Come to discuss my talk about “Changing employee mindset to boost collaboration and engagement for extreme business results”
How to overcome innovation hurdles in large organizations
How to build an entrepreneurial culture within your company to respond to change quickly
Measuring success beyond money – behavior change for best practices and boosting ROI
Workshop at 3:30pm on March 6, 2015
And take my Intrapreneuring Workshop “Building an innovation framework to design, launch and execute business projects”
The workshop participants experience the role of an intrapreneur to bring a project to life using disruptive methods and collaboration.
Innovation Barriers and Assessment
Becoming an Intrapreneur
Resistance, Sponsor and Team
Prototyping, Pitching and Investor Insights
About the Conference
Pharma companies stand on a cross-road for a few years now. They can choose to stick to their old ways that will probably slowly kill their business or successfully adapt to the reality of continuously shrinking pipelines and growing obstacles.
The 5th Annual Pharma PPM Toolbox will provide you with fresh ideas and solutions from experts who work hard to keep up with uncompromising market demands.
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 linkto watch all 10 videos in the series on YouTube directly – enjoy!
10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Communication moving to Collaboration
10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Content moving to Context
10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Care moving to Cure
10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Compliance moving to Culture
10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Supply Chains moving to Supply Constellations
10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Customization moving to Configuration
10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Customer moving to Consumer
10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Calls moving to Consults
Jo Ann Saitta
10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015 – Cloud moving to Crowd
10 Inevitable Changes in Pharma 2015- Charity moving to Cause
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
When we talk about disruptive innovation, we can easily agree that going from the days of dim candle light and sooty oil lamps to electric light was one of these breakthrough innovations, right? Its icon, the lightbulb serves as our symbol for a great idea today.
Who invented the lightbulb?
When you ask around “who invented the lightbulb?” the answer “Thomas Edison” first comes to mind – and the answer is wrong! Truth is that we can give credit closer to 20(!) inventors of the lightbulb! – How so?
Thomas Edison patented the first practical and commercially viable incandescent lightbulb in 1878 and a revised design in 1879. In addition, he offered the first efficient electricity supply system for households and businesses, which laid the foundation and cleared the path for mass-producing light bulbs in 1880. His design was an evolution from previous, inferior designs and enabled by improved technology.
Sitting in the dark without Edison?
No worries, we would not stay sitting in the dark. It appears safe to say that even if Thomas Edison was never born, the practical incandescent lightbulb would have been developed around the same time – by someone else.
Looking back in history, Humphrey Davy invented electric light in 1802; more than 75 years before Edison. His “arc light” was unsuitable for mainstream application though it found specialty uses even today. Many more designs for incandescent light and lightbulbs were developed by several inventors, but neither were they practical nor suitable beyond demonstration stage. Prominently, Joseph W. Swan built a working prototype of a “light bulb” in 1850 – well before Edison.
Edison had access to improved technology such as a better vacuum pump for his breakthrough design. This technology was not available to previous inventors. Edison also developed an efficient and economical way to distribute electricity when earlier designs drained batteries quickly. (A nice example, by the way, on how a product can go a long way when bundled with a complementing service.)
On the flip-side, Edison knew of his limitation too. He made carbonized Japanese bamboo glow as filament between two electrodes knowing that carbonized Tungsten was the superior material. However, the technology was not available at the time to produce a thin Tungsten thread. We had to wait for William D. Coolidge to produce the Tungsten filament for General Electric in 1910, which is still the preferred material to illuminate our modern incandescent lightbulbs today.
This situation is typical and comparable to many big ideas that entrepreneurs work on today. There is much competition among entrepreneurs, so every good idea usually has a handful of teams working on it independently and head-to-head at the same time. Thus, it is highly likely that, if not Edison, another inventor would have come up with the lightbulb design we are so familiar with today.
R&D as a Legacy
Perhaps, the even more impactful and lasting heritage of Thomas Edison are not his inventions, useful as they are. His products such as the lightbulb, phonograph, quadruplex telegraph, mimeograph, etc., have been replaced over time by more advanced technology.
Nonetheless, Edison has changed the way we discover concertedly today. Until his time, inventors matched the stereotypical image of a lonely genius experimenting and inventing in their lair burning the midnight oil over some ambitious idea. Edison established the first research and development (R&D) organization in his famous Menlo Park lab, where a large number of researchers worked together in an orchestrated way to find solutions to specific problems coordinated strategically and systematically concerted. Edison has industrialized research!
Until today every research-driven company or organization worldwide follows in Edison’s footsteps! What an impressive legacy!
Disruptive innovations tend to have their origin in incremental steps and competition among inventors. First working individually and now increasingly in teams or even distributed R&D organizations across country borders.
A key success factor here is building trust and incentives within the team in order for all individual contributors to share information and findings freely.
The broader, cross-functional approach to research helps to identify ideas and technologies from other disciplines that can serve as stepping stones. Edison used a better vacuum pump, which made his design possible. Later, the capability to manufacture a thin Tungsten wire allowed General Electric to take the lightbulb the next level.
