their way to executives, where the ideas get recognized, sponsored and put into motion for the better of the company. This holds true for disruptive break-through ideas in particular and in contrast to the continuous incremental improvement (see also 10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?) that typically makes up most of the organizations day work.
Don’t be mistaken, executives worth their salt seek good ideas like the air they breathe. They are generally more open to necessary change and course corrections than one may think. The executives also hold the keys to feeding the ideas back into the machinery of the larger organization to get implemented.
A mechanism is needed that allows cutting vertically through the red-tape and hierarchical boundaries of the mature organization. It creates a pipeline of ideas that connect the top with the bottom of the organization and everything in between with intrapreneurial passion.
2. Horizontal cut: Connect across functions and geographical silos
Large organizations tend to foster functional (and geographical) silos to increase efficiency, quality, and reliability in their operations (again, see Leadership vs Management? What is wrong with middle management?). This, however, effectively inhibits ideas of game-changing nature to flow freely and being developed with input from diverse perspectives to the benefit of the larger organization.
A wise saying goes: “Innovation happens at the intersection of disciplines.” It is these diverse perspectives and adding brains to a problem that help to improve and develop an idea to become more robust, innovative and feasible. Thus, a mechanism is needed to effectively cut horizontally through organizational walls to allow employees to effectively collaborate, network and connect the established silos and islands.
3. Tangible results: Bridge the “Idea to Implementation” gap
In the end, what we to achieve is giving good ideas a chance that otherwise would never get considered or implemented – especially in a mature business environment that favors low-risk incremental improvement over more risky breakthrough experimentation (see 10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?).
We need a mechanism that frees the intrapreneurial spirit of employees and directs the passion and potential of our employees’ ideas to tangible results that, ultimately, drive new business growth.
How does it work?
The intrapreneurial instruments and mechanism of this innovation ecosystem include, for example:
School for Intrapreneurs,
Internal corporate venturing,
Networks for implementation and
Opening to outside perspectives.
Over the next blog posts I will address each of these approaches (and perhaps more) and share my experiences from implementing exactly that successfully in a FORTUNE Global 500 company. So, check back soon or get updates via Twitter @OrgChanger.
It a strange question. Isn’t it astonishing how many people say “I am not creative” or believe “innovators” are so much different from themselves. As if innovators are an enlightened lot of geniuses that come up with breakthrough innovations that nobody else could have thought of or made happen but them. Icons such as Steve Jobs (Apple), Elon Musk (Tesla) or Jeff Bezos (Amazon) stand out. They apparently think differently and changed the world.
The question for the rest of us is: could I be a Steve Jobs too? Or do have to be born gifted to be able to innovate in ways that “make a ding in the universe” like Steve Jobs?
You can learn creativity!
If you ask kids in kindergarten or preschool if they are creative, they enthusiastically respond “Yes!” At that age we are convinced we are creative and express our views, thoughts and ideas in many ways. We design rockets to Mars or create new animals, nothing is out of bounds or out of reach.
What has happened to us that we believe as grown-ups and employees we can no longer create and change the world? I heard “I could never do that” and “nothing will change anyway” too many times.
Good news is that genetic predisposition only attributes one-third to your creativity and innovative-ness (if this is a word), while two-thirds are skills that can be learned, as research confirmed many times over (see Marvin Reznikoff et al, Creative abilities in identical and fraternal twins, Behavior Genetics 3, no. 4, 1973).
Therefore, innovation can be taught, “nurture trumps nature.” So, you can learn it too!
Are you an intrapreneur or entrepreneur?
However, not everyone wants to take the risk and uncertainty to make an entrepreneurial dream come true by starting a new business on their own. Many of us work in large organizations and would like to improve the company from within somehow.
This is where intrapreneuring comes into play. Intrapreneurs are also called corporate entrepreneurs, since they apply entrepreneurial methods within the organization to create intraprises. (See also The Rise of the Intrapreneur)
What innovators have in common
So is there anything that great innovators share and which we ‘mortals’ can replicate or do similarly to succeed? – In fact, there is!
In his iconic book “The Innovator’s DNA,” famous disruptive innovation guru Clayton Christensen (who is also known for coining the term ‘disruptive innovation’) identified four common catalysts that sparked the great ideas:
“a question that challenged the status quo,
an observation of a technology, company, or customer,
an experience or experiment where he was trying out something new,
a conversation with someone who alerted him to an important piece of knowledge or opportunity”
This comes down to the four following behaviors, as Christensen found out: questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting.
