Igniting innovation: how hot companies fuel growth from within

Behavioral changes challenge organizational thinking

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Maintenance is usually the most difficult part of any program, whether it’s an individual exercise regimen or a large corporate initiative.

It’s hard to always keep thinking about the Next Big Thing, especially if your company is already the industry leader, but it’s a surefire way to rekindle the entrepreneurial spirit.

The six strategies outlined in this report are most likely to succeed if implemented within an organizational framework that views intrapreneurship as an end-to-end process.

That means supporting it with staff, resources and formal development procedures, from the very beginnings of the idea right through to the market debut of the product or service.

To do that, however, companies of all sizes need to set in motion behavioral changes that challenge conventional organizational thinking:

  • Create a culture of flexibility. Established companies with well-defined processes may never be as nimble as entrepreneurial startups. But they can still streamline or eliminate cumbersome procedures that may prevent them from bringing an idea to market quickly. More important, though, is an organizational mindset that takes market uncertainty for granted, and develops the flexibility and resilience to deal with it in constructive ways.
  • Examine your risk parameters. An intrapreneurial culture inevitably generates greater legal and financial risks for the company. In fact, in their original manifesto on intrapreneurship, Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot wrote that an intrapreneur should be financially prepared to take on the risks of failure, including “financial sacrifices such as having no salary increases until the new business becomes a success, or even a salary decrease until project bonuses arrive.”

    While this may not always be feasible, companies should certainly reevaluate their risk profiles to allow for intrapreneurial efforts.

  • Manage internal tensions. It’s not enough for intrapreneurial individuals or teams to get support from the top. Buy-in from employees of all ranks is necessary as well.

    Research shows that many promising ideas have been derailed by co-workers who are jealous of the attention paid to their innovative colleagues or line managers who don’t want to carry a risky venture on their budgets.

    It’s therefore vital for senior leaders to “sell” the idea of internal innovation as a tool vital for market leadership — and even survival — not only to their bosses but to everyone in the company.

  • Look to the long term. But you needed that new product yesterday! It’s difficult to think 5 or 10 years down the road when competitors are beating down your door now.

    True innovation, however, requires a pipeline — a predictable flow of new ideas that the company can rely on. Setting up an “intrapreneurship unit” within the company gives you an idea bank to draw from at any time.

  • Encourage the happy accident! Don’t be discouraged because there really isn’t anything totally new out there in your industry. Many entrepreneurial successes have happened because someone found new uses for an old product, chanced upon a discovery or ventured into new industries or geographies.

    It’s hard to always keep thinking about the Next Big Thing, especially if your company is already the industry leader, but it’s a surefire way to rekindle the entrepreneurial spirit. Remember, that’s what propelled your company to the top, and it’s what’s going to keep it there.