All too often, the intrapreneur conversation is about driving innovative concepts and ideas. But this out-of-the-box thinking often ignores what actually works in a complex corporate environment. There is pressure to come up with the latest game-changing idea. And although I love having an idea lab and nurturing approach like everyone else, there is still one drawback — it represents an entrepreneurial approach to innovative thinking that potentially limits the value intrapreneurs bring to their organizations.
In an earlier blog, I proposed that intrapreneurs are not necessarily entrepreneurs. Sometimes the real value lies in the combination of a fresh perspective and best practices used to solve old challenges. This is when capturing a fresh mindset, regardless of generation, is key.
Lesson 1: Don’t ignore what works – even new ideas can build on best practices.
Let’s face it: It usually takes many years to establish a complex corporate environment, but it takes a toll on employee viewpoints as they become indoctrinated into that culture. Whenever I have the opportunity to work with new employees of any age, I’m constantly seeking their ideas because they may still see things that I have become blinded to over the years. Even if an existing employee comes from another organization, this information can prove invaluable when identifying unrealized value and a new approach to old challenges.
Lesson 2: Seek a fresh perspective whenever you can.
Build a prototype with best practices
I wish we all had the opportunity to immerse ourselves in new thinking, similar to what is happening in SingularityU or the Hasso Plattner Institute. Unfortunately, even when companies – such as my employer, SAP – offer these amazing opportunities to participate in any idea and innovation nurturing program, the participation is somewhat limited for individuals.
To be fully engaged, we must remove ourselves from the team environment, which keeps intrapreneurs from contributing their true value. I predict this will no longer be necessary very soon as intrapreneurial thinking becomes more institutionalized and governing structures of our corporations evolve. (I encourage you to check out the theory of exponential organizations if you haven’t already.) Until then, we must import our own fresh perspectives, innovative concepts, and best practices. This is extremely powerful when aligning widely differing viewpoints and success metrics.
We’ve all heard the old cliché: “What gets measured gets done.” While that is still up for debate, it reminds us that we should consider how each decision-maker measures success. Even though these metrics do not necessarily align and flavor their point of view heavily, it is something that needs to be overcome proactively.
One approach I have used is inviting external experts who carry a fresh perspective to prototype our innovative concept by applying a best-practice approach. Makes perfect sense, right? It did to me ten years ago. On an especially challenging initiative with a very long consensus cycle, I was reviewing a prototype with our business and IT decision makers. And to this day, I still remember the exact words of the IT lead: “I don’t see any problem with that.” That was it. That was a yes! He was mainly concerned about the problems this crazy guy (me) was going to cause for his team and any adverse impacts on his ability to be successful in his role. Having a working prototype with a clear explanation of how it integrated with the current solution with little effort required from his technical team made all the difference. And it didn’t hurt that the potential upside was a triple-digit ROI for the business, convincing everyone else in the room to get on board.
Lesson 3: Find common success metrics.
A not-so-crazy-anymore idea for getting consensus and buy-in
Now, you’ve probably already tried numerous approaches to getting consensus. You may have spent way too much time reframing, repackaging, and representing your business case to get a positive response with limited buy-in.
But here’s a not-so-crazy-anymore idea: Build a prototype! First of all, it’s fun to work with bright external experts to cut through the red tape and excuses to bring your concept to a level of reality.
Better yet: Bring in experts who are well-versed in your industry and business challenges, and then dream big together. As SAP likes to say, “Reimagine together.” That’s exactly what Florian Stilkerich, global service portfolio manager and enterprise architect at SAP, does with our customers. This particular approach combines several best practices such as design thinking, standardized processes, preconfigured templates, and an on-demand technology platform. It enables an ideation process with all your various decision makers. Together, you transform a solution that can be quickly prototyped. This is a game-changer for all intrapreneurs striving to solve business challenges and adopt digital business technology.
In the midst of this digital revolution, some businesses are making this part of their core process, others are bringing in experts to drive this process, and the rest are secretly crying out for anyone to help them bridge the gap between their business and IT decision-makers who may still be unwilling to buy into your high-value idea. In the future, it will likely be the standard approach at least for certain industries, if not all. Are you ready?
Like me, I’m certain many of you who have worked through this same process. Share your experience and outcomes with me by commenting below. If you have a working prototype, please show it. We’d love to see it. Better yet – show us the final product and speak to the prototyping process you experienced.
Want more insight on managing innovation and problem-solving? See Design Thinking: 8 Lessons Learned.