As the saying goes, “innovation happens at the intersections of disciplines.” The development of the lightbulb serves as a nice example proving it to hold true once again. Thus, innovation benefits by drawing from advances in other disciplines.
So, is disruptive innovation a myth?
Back to our original question, the story of the lightbulb is a great example for a breakthrough innovation with vast ramifications that disrupted and shaped the we live and work around the globe.
It can, however, not be seen as just one big and isolated scientific step but rather a series of many little steps in combination insights from other disciplines including manufacturing, economics and marketing leading to broad adoption that changed the world.
Only when it all comes together you have a disruptive innovation like Edison’s famous design. And it was still not the end. The journey continued to evolve with a Tungsten wire and later fluorescence, halogen and LED lights.
In this light, every disruption seems as yet another incremental step, doesn’t it?
Meet me at the Intrapreneurship Conference 2014at the “Kennispoort”-building of the Eindhoven University of Technology, John F. Kennedylaan 2, 5612 AB Eindhoven, The Netherlands, from December 10-12, 2014! Contact me you are interested to attend, as I may be able to get you a discounted ticket!
Intrapreneurship is the most powerful engine for growth. With innovation being priority #1, how are you implementing and leveraging innovation from within?
Now being organized for the fourth time, the Intrapreneurship Conference 2014 is the premier global event for Corporate Innovation Managers, Intrapreneurs, Business Managers, HR-Managers and Innovation Consultants. This is not just another conference on innovation, where you will be listening to motivational speakers all day. We intentionally keep the number of available seats at a level that enables you to really connect with everyone.
Discuss the best and next practices in implementing and leveraging intrapreneurship. We have carefully curated a program for you that includes all relevant topics in the field of intrapreneurship, and invited experienced intrapreneurs and experts to co-create an impactful learning experience for you.
You will leave the conference with a clear action plan and practical tools for the next step in implementing intrapreneurship. Plus, you will meet like-minded people to connect, share and collaborate with – as most Intrapreneurs are the lone mavericks in the corporate jungle.
Why is this a billion dollar question? – The traditional business model of the pharmaceutical industry is broken. The focus shifts to incentivize patient-centric outcomes, prevention and behavior change in the global battle against a mounting wave of chronic diseases such as diabetes. In search for a new business “beyond the pill” the pharmaceutical industry joins other stakeholders in the healthcare system to align and pull in this same direction. First data-driven results are highly anticipated – well, here they are, so don’t miss this milestone event!
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 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.
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.
Group intelligence beats individual brilliance – and businesses are willing to pay for the crowd’s wisdom in the social sphere. The MIT’s ‘genetic’ model allows combining social ‘genes’ to harness the collective intelligence of crowd wisdom successfully and sustainably, for example in scientific research or business/employee resource groups.
We use collective intelligence every day
Whenever we face a big decision, we turn to our friends, our family, or our confidants. We seek information, guidance, advice, confirmation, or an alternative perspective. No matter if we make a life decision (partnership, job, picking a school, etc.), a purchasing decision (house, car, mobile phone) or a less monumental decisions (which movie to watch, which restaurant to go to), we make our decision more confidently and feeling better informed after reaching out to our personal network.
What we do is tapping into the collective intelligence, knowledge, or wisdom of a crowd that we know and trust: we are ‘crowd sourcing’ on a small scale. We do this because we instinctively know that the focused collective intelligence is higher than the intelligence of individuals.
What is collective intelligence or the ‘wisdom of the crowd’?
Wikipedia, the iconic product of global collaboration and collective knowledge, brings it to the point:
“The wisdom of the crowd is the process of taking into account the collective opinion of a group of individuals rather than a single expert to answer a question. A large group’s aggregated answers to questions involving quantity estimation, general world knowledge, and spatial reasoning has generally been found to be as good as, and often better than, the answer given by any of the individuals within the group. An intuitive and often-cited explanation for this phenomenon is that there is idiosyncratic noise associated with each individual judgment, and taking the average over a large number of responses will go some way toward canceling the effect of this noise.”
Scaling up to a ‘crowd’
When we read a movie review and rating on Netflix or customer ratings of a product on Amazon, for example, we tap into a larger and anonymous crowd. On the other end, Netflix and Amazon know how they get people like you and I to deliver them free content (reviews, ratings) that runs their business.
So, let’s take this to a level where it really gets interesting for you! How can you get a crowd to do your work? How do you build a framework in which strangers work on your business problems and deliver quality result for free.
Genetics of Collective Intelligence
MIT professor Tom Malone dissects the mechanics of collective intelligence in his groundbreaking article (MIT Sloan Review, April 2010). The MIT Center for Collective Intelligence researched to understand this matter better and identified a number of building blocks or ‘genes’ than need to come together to engage and tap into the ‘wisdom of crowds’ successfully and sustainably.
Since these ‘genomic combinations’ are not random at all, we can also combine genes to build a collective intelligence system. Depending on what it is that you want to achieve, the genes can be combined to a model that suits your specific purpose. This is ‘social genomics’ made easy, and you don’t need a biology major! 🙂
Interestingly, this social genomics can be used independently for social projects you have in mind but also in relation to Employee or Business Resource Groups (ERG/ERG). – The common link lays in the organizational design that is similar to the generic BRG/ERG business model discussed previously. Thus, collective intelligence systems need to address the same questions as a business model:
Strategy or the goal: whatneeds to be accomplished?
