It seems that every time I chat with corporate innovation leaders these days their desire and / or plans to build a corporate incubator / accelerator pops up. And sure, I understand why they are going down this path. These efforts are fun! Who doesn’t love a beanbag?
While incubators are often first stage efforts and accelerators are often second stage, they are similar concepts and will be handled here together. The goal of these efforts is to give selected ideas an environment with resources, attention, tools and structure that will help them thrive and grow into successful ideas or businesses.
Well that is the politically correct version.
The corporate culture is so toxic to new thinking that they need to be separated…
In reality, and at the risk of offending people (let me know if you don’t agree), these efforts are often an admission that the corporate culture is so toxic to new thinking that they need to be separated, often physically, from the rest of the organization. The goal is to give these ideas a fighting chance before they are thrown out to the pack of wolves beyond the beanbag lined gates.
So while I am a fan of this concept, the ideas they produce often fail when released from the confines of the incubator, for the following reasons:
There are many steps that an organization can take to improve the chance of success for ideas and new businesses being worked on within an incubator. However, for the purposes of this article, I want to focus on the value that employee networks can provide. The reason for this is that much of the recent writing around these efforts ignores the points of connection back into the business, which I believe are really essential to success.
So what are some examples where employee innovation networks (see my previous article to learn more) can support incubators and the ideas that they are focused on?
There are a range of ways that these networks can support the early stages of idea development, in the context of an incubator:
Within the incubator, network members can assist at various points of an idea’s development.
The benefits to these efforts are that they extend the incubator experience to a broader range of employees, and limit the full-time employee resources allocated directly to the incubator.
Further, the interaction and support of network members with the development of new ideas is especially powerful when formalized procedures are put in place by HR teams. I have written in the past about the value of partnership between Innovation Programs and HR groups as a way to further leverage business impact.
Once an idea is ready to be launched back into the organization, network members can be actively engaged to champion the idea through this transition. As part of this effort, members can be educated around the idea and its benefits.
At a more formalized level, a subset of individuals can be given specific roles and tasks needed to support these ideas. These roles can even be formalized into an individual’s annual goals or career development planning efforts.
Networks can take a range of different formats and approaches. What I believe is essential to an incubator’s success is to build a senior leadership incubator steering committee or network. These individuals need to understand the ideas that are in development, both at an individual and pipeline level. They need to be aware of rollout timelines and feel a level of responsibility for success. As a network they need to act as visible and active sponsors of the incubator and ideas being generated out of it.
So, yes, I do love a beanbag, but I see many incubators being set up without the necessary channels back into the business units, where the real political value in an organization traditionally sits. Ultimately, this is also where new ideas are made or broken, and planning effectively around this transition is essential to the success of any new, innovative idea.
Let me know if you would like to discuss the concepts outlined within this article (or any of my previous articles)?
Anthony is the CEO of Culturevate, an organization that empowers a company’s employees to execute ideas and inspire a culture of innovation, through employee networks, a resource portal and training programs (developed in association with Professor Chris Labash from Carnegie Mellon University). Anthony is a widely read author, speaker and advisor to industry leaders at organizations such as Pfizer, U.S. Postal Service, Johnson & Johnson, ADP and Fidelity. He previously led the BNY Mellon innovation program and has a Masters of Commerce (University of Sydney) and Bachelor of Economics (University of Newcastle).
Photo: Creative businesswomen on beanbag from Shutterstock.com