While, typically, the underlying information is not unique, the innovator’s associative thinking combines information and connects dots that seem random or unrelated to others. They create a picture or vision of a need or opportunity to pursue.
Now, on your way to become an intrapreneur (or entrepreneur), how can you get to these insights, find a suitable target and make it happen?
There are two basic steps:
Don’t work alone
Seek a fertile environment.
1. Don’t work alone
An African proverb says “If you want to walk fast, walk alone; but if you want to walk far, walk together”. Developing and bringing a disruptive idea to life takes time, work and -more than anything- collaboration. It’s not a fast shot and you will need help. What you can do is tapping into more brains: ask others and bring together a diverse team around an idea. You want to get as many different perspectives to see the fuller picture, risks, needs, opportunities to tackle the problem you are working on.
You may be blindsided or unaware of things critical for your success including much needed political cover, validating your assumptions or technical aspects outside your expertise. If you try to do everything yourself, you are setting yourself up for failure for a simple reason: you are not an expert in everything! Stick with what you are good at and let other experts help you with what they are good at.
2. Seek a fertile environment
If you want to start your own business as an entrepreneur, you may want to move where you find the best condition for a supportive business environment, an ecosystem. For entrepreneurs, for example, Stanford University and Silicon Valley remain a major tech magnets with ample and easy access to top talent and money. Also accelerators can serve this purpose. Comparable conditions for an innovative ecosystem exist at the US-East coast in the Boston area. Depending on your business idea, other locations and ecosystems may be more suitable – do your homework and find the right one for you.
As an intrapreneur, your available ecosystem seems more limited: it typically is the company you work in that defines the perimeter of your freedom to navigate. Your advantage here can be that you already know the environment and who could be supporting or funding your idea. If not your, you could more easily ask colleagues for help than people outside your company could, which significantly lowers the bar for access to resources.
Let’s continue by focusing on intrapreneuring. Compared to the entrepreneurial world out there, within an organization you may have more opportunities to help shape the fertile ecosystem for breakthrough ideas if none exists yet.
Open offices are not a new invention. They have been around for a long time as hallmark of start-up companies that simply cannot afford glitzy corporate skyscrapers with plush corner offices (yet). Open offices emerged less by deliberate design than driven by need.
Start-ups typically run on a vibrant culture of passionate people wanting to spend time together to create something great, everyone works together closely in the tight space available. Information flows fast and freely. Recreational elements and other services offered remove the need or motivation to leave. Employees hang out to work maximum hours as a team in a fun, inspiring and supportive environment. Productivity is up and work gets done.
Large companies are attracted by this powerful value-proposition for open offices – or so it seems. Mature organizations struggle with their increasing size that, over time, entails increasing specialization and complexity with a stifling system of red tape and inertia.
While jobs are large in small companies and come with broad scope and high accountability, which are diluted when jobs narrow in large companies by increased specialization over time. Functional silos emerge and sub-optimize often to the detriment of other business functions.
The reasons for large organizations moving to an open floor plan are often glorified and communicated as a measure to increase creativity and productivity in an appealing modern working environment: employees connect casually and spontaneously at the ‘water cooler’ to network and innovate together again.
The true and paramount driver for tearing down the office walls, however, is often more sobering: it comes down to simply cutting costs by reducing the expensive office footprint. Fitting more people into less space comes at a price for the workforce.
Cost savings only get you so far. It’s an easy approach but not a sustainable business model for productivity. What do you really save if productivity goes down? How sustainable is your business then? Sacrificing productivity for cost savings is a narrow-minded approach lacking long-term perspective and, therefore, not worth it. That is unless your goal is to achieve short-term gains without consideration for the future of the business, which is a disqualifying business perspective altogether.
The popular phenomenon in large companies is a move for the wrong reasons (the better driver being increased productivity) and entails serious consequences that jeopardize the company’s productivity, workforce satisfaction, and even the bottom line.
It gets even worse when the new environment is retrofitted space with structural limitations, founded in the legacy of existing buildings and investments, and if no flanking measures taken to enable effective collaboration needs.
A design from scratch has the potential support the collaboration needs and flow of the workforce best. This is an advantage start-ups have when they can shape and rearrange loft space to their immediate needs without limitations carried forward.
