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Scaling Intrapreneurship in Organizations

Scaling Intrapreneurship in Organizations
Scaling Intrapreneurship in Organizations

One of the core issues on scaling the intrapreneurship inside the organization is that the organization is not engaging at its core practices – they are not really committed to widespread adoption. Technology and people are just not enough: you can plug in the most cutting-edge technology and invest a significant amount in the people skilling, yet things are not going to change. Why? Cultural and organizational barriers are way too high for the organization, and we are just trying to break the wall at the strongest point of it.

We expect too much from the innovation initiatives – we expect a change that is enabled by the new shining technology and new redesigned processes using a solution that are more and increasingly available and affordable. But we see that even with the strong investments and commitments to change we still see that many of those initiatives are not delivering a solid result. Most of the organizations will end up their innovation journey during the proof of concept or pilot or, at the maximum, that innovation initiative will be adopted within a single business process, usually within the organization unit that champions the change.

Why do we have issues in adoption of innovation? Looking from the top – we just fail to change the organization. That change fails because organizations fail to deal with the cultural and organizational barriers. I have spent some time at our little organization trying to develop and deploy different innovation initiatives – we did not call them intrapreneurship ones, but it was obvious that they were very close to that. What have we learned from the last few years?

Importance of Leadership
One of the important things when you start is to admit to yourselves that making a path for intrapreneurship inside the organization is the critical one. Initiatives that drive innovation through intrapreneurship in the organization need to exist because they are important as a benefit driver for all involved (and those that are not involved but belong to the organization). Now, driving the initiative also means that you need a solid investment plan that will look at the technology options, drive the implementation according to the level of organizational maturity and complexity of the business where you organization play a role and finally investing at the knowledge and skills that are needed for an organization – all that driven by the strong leadership that is dispersed across the organization. This is important: strong leader is less important than strong individuals that you need to find across the organizations.

Given the organization where you work, you will have problems finding the leaders. Books and articles will tell you that you can find leaders anywhere in the organization (that is true) but the level of their impact is going to be different (depending on where they sit in the organizational chart/structure). Do not fool yourselves – CEO will have a way bigger impact than System Engineer that has a great idea and wants to change or implement something that everyone agrees is important and will benefit the organization.

Role of Technology
Technology is important – no question about it. It is delivered through the platforms and solutions that we employ to drive the change, expecting quick or immediate returns. Number of organizations is investing in technology, but there are different investment areas here: from the investments into the core infrastructure (more buildings, more servers, more hardware) to the investments to the software and services (many shapes and forms). Many of the executives are asking for a quick return, looking for “low hanging fruit” where they can showcase that there is a quick way to reap the benefits of technology investments supporting the bigger goal – enabling innovation. They may have a quick win or two, but they usually stay at that starting level and never really enable the innovation platforms that drive the big wins that everyone expects. There is no establishment of big organizational programs that drive specific innovation wins and basically everything dies just there.

Now, where does an organization fit on culture, structure, and adoption of intrapreneurship? We have to admit that most of the business are still not “born digital”. Traditional business is just not ready for significant changes – their core operations are just not digital in their nature. But this is not the post on technology. Sure, you will need it, but the gains and losses of our initiatives are rarely related to technology – they are usually connected to people, culture and organization.

Making Sure it will Work
Of course, you can develop a program and just run with it. It could work, given the right amount of luck and some passionate people that will run through it. But to make it work on the scale of the organization, you need to have a plan, and a plan that will make you successful. The more complicated the organization is, the less time it is spent explaining to the employees and partners the necessity of planning and detailing the work that needs to be done to prepare the organization for the fundamental change. There are some pillars to that planning, and they are basic requirement to make sure that plan will work

