big ideas

Will corporate intrapreneurs put entrepreneurs out of a job?

Speaker Seminar Corporate Business Meeting Concept

Originally published on June 5, 2016 as a Guest Column in The Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/startups/will-corporate-intrapreneurs-put-entrepreneurs-out-of-a-job/article30202880/

There’s nothing more faddish than some of the terms used when devising corporate strategy, and now, for better or worse, “intrapreneurship” is back.

Born in the late 1970s, when sudden market shifts first started to demonstrate that the average corporate entity isn’t actually good at adapting to change, intrapreneurship is a movement that believes big businesses should grow and innovate the way entrepreneurs do. The first wave of intrapreneurship never really took off, probably for two reasons: a) because innovation is hard, and b) because most big corporate leaders didn’t truly believe they could learn anything from small businesses.

But now intrapreneurship is hot again. Unlike the 1980s, the impact of entrepreneurial disruption is all around us: in the urban uproars over Uber, the fuss around fintech, and Detroit’s growing attention to Elon Musk and his electric cars. CEOs have to respect small business now, because visionary, nimble entrepreneurs are kicking them in the assets.

Check any business magazine today, and you’ll see evidence of this shift. The business models everyone is copying are those of Etsy, Zappos, Airbnb, Warby Parker and other creative, mission-based innovators. No one wants to be the McDonald’s of their industry (low quality, cheapest) any more. Not even McDonald’s.

What caused this comeback? “The potential of intrapreneurship is greater than ever,” says Hans Balmaekers, program and partnership chief with the Netherlands-based Intrapreneurship Conference. “The business landscape has changed. Consumers are more choosey today, and startups are better able to meet that demand. Intrapreneurship is an opportunity to do more experiments, faster and cheaper.”

Mr. Balmaekers says intrapreneurship borrows the best qualities of savvy startups: a bias for change, openness to learning and collaborating, a commitment to customer feedback, and tolerance for risk.

This month the Intrapreneurship Conference will hold its first two Canadian events – in Waterloo, Ont., on June 14, and Montreal on June 16. (In the interests of full disclosure, I have been invited to speak at the Montreal conference.)

Most intrapreneurship programs are still small-scale. They tend to be championed by just one senior executive in an organization, and confined to one group that’s specially empowered to test new ideas and fail fast. Mr. Balmaekers says it will take most early adopters years to extend that kind of thinking throughout their organizations.

Intrapreneurship starts with humility, which in big firms is rarely a core competence. “At our conferences, no one hides behind their business cards,” says Mr. Balmaeker. “It’s not about competing and showing off, but collaborating and learning together.”

When I first heard about the Intrapreneurship Conference, I must admit I wavered for a moment. Is intrapreneurship actually good for entrepreneurs? Do we really want market-dominating, resource-rich corporations taking our best stuff: our entrepreneurial hunger for disruption, our ability to turn on a dime, our commitment to constantly surprise and delight our customers? When our only advantage is agility, do we really want corporations to learn how to dance?

In the end, I concluded, the answer is yes. Of course we want smarter, savvier corporates making waves in their marketplaces. Small business won’t just benefit from the competition; we will all gain from faster-moving and more risk-tolerant markets.

Here’s why:

Entrepreneurs exist to spot gaps and seize opportunities. As bigger organizations embrace change and disruption, they will naturally become more open to doing deals with fearless, creative, small businesses. If big companies start attracting and empowering more innovative executives, they give us more willing prospects to pitch to and partner with. Having people at the top of big businesses who actually have budgets for new ideas, projects and processes will be a huge opportunity for visionary entrepreneurs.

Many ideas never get to market because of lack of funding. Creating more intrapreneurial organizations doesn’t just generate more prospects for small business, but also more potential strategic partners and investors. Many brilliant but cash-constrained entrepreneurs would gladly swap ownership of an idea for stock options (or employment) in innovative large company, if it means seeing their vision realized.

“Build to sell” is the mantra of many entrepreneurs. The more that large companies understand and appreciate the value that smaller independents bring to their markets, the more they will be open to buying early-stage ventures.