Staffing or the people: whodoes the work? Are specific individuals doing the work or is there collaboration within a more or less anonymous crowd?
Structure and Processes or howto organize and conduct the work? How is the product created, and how are decisions made?
Rewards or whydo they do it? What are the incentives, what is the measure for success?
Motivation is Key
It is crucial to get the motivation right, i.e. why people engage and continue to come back to contribute more to the cause or project. It comes down to finding the basic drivers for human motivation. This explains why people invest much of their time and resources to crowd sourcing.
The famous $1million Netflix Prize was a 5-year open competition for the best collaborative filtering algorithm to predict user ratings for films, based on previous ratings. The winner had to improve Netflix’s algorithm by 10%. The million-dollar reward in 2006 gives a flavor of just how valuable the crowd’s wisdom is for a company! In contrast to common belief, money is not always the driver. If it was, how do you explain the popular virtual ‘farming’ on Facebook, for example, where players pay hard cash for virtual goods?
In the more clandestine intelligence community, recruiting individual operatives plays to four motivational drivers: Money, Ideology, Conscience, and Ego (easy to remember as ‘MICE’).
The drivers for attracting collective intelligence are a bit different, as Tom Malone found out. Nonetheless, there are parallels: He calls the key motivators Money, Love, and Glory.
Everyone knows Wikipedia, arguably the best-known social collaboration and crowd-sourcing project thriving from an intellectual competition over Love and Glory, no monetary incentives involved for the authors.
How powerful Glory and Honor are we see also in areas away from the mainstream where you may not expect to find crowd-sourcing and gamification: in scientific research. The following two impactful examples reflect successful implementations for large crowds collaborating and competing to solve scientific problems:
Seth Cooper’s AIDS research challenge on the “FoldIt” online platform challenged players to find the best way of folding a specific protein. We will not dive into the science behind it and its medical significance; here are the details for those who are interested to dig deeper: MedCrunch Interview with Seth Cooper at TEDMED 2012. For our purpose, we establish that a relevant scientific problem in AIDS research, which remained unsolved within the scientific community for a decade, took the crowd 10 days to solve!
You may find it surprising that there was has no monetary incentive involved whatsoever – yet FoldIt attracted over 60,000 players(!) from around the world. The winner of the AIDS-related challenge was later recognized and honored at the 2012 TEDMED. It was not a Nobel-prize laureate from an Ivy-League institution but a laboratory assistant from Britain – who, well, enjoys folding proteins and collaborating on the puzzle with think-alike from other countries. This is the power of Love and Glory!
Another example is the ongoing “Predicting a Biological Response” on Kaggle.com, a geeky online platform for people who like developing descriptive models. My friend and colleague David Thompson of Boehringer Ingelheim (a major yet privately held bio-pharmaceutical company) designed this scientific competition to compete for the best bio-response model for a given data set of scientific relevance.
The challenge offers a $10,000 prize for the winning model and lesser amounts for the models coming in second and third. The monetary award together with a time limit of three months helps to speed up the process and keep up the competitive pressure. Last time I checked, 467 teams competed and have already submitted 4,300 entries with another month to go. The quality of the model is summarized in a single number (‘log loss’), so competitors can compare their results directly and immediately, the same quantifier determines the winner.
Note that the Kaggle participation is not driven by the monetary incentive primarily; otherwise, the number of participants should correspond directly with the amount of money offered for a particular challenge, which is not the case. Thus, participants are in it more for the challenge and fun than for the cash. (If you are a participant and disagree, please correct me if I am wrong!!) On the other hand, don’t underestimate the business value of the gamification of science either: another ongoing competition in Kaggle offers a serious $3million reward!
The bottom line
Social collaboration, crowd-sourcing, and collective intelligence all rely and depend on humans collaborating to make things happen. What holds true in the real world seems to hold true also in the virtual world: the magic formula is all in the genes…
Innovate to Implement! Creating value through new products is not enough. Capturing the value requires equal attention on the innovation process. Focusing on creativity and neglecting execution along the value chain is a costly mistake.
It’s all about creating and capturing value
Innovation is about new products (or services) that create value for an organization as much as it is about capturing this value. While there seems to be no shortage of ideas and even products, what differentiates successful companies from others is that they are able to capture the value of what they created.
Capturing value is a process that complements the product by looking at all aspects of the value chain seeking ways to maximize influence and revenue streams. Thus, capturing the value has to be well thought out and built it into the solution – rather than addressing it in an after-thought.
A new product may bring competitive advantage but this is temporary and will last only as long as the competition needs to catch up. To sustain, an organization needs to develop agility and differentiating capabilities to sharpen the competitive edge continuously and reliably in a fast-paced, competitive, and ever-changing environment (see also “‘Complexity’ is the 2015 challenge! – Are leaders prepared for ‘glocal’?”), while reaping the fruit of their work.
Capturing value –or- Who owns the customer?