Controlling cost is necessary and reducing office footprint is an effective business measure. Aetna, for example, has nearly half of their 35,000 employees working from home already, which saves ~15% to 25% on real estate costs – that’s about $80 million saving per year.
Do not get me wrong, there are undeniable benefits to open office spaces – when applied for the right reasons in the right context, with right priorities and proper execution. The point I am making is that cost reduction alone is not a worthwhile driver if it sacrifices productivity. There comes a point where a hard decision has to be made and if you prioritize cost savings, you sacrifice productivity and other aspects automatically.
What does it take?
Unfortunately, the start-up company model with open office space and its agile and enthusiastic does not scale for large organizations. The corporate one-size-fits-all approach does not do the trick for several reasons.
Let us look at aspects that make the open office work:
Tear down cost center walls
Make presence easy
Level the (remote) playing field
Embrace work style differences
1. Tear down cost center walls
Proximity favors who needs to work together closely. In a start-up company, staff is few and jobs are big. This ratio flips in large organizations where many employees work in highly specialized functions. With increasing specialization comes complexity that leads to functional silos. The employees become separated by every rising departmental and organizational walls.
In large organizations, work space is typically paid for by department and charged to cost centers. Staff gets corralled this way and kept separated in functional clusters that are easier to administer but counteract productivity, streamlined workflow, and diverse collaboration cross-functionally. After all, it wouldn’t make sense to have any department operating completely independent from the rest of the organization.
These artificial and structural boundaries make no sense (unless you are an accountant, perhaps). Therefore, trade the urge for financial micro-management for what makes the workforce more productive, as this is the most important aspect of collaboration and, ultimately, the bottom line.
2. Make presence easy
Make it easy for your employees to go the extra mile. Now here is where large companies can learn from how start-ups: offer incentives for employees to hang out and remove reasons for them to leave to maximize time to work and collaborate.
The list seems endless: free beverages and food, services such as laundry, hair dresser, spa or receiving deliveries, exercise equipment, healthy snacks, child and pet care, and other useful perks that cost-cutting companies often omit.
Sounds like a waste to many large companies. But is it really? You get more out of your employees’ carefree working along longer than by pinching the free coffee and have them leave during the day or early to run their necessary errands.
3. Level the (remote) playing field
It may sound counter-intuitive but when cost saving rules, the open office space often only works when not all employees are around at the same time. If all employees showed up on the same day there may not be enough room and resources (seating, access to power and networks, etc.) to fit and accommodate everyone, since the physical office footprint is now too small ‑ a Catch-22.
When only a subset of employees can be present in the office at any given workday, the rest has to work remotely forming an –at least- virtual organization. Consequently, the random personal connection “at the water cooler” becomes less likely as does spontaneous cooperation by “pulling together a team” since your pool of physically available staff is limited.
Management needs to take deliberate and determined measures to level the playing field for remote workers by giving them the same opportunities as colleagues present in the office. Why? “Out of sight, out of mind” is a powerful and human nature. If not managed effectively, it only becomes worse when remote staff easily is continuously overlooked when it comes to projects staffing, development opportunities and promotions, for example. The resulting inequities undermine workforce cohesion, effectiveness, and talent development.
FastCompany recently came up with a list of reasons by workers arguing against open offices, which is a good indicator where the pain-points are. Representative or not, the list tends to resonate with people that experienced first-hand working in a corporate open office environment.
The key complaints are about
Distraction – hard to concentrate with surrounding noises of all sort; loud speaking coworkers; interruptions of coworkers stopping by at any given time
Discomfort – no privacy; by-passers looking at your screen and documents; food, bodily and other odors; white-noise generators blamed for headaches; spreading contagious illnesses; having to talk to people when you don’t feel like it; “hiding” by wearing earphones
Workflow obstacles – competing over quiet spaces, conference rooms or other rare resources; no place to store personal items or personalize the space.
One size does not fit all and it does not do the trick for large companies, in particular. So if you have to downsize office space or accommodate more employees, take a sound and sustainable approach by making productivity the driving priority and not cost.
After all, we are human beings that work best when we have control over our work environment and schedule. When we perform at our best, it is also for the better of the company as a whole. Flexibility, empowerment and inclusion go a long way – otherwise, mind FastCompany’s warning: “What was supposed to be the ultimate space for collaboration and office culture was having the opposite effect” – also for the bottom line.