Innovation is increasingly being recognized as a key differentiator, economic driver and source of job creation. If bigger businesses become better at innovation, they will create a more robust and competitive Canadian economy – which is good for every business, small or large.

Entrepreneurs should do everything they can to help their more corporate-minded colleagues adopt the culture of intrapreneurship. It may take years, and many setbacks. Corporate CEOs tend to be risk-averse, status-conscious, and in office for a very short time. They’ll need all the help they can get.

Ken Tencer is chief executive officer of design-driven strategy firm Spyder Works Inc. and the co-author of two books on innovation, including the bestseller Cause a Disturbance. Follow him on Twitter at @90per centRule.

 

 

 

No comments

It’s never okay to be ‘just okay’ at your job

 

Screen Shot 2016-05-13 at 1.59.29 PM

Originally published on May 2, 2016 as a Guest Column in The Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/sb-managing/its-never-okay-to-be-just-okay-at-your-job/article29807629/

If you are one of those people who gets out of bed every morning to make a difference, your commitment to entrepreneurship is alive and well. And if your energy is rooted in audacity, you’re ahead of the game. Some may consider audacity to be a negative concept associated with attitude or edge, but it’s your willingness to challenge assumptions and conventions that will catalyze innovation and business success. As entrepreneurs, if we don’t have the audacity to believe in ourselves and our ideas, who will do it for us?

Two of the biggest barriers that we face in bringing new ideas to the world are the naysayers who assert: “That’ll never work, because…,” and the faint-hearted friends who say: “You have a family to feed, your dreams will have to wait.”

But recently I heard a new declaration and it will stay with me for a long time.

First, you might remember that in a previous column, I encouraged entrepreneurs to attack their sluggish markets by attending more industry events, dinners and trade shows – to get out of the office to find new ideas and fresh prospects. I even set a personal goal of attending 50-per-cent more events this year.

Well, sitting at a recent event, I heard the story of a former entrepreneur who quit to become a manager at a large company.

Why did he make such a drastic change? His answer, “Why bother being an entrepreneur when you can work in ‘the middle’ of a big company where it’s okay to be JUST OKAY?”

Wow! I finally understood the meaning of the “frozen middle.” It’s a term often used to describe the thickest part of an organization, the forbidding wasteland where ideas go to die. Great new notions may trickle down from the top of the organization, or begin at the bottom and percolate up, but in urban business mythology, they all die in the frozen middle.

Never having worked for a multinational, I assumed the frozen middle was no more real than the Land of Oz. I mean, who would ever want a huge part of their organization to be “just OKAY”? Back when I owned a manufacturing firm, we received a large order from a major retailer. A few friends warned me, “They are going to be very demanding, and your company is going to have to be exceptional to work with them.” I shrugged my shoulders and replied, “I don’t want to own a company that is anything less than exceptional. So I see this as an opportunity to ensure that we are nothing less.”

To be clear, the frozen middle is not the fault of the middle managers, it is systemic. To quote a 2005 article from the Harvard Business Review, “the problem is the inability of the company’s middle-management team to carry it out.” Ironically, the article is entitled “Middle Management Excellence.” In it, author and consultant Jonathan Byrnes argues that the most important thing a CEO can do to maximize company performance is to build the capabilities of the middle-management team.

Great middle managers are on their way to leadership positions. They take the longer view by embracing proactivity and innovation, because they know that both the future of their company and their own future prospects depend on it. But they are hindered by archaic processes and institutional roadblocks.

For large companies that know in their hearts that their vast middle needs a defrost, it’s time for an industrial-grade heater. To create and maintain market leadership today requires a red-hot culture shift: openness to new ideas, incentives to perform and a culture of innovation that drives ideas to market. Make innovation a part of your performance reviews. Let everyone know that new ideas are the heart of your corporate culture. If middle managers see how important innovation is to the company’s leadership, they will begin to understand that the status quo is no longer worth defending. If you want intrapreneurs heating up your bottom line, you have to recognize and reward audacious behaviour.

There’s great news in this for fellow entrepreneurs. Bigger firms’ inability to pivot and develop new products and opportunities provide us the open door to break through and disturb the status quo.