The aim of capturing value is to ‘own the customer’, i.e. a customer who is willing to pay a premium or accept shortcomings in some areas in order to buy or use the product (or service). Only then does a company own the customer and the competition remains locked out.
Apple, for example, has perfected this customer ownership: Its loyal customer base values the customer experience with Apple products and identifies with the Apple branding. They purchase every new gadget at a premium with little regard to the actual technical specifications or product offerings from other manufacturers. (See section “Fuzzy values? – Here are some how-to examples” in my previous blog “How to become the strategic innovation leader? (part 2 of 3)”)
Apple effectively controls all aspects of the value chain and generates revenues from different streams from hardware, apps, software, and content, for example. Just to give you an idea, here is an overview on some of the revenue streams Apple has created along the value chain (from Bertrand Issard’s Blog):
As a bottom-line, products create the value that needs to be captured just as much. Hence, it is important to focus also on the process that ensures value is captured throughout the value chain.
– So how does this relate to innovation?
Innovating the value chain
Innovating the value chain to capture value requires thinking far and wide beyond the product considering all aspects relating to the:
Business model – what is the revenue model? What partnerships add value without sacrificing too much control?
Processes – what are the core processes of the organization? What are value-adding enabling processes?
Offering – what do you offer the customer? – For example, a product concept (think: iTunes, App store), quality/cost/performance optimization (Intel or AMD chips), a product system (Google), or a supply chain (Fedex or UPS)
Delivery – how do you deliver your product or service? – For example, are you forming alliances with partners to complement the in value chain in areas outside your own organization’s competency or field of business? If so, make sure you have a well thought-out marketing strategy with win/win profit sharing that creates incentives for stable and lasting partnerships.
Examples here are the coffee distribution approaches of Nespresso or Keurig’s (single cup coffee brewing), the focus on customer experience of Harley-Davidson (motorcycles), or the brand communication of Red Bull (energy drink).
Two parts of one whole
The innovation process consists of two parts, the invention and the implementation part. Typically, the invention revolves around creativity and ideation that tends to get more publicity and attention than the implementation, which requires focus, discipline, and persistence to execute.
The creativity has the ‘Wow!’ factor – no question about it. Brain-storming of sorts and creativity techniques can be quite fun, social, and engaging. Nonetheless, new ideas are cheap and come by the dozen. That is, perhaps, why innovation literature and models seem to focus (and sell better) on the creative front-end; not so much on the back-end (execution). Yet, it is flawless execution where the rubber hits the road and the value is captured.
Even worse when the innovation process starts out with generating ideas around a specific solution for a new product or service without exploring alternative approaches and then trying to find an application and market for the product. The more mature way to start is with a focus on the problem and then develop and narrow down solutions to find the one(s) that best meet(s) the underlying needs of that problem.
Focusing on the problem first and understanding it thoroughly leads to better results, i.e. develop a product (invent) to sell it (implement).
The point here is that both parts are equally important and require to same amount of attention for an innovation project to succeed. Invention without implementation does not help; neither does implementing something immature that and doesn’t work.
This is what an innovation process looks like if you break it up (left to right) into the two parts, invention and implementation, and the process steps:
A new product alone is not enough
New product development (NPD), for example, draws from both parts, typically in a series of steps with cycles between them: Ideation, Initiation, Incubation, and finally preparing the Industrialization ‑ but this is not where the implementation process ends.
It requires a few more process steps to make the solution work in the real-life production environment and deliver results reliable and consistently. A clean hand-over introduces and integrates the change into routine operations, i.e. the production environment and processes of the organization, for example. Failing here means failing the innovation project.
Unfortunately, innovation leaders on the front-end tend to be crushed or steamrolled in a rigid and back-end-heavy organization in a clash of creativity (front-end) and execution (back-end).
It requires discipline, persuasiveness, and persistence to push forward and overcome the obstacles that emerge from a production environment optimized for efficiency when innovative change knocks at their door and disrupts the rhythm of a fine-tuned process flow. It also requires courageous leadership and an intrapreneurial spirit to do what is right for the company overall and necessary for future success.
In a nutshell
What innovation comes down to is the creative part of collaboration to come up with a new product as well as the implementation that captures the value throughout the value chain with the goal to ‘own the customer’ through differentiation. Focusing on the creativity and neglecting the implementation and execution is a costly mistake that lets even the best idea fall short of its market potential.
The Rise of the Intrapreneur How to become an ‘Intrapreneur’? Why are Intrapreneurs needed? What is the difference to Entrepreneurship? – The future of innovation within large organizations lies within, if you know how to tap into it with intrapreneurship!
What is Intrapreneurship?
Did you know that ‘Intrapreneur’ and ‘Intrapreneurship’ are not new terms but were coined nearly 35 years ago by Elizabeth and Gifford Pinchot in 1978?
As a definition for our purposes, an intrapreneur takes responsibility in large organizations for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation. In contrast to an entrepreneur, the Intrapreneur operates within an existing organization with an internal focus. Intrapreneurship requires an organization of considerable size for an intrapreneurial role to become applicable in the first place.
What is the difference to Entrepreneurship?