  • Why: Having all on the same page. There must be a good story that people will align to – especially because you are expecting changes and most of the people do not like change. Stories are important here; people will align to the story that gives them the vision on change that is needed for the organization to truly change itself and enable different approach to the innovation and transformation. It should be a story around a common goal but one that also explains to the individuals how they fit into the new, innovation-oriented culture. The story also needs to have a hero – individuals that learned how to work in or with innovation and how they benefited from it.
  • What: Things to be solved. This is not going to be a walk in the park. Even if it seems obvious and everyone agrees that this is a welcomed change, things are not going to work as expected from day one. It could be very specific and related to the individual or it could be part of organizational history (read it as, existing culture), but there will be barriers that organization needs to overcome. Organizations are not built for collaboration – they thrive in the world of siloes, functions, business units, budgets. It is important to look into the future and anticipate issues, and prepare for them by looking at the new, improved, innovative organization and capabilities that one wants to develop. It is a great exercise for the new organization – utilizing what you want to build to solve the problems that could arise.
  • How: Having the proper resources available. Today innovation is too closely connected to technology and technology products like platforms, services and solutions. Organizations expect that investment in technology will be enough to drive innovation or change, and they bet everything on one thing – not preparing the rest of the organization for the change itself. There will be more resources needed with particular focus on one important resource: time. It is important that innovation introduction and change will take some time, and first results will not happen overnight. With that, there will be investments in project managers, coaches, mentors, experts, workshops, guidelines, meetings, feedbacks, reviews etc. including new initiatives that will spin off because organizations will recognize that they are important for the full success of the initiative. Another important thing is to understand those resource requirements over time – developing a balanced portfolio of initiatives over time, usually through 3–5-year horizon view that will explain the timeline but also impact of the initiatives.

Is Intrapreneurship Scalable?
The big question is: how do we enable intrapreneurship to flourish through the organization? Should it be directed from one central location (through the known central “hub” model) or should it be decentralized and distributed through the organization (through the other “spoke” model) or should it build on the hybrid model (well, “hub and spoke” then). Many theorists will give you a different answer, but there is one reality: it depends on your organization – and scalability (same as innovation) depends on the capabilities and capacity that your organization has.

  • The Hub Model. Governance, Standards, Strategy, Control, Education, Partnerships are the things that are best handled in the Hub model. The more complex your control is, the more hub models make sense. Think of them as “horizontal plays” – whenever you need to strength your capabilities on something that spans the whole organization, maybe the hub model is the way to go. Hub model is also good for making sure that there is feedback learning – you run the initiative in the field, with a specific units or parts of the organization, and then you need to revert and build a model or template that could be a starting point for everyone. Remember, one size does not fit all, and innovation models need to be tweaked for the organization. But who does the tweaking? The hub, of course.
  • The Spoke Model. Impact, Trainings, Adoption, Feedback, Execution are the things that belong to the Spoke. They are good at those, but they are not saying that they should not do some of the “hub model” things – again, it depends on capabilities of your organization. Once your initiative has left the hub it is all down to the spokes and this is where execution is usually done. But making sure that not too many things go back to the hub is important – you do not want to downplay the spoke and make them feel like the node that does not have an authority to decide or run specific actions – they just need to learn what can and cannot be done inside the borders of intrapreneurship play, and what is still part of the overall change strategy.
  • The Anything in Between Model. Frankly, most of your efforts are going to end up here – most of the organizations will use flexible model of moving the initiatives between hub and spoke (so having a model but being flexible on what is executed and when). It all depends on the level of capabilities that an organization has – at the early stage of the initiative development most of the resources will be shared, being connected to the hub and then deployed or resources to the spokes where needed. Maturing the organization those resources can be fully delegated or moved to spokes and organization will create so called “centers of excellence” for the specific types of innovation initiatives. Another thing that plays a big role is the complexity of business model that drives the organization – the more complex the organization, there is more initiatives to concentrate good resources to the hub and then share them as required to the spoke initiatives.

