Intrapreneurial Success: Leading Disruption, Managing Change

Embracing an intrapreneurial mindset, which intentionally disrupts things from the inside out and often from the bottom up, is a radical concept for companies that thrive on stability and predictability. However, if an enterprise is committed to developing its innovation capability through intrapreneurship, three groups of people must be mobilized to make it happen: leadership, stakeholders, and innovation support.

Managing programmatic change can be challenging enough, but managing a program that produces disruptive change on a regular basis is especially difficult. Replicating key startup methods and an entrepreneurial culture, in ways that can be scaled within a larger corporate context, might even be called a revolutionary effort.

To align executives, enroll participants, and forge the necessary partnerships among functional groups and business units requires savvy leadership and a well-equipped transformational toolkit. It also helps to know the most common points of failure and how to avoid them.

The difficulty in replicating an entrepreneurial culture in a large enterprise

Organizations, by their very nature are designed to promote order and are run to produce efficient repeatable output. They thrive on stability and predictability, which is why incremental improvements are the preferred type of innovation for most institutions. 

Embracing an intrapreneurial mindset, which intentionally disrupts things from the inside out and often from the bottom up, is therefore a radical concept. It challenges the status quo, the hierarchy, and the more incremental and evolutionary path most managers prefer.

To flourish in today’s exponential economy, however, leaders need to promote a discipline of innovation—one that helps them optimize their current businesses, while moving forward at startup speed to develop the game changing ideas that will define their company’s future. They need to get their enterprise to the place where radical ideas are not seen as bad ideas, and rebellious creativity that challenges current business and technology paradigms is treated as a potential source of future prosperity.

One company that really gets intrapreneurship (meaning, it is doing it as business as usual)

Google is a great example. They are just down the street from my office so I have a pretty good feel of what is fluff and what is fact.  And while they don’t have it all figured out, they are certainly intrapreneurial pioneers with a growing track record of success.

Google does a number of things to inspire and enable intrapreneurial innovation.

It has a corporate culture that promotes openness and imagination and attracts bright self-starters. This produces a kind of virtuous cycle of a highly supportive culture interacting with people that innovate – every day.

Dimensions of this culture are:

  • Encouraging people to dream and dream big.
  • Constantly experimenting and trying new things.
  • Creating a work environment – free healthy food, access to gym, talent, tools, etc. – that makes it is easy for people to put in the extra hours required to develop breakthrough ideas.
  • Willingness to place big bets on long term potential.
  • Making good use of all kinds of data to spark ideation or to validate assumptions.
  • Exhibiting courage and eagerness to explore adjacent markets and shake up the business world.
  • Empowering teams and encouraging collaboration, which creates a free flow of ideas and people.
  • Willingness to invest in their own inventions.
  • Failing without letting it deter them from trying more – something that is fundamental for continuous learning.

Given its authentic innovation culture Google has a unique capacity to inspire the world with their innovations.  Here is an example of the impact this can have: a few years ago my partner, Herman Gyr, introduced Google’s self-driving car concept to the leadership of Swiss Post. Based on that inspiration, the Swiss Post’s bus service (Post Auto) recently inaugurated the world’s first autonomous public shuttle in the city of Sion. Without Google demonstrating the possibility, this would most likely not have happened.

Turning breakdowns into breakthroughs

If an enterprise is committed to developing its innovation capability through intrapreneurship, three groups of people must be mobilized to make it happen: leadership, stakeholders, and innovation support.  These are the three drivers of change and their individual and collective actions hold the keys to your program’s success.

Together they can take on the soft stuff, generating an entrepreneurial mindset, altering behavior, and shaping corporate culture, which is really the hard part of innovation.

We are human beings and organizational changes can be difficult and sometimes are experienced as threatening, even when attached to brilliant new business ideas. But similar to the way failure is an inherent part of the innovation process, so is resistance and the inevitable breakdowns that occur during the building and implementation of a new program.

The key is to turn the breakdowns into breakthroughs.  If you can anticipate the timing and type of the pitfalls you are likely to encounter – a failure to launch, a failure to scale or a failure to sustain – you can prepare for the tests, and bolster the most constructive responses from the three drivers of change.

For example, leaders will be tested for “commitment” (i.e. whether they mean what they say). If the leaders lapse into old behaviors, and are unwilling to experiment, and only approve ideas that are safe with short term returns, employees are unlikely to change. When leaders fail to respond in ways that demonstrate their own commitment to the innovation program, employees inevitably see this as a signal to abandon the effort.

On the other hand, if leaders respond successfully to tests, this reveals their dedication to the new ways of thinking and working and helps to generate the momentum that drives innovation through your program and throughout the enterprise.

Avoiding the three most common pitfalls

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you would like to learn proven practices for building and maintaining a high performing intrapreneurship program. I can provide insights into the unique organizational dynamics of innovation initiatives and how to overcome the 3 most common pitfalls: failure to launch, failure to scale and failure to sustain. You should know what these failures are, why they happen to intrapreneurship programs, and how to avoid falling into the trap. While the rewards are big, it is usually bumpy road to disruptive innovation. However, you can take comfort in knowing there are ways to turn even the breakdowns into positive change.

By Laszlo Gyorffy

About the author

Laszlo Gyorffy, M.S. is President of the Enterprise Development Group. For over 20 years, Laszlo has worked with organizations around the globe to expand the possible; helping them refocus, redesign, and reenergize their business strategies and innovation practices to succeed in an increasingly dynamic and demanding market place. Laszlo is an accomplished speaker and author of Creating Value with CO-STAR: An Innovation Tool for Perfecting and Pitching your Brilliant Idea as well an opening chapter on innovation leadership in the textbook The Global Innovation Science Handbook. He is a certified instructional designer and trainer and has delivered transformational programs like the Innovation Advantage and the Secrets of Silicon Valley. Laszlo recently developed the One Hour Innovator, a cloud-based toolkit that helps people innovate better, faster, and smarter. The methods used in these trainings and tools have created business solutions worth millions of dollars in new revenue and cost efficiencies. You can reach Laszlo at [email protected].

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