‘Intrapreneur’ is not as well known as the more established term ‘Entrepreneur’ which it derives from. It even takes a deliberate effort to pronounce the word Intrapreneur so doesn’t sound like and get confused with Entrepreneur.
The word ‘Entrepreneur’ has been around since the 19th century with its functional roots reaching even farther back into the 16th century. According to the original definition, an Entrepreneur is “one who undertakes an enterprise […] acting as intermediatory between capital and labour” or in other words, to “shift economic resources out of lower and into higher productivity and greater yield.” (source: Wikipedia)
The role of an Entrepreneur is not so different from the Intrapreneur but many differences exist relating to the environment they operate in and the approach they take. An Entrepreneur founds a new venture, a business, or company, as an independent economic entity. This new entity then typically competes for profit in a market with other companies. Today, Entrepreneurship has fanned out to include specializations such as lifestyle, serial, or social Entrepreneurship that also expanded in markets (in lieu of a better word) previously dominated by non-for-profit, clerical or government institutions.
As a bottom-line, Entrepreneurship roots in competition between companies or organizations by introducing and building a new entity that grows as a company to stand alone in an economic marketplace – while the Intrapreneur connects “capital and labour” using somewhat entrepreneurial methods within an existing organization. You can even see Intrapreneurship as a downstream evolution for a successful and matured entrepreneurial venture.
Why do we need Intrapreneurs?
With increasing size, an organization slows. Inertia and paralysis set in to replace agility and effectiveness. This is often caused by the organization’s own success: The focus shifts towards delivering with increasing efficiency (cost, time) and consistency (quality). You can easily observe the results in many organizations – it looks somewhat like this:
Business functions specialize and sub-optimization to become more efficient and productive; they thereby form ‘silos’ with communication and interactions thinning between them to the detriment of the organization as a whole.
Hierarchical structures become steeper to manage more employees; they effectively disconnect the executives on the top from the workers at the bottom of the hierarchy.
Promising innovation ideas from the grassroots don’t get through to the executive level for backing or funding to be developed and implemented; the ideas starve and innovation suffers overall.
More rules and procedures regulate the growing workforce and detailed aspects of work processes; governance, red tape, and bureaucracy pour over the organization like concrete and become obstacles to change.
Career paths become linear, job profiles and responsibilities narrow, entailing an equally narrow view and mindset of the staff that eats away motivation and creativity over time.
Talented and creative employees are the first to leave or become hard to retain, as they are always in demand and easily find interesting work elsewhere.
Innovation suffers while competitive pressure increases when nimble competitors and start-ups outpace the organization.
Management used to command-and-control eagerly seeks fresh talent and ideas externally, i.e. ‘hiring the best and brightest’, to reanimate the organization – yet the leaky pipeline continues bleeding talent, as also the new ‘super stars’ find themselves trapped and escape to new adventures elsewhere.
It takes a jolt to overcome this inertia, revive it, and get an organization moving nimble again ‑ this is the hour of the Intrapreneur!
How to become an Intrapreneur?
It takes a new role in the organization to jump-start it, so we “Innovate to Implement“. Sometimes, a new CEO is hired to turn the corporate ship around from the top; sometimes it works. The Intrapreneur, however, also considers working bottom-up by pulling the loose ends together and connecting people again across all functions and levels of hierarchy. The Intrapreneur bridges the various gaps within the organization vertically and horizontally.
It takes a different approach to include, and engage all employees in ways outside their immediate job description that makes best use of all dimensions each individual brings to the (work) table. The Intrapreneur inspires and spreads a new sense of enablement throughout the workforce.
The Intrapreneur looks differently at how we conduct our business and unlocks innovative value chains, new business models, or propositions. It takes a strategic lead to become a facilitator for the organization, to adapt continuously and make best use of the changing environment. The Intrapreneur builds networks and alliances to help actively moving the organization towards its business goals.
Now, as a word of warning, being an Intrapreneur is not always easy: You tent to step on many people’s toes if you want to make a difference. It can be so risky, that Gifford Pinchot even formulated The Intrapreneur’s Ten Commandments starting with: “Come to work each day willing to be fired.”
It is not always easy to become an Intrapreneur. It takes skill and persistence as well as courageous leadership and risk taking. Truly making a difference and reviving an organization though is rewarding in itself – at least you will learn a lot and make new friends. ‑ Most of all make sure you have fun!
Job description for an Executive Sponsor Executive sponsorship is an important prerequisite for the success of employee groups. The challenge is finding a great sponsor, so what should you look for? What would a job description for an executive sponsor look like? ‑ Here are some practical ideas that have worked.
Why executive sponsorship is critical
Employee groups consist of volunteers with good intentions. They work, typically, in addition to their day job and after hours driven by the desire to address a need close to their heart. Together with colleagues, they seize opportunities to complement the organization’s objectives and goals and to improve the workplace. In most cases, employee groups are not an integral part of the organization: they don’t show up in organizational charts and have no formal authority.
For most group members, this voluntary work is ‘on top’ of the regular job and not reflected in their professional goals or performance evaluation. What makes a difference is having a strong ally: the executive sponsor.
