intrapreneurial talent

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.

 

 

 

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When did entrepreneurs become so incurious?

Originally published on May 8, 2015 as a Guest Column in The Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/sb-growth/day-to-day/when-did-entrepreneurs-become-so-incurious/article24310344/

Entrepreneurs are supposed to be the mavericks of the business world. They’re the idea generators. The marchers to different drummers. The innovators who drive the economy forward, by starting businesses and launching new products and services. They redefine technology and change the world around us.

At least, that’s how I’ve always thought of them.

Lately, I’m starting to wonder if some entrepreneurs are losing their sense of curiosity, along with that distinctive maverick swagger that makes them such crucial builders in the business ecosystem.

My clues? At the seminars, workshops and business events that I’ve been attending recently, more of the attendees seem to come from big companies – and fewer and fewer come from small and medium-sized businesses. It’s disappointing really.

Personally, I’m happy to learn from companies large or small. And I’m sure that event organizers don’t really care who buys their tickets. But from the perspective of learning and sharing of ideas, I believe that everybody loses. Large companies appreciate the candid, fresh voices of true entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs can always learn something new from one another, as well from the attendees of the national and international organizations that we all hope to grow up to be.

In my column last month, I noted the stunning reality that 80 per cent of new businesses fail. While there are a host of reasons for all these fatalities, I believe that one of the very real answers is that, at the slightest taste of success, many entrepreneurs become complacent and incurious.

We allow ourselves to get lost in our little business bubbles, relying on today’s products and services to drive future success. Let’s be honest, we can get so focused and myopic that we often neglect to do the things that earned us our success in the first place – getting out of the office, meeting people and asking as many big-picture questions of ‘the crowd’ as we can.

It is a lovely notion to think that we can hole ourselves up in our new business and bide our time till the big ‘cash-out’ at the end of the road. But this tactic isn’t practical in an economy that demands continuous improvement, refinement and even replacement of our products and services as a matter of course.

Consider the digital picture frame. Ten years ago, these electronic photo albums were all the rage. Today they’ve been replaced by smart phones and tablets. And how about those Bluetooth headsets? Just a few years ago when the laws began to restrict drivers’ cellphone use, we couldn’t buy these items fast enough. Today, it’s hard to find a new car that doesn’t have hands-free built into it, complete with voice-assist and even access to intelligent personal assistants such as Apple’s Siri – rendering the headset embarrassingly passé.

Bottom-line: today, everything moves from ‘the rage’ to ‘remember when’ before you can say “Trivial Pursuit!”

You need to top up your product and service offerings just like you change the oil in your car. When we neglect to change the oil, our engines stutter, seize and ultimately die.

It’s no different in business. No business succeeds without revenue and, ultimately, profit to reinvest in the future. Revenue is generated by satisfied and engaged customers. If you neglect to constantly re-engage your customers with the new and different, they will quickly find a competitor who does.

If you want to think about it as a continuum, then understand that innovation drives marketing, which drives sales. If you take innovation out of the equation, your funnel loses the raw material that drives growth.

Sorry if this sounds doomsday-ish, but, unfortunately, innovation is no longer a nice to have. It’s a very real need. As our markets evolve faster and faster we have to ramp up our innovations and improvement, not cut back. Innovation isn’t an occasional remedy, like a cough drop, but an everyday necessity, like water.

All this means that innovation – sparked by curiosity and fuelled by constant communication with customer – has become a core competency of today’s successful businesses.

If you’re not ready to give your customers what they want, keep in mind that innovation is also an engagement tool for your team. Today’s employees want to be involved in exciting and meaningful improvement projects.

When I went into business I was taught that to succeed, I had to join a company, put one foot in front of the other, keep my head down and shut my mouth. Today we know that management has no monopoly on creativity. Everyone in the organization deserves and expects to have a voice, to engage in ideation and add value beyond the day-to-day.

If your company culture has moved from thinking, questioning and dreaming to just doing, watch out. Your best team members will gradually disengage, and likely revert to one of the first skills they ever learned: walking.

Revenue, profits, engaged customers and motivated teams are all crucial to your business. Keeping them strong takes constant feeding and renewal. That’s why it’s so important to hold your head up, sniff the air for new ideas, and keep questioning. Only the curious can change the world.

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‘Tis the Season of Falling Leaves and Growing Budgets

It’s that time of year again. With the turning of the leaves it is officially budget season!

Yes, planning for a new budget begins with everyone eagerly compiling their want list. Like kids creating a birthday wish list, there is wide-eyed excitement and hope that this will be “the” year. And, yes again, as the budget process unfolds inevitably there are a few disheartening adjustments to the wish list.

But, as the chorus of “ughs” begin, I offer some advice.

Rather than being the person who laments over what could have been, try this. Focus on leveraging one of the largest resources you have – your people.

Focusing on your people means focusing on your engaging your team with a view to driving your bottom line. Why?

  • Engaged people are more productive.
  • Engaging your people will increase productivity.
  • Engaging the hearts and minds of your people will help your company to recoup some of the $450 billion in lost productivity annually due to disengagement.
  • Engaged employees contribute to customer retention.
  • Engaged employees deliver revenue growth.

We all know it is easier to have existing customers buy more than it is to attract new customers. Research indicates the cost of customer acquisition is on average between four to ten times more expensive than customer retention. Investing in engaging your employees can be beneficial for your customer retention strategy.

The Disney Institute and McKinsey Company recently reported companies whose people consistently offered an exceptional customer experience realized a 2-percentage point advantage over their peers in revenue growth along with an increased employee satisfaction and engagement of 30 percent. Imagine what customer experience could do to your bottom line.

Through increased productivity, customer retention and revenue, you will be creating your own budget increases … freeing up more time to go outside and rake!

Are your people fully engaged? Here are a few tips to get started.

Ten Tips for Increasing Engagement:

  1. Develop inspirational leaders
  2. Hire motivated people
  3. Ask for input
  4. Do change well
  5. Provide learning opportunities
  6. Encourage calculated risk taking
  7. Get to know your people as individuals
  8. Deal with non performers
  9. Be true to your company values
  10. Celebrate success

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