Bottom line: You never know which innovation will prove to be a winner – but the act of innovation is always right. Entrepreneur or corporate behemoth, it’s never okay to be “just okay.”

No comments

Why your company is failing to innovate

Originally published on December 4, 2015 as a Guest Column in The Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/sb-growth/why-your-company-is-failing-to-innovate/article27510973/

An executive recently said to me: “Our company has become very innovative. We have hundreds of ideas that we have analyzed and know are right for our future. We just haven’t been able to bring them to market yet.”

Strike one, strike two and strike three. This executive doesn’t know any more about innovation than he knows about hitting a 100-mph fastball.

Innovation is not simply about having an idea. It’s about commercializing ideas: Bringing them to market in ways that benefit your company and your customers. Having an idea may be insightful or even creative, but it certainly doesn’t make you innovative.

It shouldn’t be this hard. What could be simpler than having an idea and acting on it?

But according to Forbes magazine, it’s just not that simple. In a February, 2015, article entitled “Why U.S. Firms Are Dying: Failure To Innovate,” Steve Denning writes: “A new survey from MindMatters conducted this month suggests that many American companies are still in an ‘innovation crisis.’ ”

In the survey Denning cites, “only 5 per cent of respondents report that workers in innovation programs feel highly motivated to innovate. More than three of four say their new ideas are poorly reviewed and analyzed. And less than a third of the firms surveyed say they regularly measure or report on innovation.”

In my work with large and small companies, across many industries and countries, there seems to be three common and significant barriers to success.

The first barrier is transparency

We are better at hiding our ideas than bringing them to market. We write them on sticky notes, scrawl them on loose pieces of paper, or input them into notes apps on our phones – and then forget all about them. To be an effective innovator, you need inclusive transparency. You need to solicit ideas from your team and post them in a visible place in your office, along with the criteria used to judge them, identification of the leader tasked with bringing each project to market and the progress of each project. With this approach, innovation is an open-and-shared process, with consistent measurement and reporting.

The second barrier is improper resource allocation

Mr. Denning’s articles also reports: “More than four of five respondents (81 per cent) say their firms do not have the resources needed to fully pursue the innovations and new ideas capable of keeping their companies ahead in the competitive global marketplace.” Don’t overpromise. If you have resources to achieve just two projects, choose the best two and commit to them. Too many companies bite off more than they can chew. Trying to do too much usually produces nothing – other than creating one more perceived failure in your organization.

The third barrier is the lack of an innovation culture

Innovation may depend upon the activation of market-ready ideas, but it is driven by organizational attitude. Successful corporations today need an innovation culture that inspires people to seek new possibilities and embrace change in their day-to-day work. As Mr. Denning notes: “The challenge is systemic: While more than half the respondents (55 per cent) say that their organizations treat intellectual property as a valuable resource, only one in seven (16 per cent) believed their employers regarded its development as a mission-critical function. The lack of recognition for contributions to innovation is also striking: Almost half (49 per cent) believe they won’t receive any benefit or recognition for developing successful ideas.”

Don’t expect your team to act on new ideas in their spare time. It sends the message that innovation is a hobby, not a commitment. To achieve breakthroughs, you need to carve time out of your team’s workweek to devote to new projects and directions. (Google famously gives its best engineers a day a week to work on innovation ideas of their own creation.)

Your employees’ innovation successes also need to be recognized, both publicly and at their next performance review. There is nothing better than a public thank you – except maybe a share of the profits – to make people feel appreciated. These moves also reconfirm the organization’s recognition that its own people are the source of future success.

Innovation isn’t an idea on the back of a napkin; it’s a framework of resources and rewards that focuses your entire team on ideation, experimentation and product-market fit. A shared innovation agenda gives your organization greater ability to grow revenue, control costs and engage entire teams. Innovation also improves the customer experience, through the continuous introduction of new and improved product offers and services.

When the innovation process is shared and understood, there’s no more expecting unprepared batters to hit fastballs. When it comes to innovation, it takes a team to hit the ball out of the park.

No comments