From the organization’s perspective, some governance is needed to:
Prevent the employee group left to operate in a void or detach from the rest of the organization
Align the goals of the group with the needs and strategy of the company in a complementing and synergistic way
Ensure the group’s practices comply with company policies and other regulations.
The leaders of employee groups owe their members to:
Focus the group’s work to make a meaningful impact on the organization (instead of wasting resources and the member’s time on projects or activities that do not create value, are meaningless or even harmful to the organization)
Get funds, active support, and political backing in the organization.
Both, the organization and the employee group benefits from the connection with an executive sponsor.
No silver bullet
When you are looking for an executive sponsor, what are you looking for? What are the relevant criteria? – Executive sponsorship is a role, just like any other job, so what would a job description for an executive sponsor look like?
Bear in mind that there is no one right answer for the working relationship with an executive sponsor. The sponsor role and level of involvement varies and depends on many factors. It also shifts over time with the changing maturity of the group and its leadership, for example, or levels of involvement and autonomy of the group. A new group may turn to the sponsor for help with forming, direction, and funding where a mature group may seek business insights, refined success metrics, and leadership development opportunities.
Criteria for an Executive Sponsor
A perfect sponsor effectively leverages their personal brand, relationships, resources to enhance the visibility and credibility of the group. Look to ‘recruit’ a well-known leader, who is well-connected within the leadership team and respected throughout the organization. In an earlier post, we briefly touched on “How to attract an executive sponsor?”
Ideally, the sponsor is a top-level executive ‑ you hit the jackpot if you can get the CEO!
Overall, the group’s expectations of the sponsor’s role usually include that the sponsor:
Serves as a champion of the group
Gives strategic direction to align with the organization’s business strategy
Helps to identify measurable success criteria that support business goals
Provides advice and counsel to guide the group’s development
Connects to a broad network of relationships
Liaises with the executive team and accepts accountability
Helps actively to identify and overcome obstacles and resistance within the organization
Supports the group through communication and visibility.
The stronger your sponsor, the stronger the group! A strong sponsor
Shares valuable business knowledge
Demonstrates leadership, and is
Genuinely willing to help others.
A good sponsor encourages people to focus on how to engage others and improve communication, enhances the members’ leadership qualities and developing partnerships while helping to overcome barriers.
The sponsor you do NOT want
On the other end of the spectrum, there are also people you should avoid as executive sponsors for the group. This category includes people who:
Provide lip-service over taking action
Use the group for selfish reasons; for example, by claiming and promoting achievements of group members as their own
Do not see the potential and value that the group can add to the organization and its businesses
Do not make enough time to work with the group
Are ineffective or unwilling to support and protect the group from opposing forces.
Finally, if you have the choice, avoid the temptation to have a group of executives ‘share’ responsibility and ‘champion’ the group collectively. This tends to dilute accountability and action while increasing communication and coordination overhead.
There is much truth in the saying: ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth.’
One of us?
Often enough, sponsors are chosen or step up because they originate from the group’s affinity core, i.e. they are of the same ethnicity that ethic-focused group represents, a female for a women’s group, a gay or lesbian for an LGBT group, and so on ‑ you get the picture. I advocate against this practice for two reasons, in particular: First, with an ‘outsider’ you achieve more diversity and mutual learning experiences in the group as well as for the sponsor. Secondly, the group becomes more believable as a business driver that attracts a broader membership base instead of risking to be perceived as an ‘insider club’ limited to members with a certain ‘diversity ticket’.
For the same reasons, you may also consider rotating sponsors every few years.
Quid pro quo
What you want is an involved and effective executive sponsor. Now, this sponsor role comes with additional work, responsibility, and risks for the senior leader’s reputation and career. Therefore, this ‘job opening’ must be compelling enough to attract a senior executive to step forward and sign up.
It is important to offer a value proposition that makes clear what is in it for the executive sponsor to make this symbiosis work. It is quite similar as discussed in “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) for the group members.
Know your sponsor
Sponsors are humans too, so here are some thoughts on how to approach them: Get to know your sponsor first, just as you would prepare and approach to meet any other very important customer or external business partner. Find out their goals, interests, beliefs, priorities, constraints of the political and economic environment, and personal work-style. What exactly is the sponsor’s interest in your group?
Clarify your expectations mutually. Once you know your sponsor and built rapport, it becomes easy to offer what is important to them and helping the sponsor to achieve their goals too.
A value proposition that addresses the (financial) bottom line is powerful and convincing. It also enables the sponsor to communicate the benefits with the leadership team in a (business) language that everyone understands. It takes business acumen, though, to specify and articulate the financial impact. If this is not your strong suit, you need to find other compelling upsides or values that the group can bring to the business and that is close to a sponsor’s heart.
Do and Don’t: How to work with the executive sponsor
Here is some practical advice on working with an executive sponsor.
On the Do side, preparation and focus are key. Remember, this is a business meeting. The executive’s time is valuable, so be respectful of it and do not waste it. You want the sponsor to remain approachable and willing to meet with you in the future whenever you need to see them urgently.