What really worked for us is the creation of Centers of Excellence (CoE) – looking into ways to de-centralize resources toward the local (in our example regional) hub that will deal with the specific intrapreneurship initiatives. The team was able to run several “experiments” and apply them to the customers, and then to present and push upwards some of the successful ones. But the issue was that central organization did not really have the capacity to co-create same CoE in other regional centers – there was always something missing there that was stopping the implementation, and mostly those were human resources capable of driving the same or similar program. It was obvious that the organization did not prepare themselves in the proper way to mass market the innovation, and it ended up trying to do some light version of everything that then really did not have any proper impact.

What we could do differently is to make sure that we build a core (hub) capability to understand the level of change that CoE is bringing to the company. I know that is sounds counterintuitive – regional hub that is driving the change at the hub, but that is the intrapreneurship option that everyone should understand. If innovation is not limited only to the core, but is expected at all levels of the company, it should be properly embraced, not limited by the current capacity to scale across the organization.

Keep Driving It
The core of the success for intrapreneurship innovation (but not just for that, for any initiative inside of your organization) is persistence. Persistence in change and initiatives – change does not happen over the night, that one we already knew. But a few things will become very visible as you are driving that in your organization:

  • Put Your Money where Your Mouth Is. Your organization, unit or CoE is going to be very vocal in driving the innovation initiatives. Organization will need to support that and not only on the PowerPoints or discussing it at the corners of the offices – but you also need to support early adopters and low hanging fruits as much as the organization can support it. You need wins at the beginning and employees need to see positive change. So instead of saying “great work, thank you”, think about proper marketing and sales campaigns where you move innovative work to the source of income lineup where you can clearly see the contribution to the bottom line, or organizational improvements, depending on your expected KPI’s or OKR’s. Remember at this point that you have all those stakeholders that are chosen ones to support you and your investigation and new experiences.
  • Make people Accountable. Everybody needs to be accountable. I am not saying that you need to delegate tasks and work equally to everyone from CEO to desk worker, but everyone needs to be aware and understand their own role and participation in the initiative. But for the ones that own the parts of the change – it needs to be crystal clear, what needs to be achieved and how that will be done. Caveat here: both should be flexible in terms of the expectations: we found out that it is more about the journey than about achieving the goal. The activities, learnings, experiences that you will gain during the work are far more valuable than achieving the goal in the first pass and not learning really anything.
  • Push for Education. Educating people is important – you are not just improving the existing state, in most cases you are reinventing the wheel. People need to learn new things, and even if they are not going to feel comfortable from day 1 they need to accept the change and do their best to drive (or support) it. With that, educate not only on the things that are coming, but also check the maturity level of organization and individual units on something that should be taken for granted, like existing processes or knowledge. Usually, results are very surprising and you learn on true maturity – usually far lower than what people would say about their organizations in the first place.

One of the most difficult parts of the intrapreneurship initiatives is to find the support through the organization – people usually think that those initiatives are very limited and focused on very specific changes yet in practice, we are usually dealing with the most difficult problems (of course, because you want to have the biggest possible impact right from the start). Those problems are usually complex and they are spanning through complex organizations. That requires a lot of people to be involved and if you do not have proper support – they will just ignore the whole thing – they are either not measured, not paid, not incentivized to deal with your little stuff.

We made a number of changes in our own organization to better support the initiatives, but the most important thing is to find a proper stakeholder that will challenge the organization on the changes that they are looking to achieve. One of the most common issues that we had was selecting the stakeholder / sponsor that was too high in the organization and he would just delegate the sponsorship to their people that did not have any know how, interest or discipline to deal with the initiative in the first place. They would usually either ignore or declare the initiative as stalled due to a number of reasons, mostly citing lack of resources or readiness of the organization.

Some Final Words
Implementing any initiative is a hard one. Implementing intrapreneurship – making sure that decisions and initiatives can happen on any level of the organization is even harder and requires a different approach than the usual “project” or “program” approach. What we have found out is that those initiatives are more like processes that need to be nurtured and repeated and taken care of if you want to see success. Even with a careful approach you will still have a great chance of failure, and that should be accepted. But on the culture of failure acceptance, maybe some other time.

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