The Innovation Conundrum

Corporate America is searching for the single answer that will solve all of its woes with regards to innovation. Yet, there is an obvious internal blind spot when it comes to innovation.

Innovation and innovative assets already exist within these companies, but they are underutilized or untapped for their potential.  The asset is their own employees that are true intrapreneurs.

So, what is an intrapreneur? These are unique employees that have some of the following characteristics. They:

  1. Believe in the mission and cause of the company
  2. Make sense of complex things to develop strategic, yet very concrete ideas that will transform the way that the company is doing its business.
  3. Develop and nurture a robust network – both within the company and outside the company spanning to the direct competitors and other industries and sectors.
  4. Get things done.

There’s no doubt about it, based on these traits, intrapreneurs are management’s dream of the ideal employee. Yet, intrapreneurs are rarely leveraged to help transform the company.

Instead, intrapreneurs are usually recognized as the ‘problem children’ by management (and HR).

Why?

Typically intrapreneurs are the employees are difficult to manage because they have a bigger perspective about the business, which generates ideas, and suggestions about how to do things differently. They push their direct line management to initiate new projects and work that may be in direct conflict with the status quo. They are considered ‘cage rattlers’ and ‘boat rockers’ because sometimes they lack patience and tack. They like to be involved in ‘new’ things; if their direct line management denies their ideas and requests, they will still pursue them through other internal channels. Even though they are being recognized as delivering on the projects for other teams and functions, there are times when intrapreneurs struggle to do their ‘boring’ job responsibilities.

So, instead of intrapreneurs being recognized for their abilities, they are usually ‘coached’ to be like everyone else and do their written job description. If they continue to show their intrapreneur characteristics, the result is demotions, firings, or the decision to leave for another company where their intrapreneurial traits are encouraged and recognized in a positive manner (in many cases, it is to a direct competitor) .

It’s a serious conundrum. Intrapreneurs are the employees that are out on a ledge and are not accepting of the status quo. They are willing to take risks and initiate projects that they believe will create a more promising future for the company. But, because most organizations struggle with innovation and change, the intrapreneurs create internal friction. So, companies and organizations that want to be innovative NEED these employees to do what they do. The challenge is to identify these intrapreneurs, channel their energy, drive for tangible results, and recognize them for the contributions that they make.

As many people know, I wholeheartedly believe that intrapreneurs are the key to true transformation of the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. As such, I am an advocated for intrapreneurs and have invested time researching and learning about this particular employee population.

If you want to learn more about the intrapreneur research, findings, and detailed profiles, then check out the e-book, The Business Intrapreneur: Unsung Heroes of Corporate America (http://www.ebookit.com/books/0000001789/The-Business-Intrapreneur-Profiles-of-Unsung-Heroes-of-Corporate-America.html?LLblogpost ), add a comment to this blog post, or send me an email: keilenberg@lodestonelogic.com.

Disruptive Sparks of Innovation

Today, the en vogue and sexy term in pharma, healthcare, and technology is “disrupt”. Being “disruptive” will definitely help us move from the status quo of inefficient processes, expensive systems, under utilization of analytics to improve the quality of care and ultimately deliver patient outcomes.

But, the reality is that being disruptive means that there is something (eg a project or initiative) pushing against a pre-existing system and causing friction. And, friction causes heat. Heat causes fires. Fires, when uncontrolled, burn down houses and institutions. Just think of the video coverage of wild fires and it is easy to comprehend why most organizations enable and reward their employees to say ‘no’ to disruption, rather than ‘yes’.

To avoid wild fires organizations do a very good job creating sub-zero conditions that inhibit any kind of molecular reactions that may trigger a spark.  If you have ever tried to get support from your leadership or an organization to do something that is not the status quo, then you’ve probably felt the chill of a sub-zero environment: paperwork, committees, paperwork, 1:1 meetings, return on investment  (ROI) thresholds, review boards, etc… all are organizational tactics built to protect the organization and inhibit the creation of a spark.

Do not lose hope. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but when you know that you have one that will really make a difference, do something about it. And, this is what you need to do to create a warm pocket within your organization that will not only allow for a controlled spark of innovation, but also support a small flame to show people the possibilities of your ‘big idea’.

1. Earn the right to create the spark

Perform above expectations. No one is going to support someone who is unable to successful execute on their existing job and responsibilities. You have to figure out how to deliver 150% in your current role. Organizations and leaders are more likely to support zany and out-of-the-box ideas when it comes from an employee that has a solid performance track record.

2. Find an executive sponsor

You need someone to create a protective shield, also known as “cover”, for you and your idea. The sponsor needs to have sufficient power and credibility within your organization to be granted the freedom to support and advocate for ‘special projects.’ Just realize that, by supporting you, this person is extending their professional brand to you. If you succeed, they succeed. If you fail, then their reputation may be tarnished or negatively effected. Respect what this relationship means to you both.

3. Build an extended team of resources that include domain experts that advocate for the idea

Check the ego at the door. Know your limitations and seek out and befriend the people that will be able to help you tackle the toughest bits and pieces of the project. Your idea will only be executed if you get support from peers that are the domain experts. In most cases, you will not be able to secure them as full time resources, but you need to be able to call on them and tap their expertise. Make sure that you have access to true experts in public policy, privacy, legal (eg intellectual property), and regulatory. If you project goes wonky on any one of these items, your small flame could quickly turn into a wild fire and your ‘big idea’ turns into a career limiting opportunity.

4. Be honest and transparent

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. There will be days where you will not want to type another email or speak to another person. When you are working on projects and initiatives that ‘no one has ever done before’, you need to make sure that you are staying connected with the real world – your sponsor and your extended network of resources. Plus, it is in your idea’s best interest for you to invest in building the bridges to the organization and continue to generate support and advocacy. Adhere to your company’s communications policies, but get the word out internally and externally … the more that you share, the more likely your project will attract others that are interested in helping you make it succeed.

5. Take care of yourself

You’ve worked for months on the ‘big idea’ and you’ve hit umpteen walls and hurdles. The pressure is almost unbearable. You are burnt out and want to call it quits… but you are so close…. So, TAKE A BREAK. You need to get away from the mayhem. Go off the grid. Shut down the electronics. Or, at least don’t check work email. Do something that you love to do. Even if it is just for a half day, you need time to clear the brain. This mini-mental vacation will help you recharge your batteries, focus, and get back on task.

Navigating organization dynamics is always a challenge, especially when you want to change the status quo. However, following these five steps will not only help you to initiate a spark and small flame, in time you will generate a larger and more sustainable fire that is welcomed and encouraged by the organization.

You can do it!