Schedule appointments regularly (monthly, for example, if the sponsor agrees) with an agenda of topics to discuss
Provide background information on meeting topics ahead of time and come well prepared
Be on time and keep meetings on schedule
Present any problems with a proposed solution
Inform of issues in the workplace that affect the group and propose what the sponsor can to mitigate or resolve the issues
Be honest with your sponsor – do not sugarcoat, blame others, or cover-up mistakes
Give your sponsor a heads-up also before taking more public and visible action so they will not get caught by surprise – if there is bad news, share it with the sponsor first
Discuss key goals and ask them for guidance, advice or assistance – allow your sponsor to help you and the group
Reserve your requests for sponsor appearances and events to where it counts most. For example, as a speaker at a ‘headline’ event to draw a crowd, attract new members, and demonstrate the group’s value for the business. Ask if the sponsor is willing to recruit other executives or respected business partners and customers as guest speakers or participants.
The sponsor could host a luncheon or dinner for the group’s leadership once or twice a year to meet everyone in person, discuss, and recognize achievements of the group and individual members.
As for the Don’ts, try to avoid these pitfalls:
Don’t come with a hidden personal agenda – it’s strictly about the group
Don’t bother the sponsor with petty day-to-day issues – focus on the meaningful impact on the business and the group
Don’t ask for general funding or support – be specific and have data and facts ready to support your case
Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance and advice – but also don’t come just to commiserate.
Beyond the job description
Don’t underestimate the importance of the right chemistry between the group leader(s) and the exec sponsor; it is crucial to establish and foster a trustful, constructive, and pleasant work relationship.
For an employee group, executive sponsorship is more than the group’s endorsement by senior management: a strong sponsor becomes the lifeline when times get rough.
So when you go out to ‘hire’ your executive sponsor, also hire for the right attitude.
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’…
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.
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.
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.
The proposed business model for ERGs forms a foundation for continued innovation, strategic alignment and measurable results. It turns an ERG into a true and sustainable business resource for its members as well as the hosting organization.
Summary – The increasing diversity of employees at the workplace led to employees gathering along affinity dimensions like birds-of-a-feather to form networking groups within organizations. The next step goes beyond affinity and establishes employee resource groups (ERGs) strategically as a business resource and powerful driver for measurable business impact and strategic innovation bottom-up.
Limited to social?
Employee resource groups (ERGs) emerge for various reasons. They tend to start with a social underpinning that naturally unites and organizes like-minded employees. ERGs come in different flavors mostly along the traditional lines of diversity characteristics such as ethnicity, skin color, age, gender, physical (dis)ability, sexual orientation, military veterans, etc.
For ERGs, a ‘social stickiness’ is important and can be the key integrating factor of employee populations within organizations. It may also influence the choices of ERG goals and activities to a large extent. This may result, however, in possibly limiting the ERG and its members to be seen as a ‘social club’ of sorts by others. Management, in particular, may not see the direct (or even indirect) positive business impact that an ERG can have.
This is where ERGs can fall short: when they fail to tie a strong business-focused bond that ensures continued support by leadership that in return ensures the ERG can sustain and proper for the better of its members as well as the hosting organization.
Becoming a business resource
From a management perspective, ERGs can provide social ties within the workforce that are mostly seen as favorable ‑ at least as long as it does not affect the employee performance; whether perceived or real.
Better off is the ERG that demonstrates an unambiguous contribution to the bottom line. A clear business value proposition sets a solid foundation that makes it easy to communicate with and convince executives securing their continued support. The company benefits from positive business outcomes as a direct result of the ERG activities, while it engages employees broader and deeper. This uses more of the employees’ true potential to ‘maximize the human capital’ as an important element also of employee engagement, development and retention.
This approach serves not only the company but has advantages also for its employees and the ERG in return. The ERG members benefit directly in many ways such as by interesting work outside the immediate scope of their job, by developing new skills and by increasing their visibility within the organization and continued ‘employability’, i.e. their personal market value as an employee.
So what is the key to success, how do you ‘build’ an innovation-driven and business-focused ERG?
A ‘business model’ for ERGs
My proposal is to establish the ERG as a self-propelling and sustainable system, an ongoing process that continues functioning quite independently from changes in the ERG leadership and consistently delivers innovations. Individual leaders are important for operations and make valuable contributions, but the ERG must be able to continue functioning even if key players become unavailable and replaced.
The following dimensions are generic and apply to any organization. Here, we use them to describe a general business model for the ERG:
To illustrate the model and making it more tangible I use a generic example. It is based on NxGen (for Next Generation at the Workplace), a generational-oriented and business-focused ERG that I founded. NxGen was recognized in early 2010 as a best-practices approach by the National Affinity Leadership Congress (NALC).
The strategy brings to the point the ERG’s goal and objectives. A well-thought-out value proposition is a foundation for the ERG.
For example, NxGen is a forum to develop leadership skills, networking and problem-solving that aims to open up cross-functional/cross-disciplinary opportunities for its active members through strategic business projects with measurable results. As a goal, NxGen aims to become a sounding board for management as a valued business resource.
2. People practices
People, active volunteers, are the life-blood of every ERG. Staffing and selection are crucial and continued activities to induce fresh ideas and prevent burn-out of established ERG members. What you are looking for are active volunteers who are passionate and energetic. You want members who become active change agents, role models, within the organization. Value a diverse set of backgrounds and capabilities that can complement another.
Rather than trying to recruit new members, focus on how to attract new members to engage and actively participate (in contrast to the ones signing up to receive email updates or a periodic newsletter, which is a passive form of membership). NxGen membership is open to all employees.
There is a broad range of benefits for active ERG members that can include (but are definitely not limited to):
Insight and work in other business functions and departments
Members lead a relevant project possibly in another business function
Experiment and learn in a safe and nurturing environment
Develop and apply skills like leadership, consulting, problem-solving
Build an open and supportive network with members coaching each other
Increased visibility within the organization
Potential to open new career opportunities
Making a measurable change in the organization here and now.
At NxGen, we see that younger employees (primarily Generation Y also called Millennial, born after 1980) tend to drive the ERG activities most. The explanations I offer is that GenY’ers, in particular, enter the workplace as well-educated professionals, optimistic and motivated to make a difference. GenY was brought up to believe they can achieve anything and are interested to explore lateral career moves. They are used to collaborating in teams to overcome obstacles and network while leveraging technology effectively to this end. At the workplace, GenY typically is not (yet) part of the decision-making bodies due to their junior positions ‑ but they do want to be heard (and should be listed to given their increasing numbers in the demographic shift of the population that has reached the workforce).
The ERG acts through business-relevant projects. At NxGen, the member ‘grass-roots’ identify otherwise un-addressed or under-served business needs that the ERG chooses to pursue. Based on a clear value proposition (return-on-investment, ROI) for the organization the ERG seeks executive sponsorship for each project. The executive sponsor ensures strategic alignment with the organization’s goal, expertise in the functional area, political support and funding for the project (since the ERG has no funds of its own).
The project scope often lays outside of the immediate job description of the ERG-appointed project leader allowing for broader hands-on learning opportunities. Applying professional project management methods to all projects ensures the projects deliver the specified deliverables.
The ERG core team steers and administrates the ERG project portfolio which is documented in an annual business plan and shared publicly. As resources are limited, not all imaginable projects can be conducted at once but are staged. Projects can build upon and leverage each other while making use of synergies whenever possible.
In the beginning, it might be challenging to find meaningful projects that make the best use of the ERG’s resources and capabilities with favorable business impact. It takes time and persistence to develop a trustful relationship with executive management and to gain credibility as an ERG to attracts more complex and important projects from management in return.
NxGen works and communicates openly, it acts transparently and leverages (social) media to inform and connect with its members and non-members displaying operations and result of the ERG’s work.
The NxGen ERG operates within a general framework set by a company’s office to ensure all ERGs abide the company policies. This office also provides an organizational home for ERGs within the company. It generally coordinates and supports the different activities across ERGs and ensures each ERG has a distinguished executive sponsor to connect the ERG with senior management.
A charter defines the basic roles and processes of the NxGen ERG in more detail and is posted publicly. A core team of active members guides the ERG activities and ensures ERG operability. The core team is lead by the ERG’s elected chair and co-chair(s); it further comprises the project leaders, distinguished role-holders, and liaisons to key functions in the organization. The core team members support and advise each other. The ERG provides a safe and social environment that relies on trust among the members to connect, to build relationships, to network and to run projects.
NxGen actively reaches out to other ERGs, innovative groups within the organization but also other operating units and companies to cooperate, share, benchmark and collaborate on common goals.
5. Metrics and rewards system
How do you measure success, i.e. the effectiveness of an ERG? An annual business plan covers the portfolio of ERG projects. It serves as an instrument to measure the ERG performance across all ERG activities that the ERG chair is held accountable for.
What are the rewards for active ERG members? Besides the benefits listed in the above section ‘People’, accountability and success for individual members derive from their projects or their input to other ERG activities that all have clear objectives and a success metrics attached. Driving the change and making a difference is a reward in itself.
NxGen and individual members received several awards and recognition for their work inside and outside the company which the ERG celebrates in public. Some members list their ERG involvement and experience proudly on their résumé which is an indicator that the ERG’s value proposition is effective for its members, i.e. the members value the ERG membership, projects, recognition and awards as means of their ‘employability’.
Building the ERG as an innovation incubator
The business model positions the ERG clearly as a powerful business resource for the organization but it can be even more. The ERG can serve as an ‘innovation incubator’ by combining an attractive system with creative space in an effective governance framework. The processes create measurable value for the individual and the organization that can significantly contribute to process innovation and also drives product innovation.
In an empowering bottom-up movement, the ERG directly connects its active members from any level of hierarchy with the decision-makers high up. This bears the potential to cut right through established or perceived boundaries such as hierarchy, bureaucracy, and red-tape or functional silos that may severely limit the effectiveness and innovative effectiveness of other units that were created top-down within the organization.
Herein lays the deeper potential of ERGs as a true business resource and going beyond possible self-inflicted limitation to social affinity. ERGs can well be the means that contribute to driving the future success of an organization for an organization that understands and value how ERGs open opportunities to tap into its workforce and unleashes hidden potential.