Reflecting on Corporate Entrepreneurship (a.k.a. Intrapreneurship): Can an elephant dance? Part I

The rise of Silicon Valley and the wealth creation by early stage companies has increased the pressure on established corporations, as their shareholders demand to create similar shareholder value mimicking those of these young ventures. The global Innovation fever is forcing executives of large global firms to re-imagine their leadership style and management practices, their management and compensation policies for human capital, their organizational structures and their capital allocation with the aim to increase the firm’s productivity and global competitiveness. The overarching goal is to evolve the firm’s culture and regain the nimbleness of a young start-up. Often, this goal is elusive as they are too entrenched in the comfort zone, and continue operating within their traditional products (technologies) and/or in a deadly embrace with their legacy customers.

It is well understood that double or triple digit growth is more realistic when revenues are at $1MM/year than at $100B/year. But many corporations stagnate as they rest in their laurels of their glorious past. Their shareholder return tends to mimic those of a bank CD (Certificate of Deposit) than those of a vibrant high-tech enterprise. Over time these corporations become aloof, isolated from the market and technology trends, start suffering increasing doses of NIH (non-invented here) relying on their own internal departments for the innovation of the firm.

intrapreneur

“An enterprise that does not daily innovate, inevitably ages and declines … even in a successful business the disease of bureaucracy and complacency is ever present.”
Peter F. Drucker,
Father of modern management

This bleak picture does not need to be this way. Flip-flopping between the two extremes of internal R&D and desperate M&A (Merger & Acquisition) activity become insufficient to bring back its great glory. When one really looks under the hood at great companies that sustain innovation and growth, it becomes clear that innovation is not usually the result of an accident. It’s usually driven by the CEO and the TMT (Top Management Team) and defined by the following actions:

1)    Innovation needs to be nurtured by constantly examining which initiatives to triage and which to focus on. Leading development companies regularly review their R&D pipelines with senior management and reassess and reprioritize each project based on its revenue and profit potential, the odds of success, the timeline, investments required and other key variables to focus their limited R&D resources on the highest return opportunities.

2)    R&D needs to be managed to focus on value added outputs. While many small and mid-market companies only focus on incremental development projects that will lead to product improvements for existing products, it’s important that the CEO considers disruptive technologies that can solve (probably future/new) customer’s problems better, faster and/or cheaper. If the choice is between your company being a disruptor or disrupted, what would you pick?

3)    Innovation starts with your Human Capital strategy: who you hire, how you measure, how you compensate, reward and motivate them. Make sure your Human Resources team is looking for the right attributes/attitudes and that you consider bringing in “digital natives” who possess new technical skills, approaches and attitudes that reflect your emerging customers.

4)    Innovation touches all functions of the firm beyond R&D and engineering, including PR, accounting, human resources, legal/regulatory policy management, marketing, etc. Each department needs to reimagine its role across the firm and leverage the latest technology such as cloud computing, mobility or social media, etc.

5)    To innovate means to take risks and requires the open acknowledgement of the possibility of failure. Clearly, these risks can be managed and mitigated. Don’t expect to succeed 100% of the times. If you want to foster an innovation culture, do not punish the failures, but learn from mistakes and dead ends. Dead ends and failures can’t be avoided in an innovative environment.

6)     CEO and the TMT need to created and reinforce innovation in their culture. The CEO, supported by the TMT, is the C”I”O (Chief Innovation Officer) and innovation cheerleader.

Established firms are challenged to constantly disruptive innovations. However, they cannot do it within their core businesses organization. They need to create a parallel organization that enable experimentation, ability to fail quickly with minimum customer impact, and if required pivot.

Established firms are challenged to constantly disruptive innovations. However, they cannot do it within their core businesses organization. They need to create a parallel organization that enable experimentation, ability to fail quickly with minimum customer impact, and if required pivot.

These firms need to insure the present by executing flawlessly their current businesses. However, their future will be assured only by their ability to perform experiments and accept failure as the natural cost of doing business. The key is to fail quickly and cheaply in the process of inventing the future!

In Part II of this blog-post we will address how the principles of corporate entrepreneurship reviewed in this Part I could be applied to medium size companies across Latin America. In this upcoming article we will explore how we could take advantage of the on-going Start-up Revolution in Latin America leveraging these young ventures by selecting strategically few to incubate.

Until my next posting – Carlos B.

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About Carlos S. Baradello

Investor, thought leader, and advisor in areas of corporate innovation, born global entrepreneurship and global scaling.
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One Response to Reflecting on Corporate Entrepreneurship (a.k.a. Intrapreneurship): Can an elephant dance? Part I

  1. Excellent Carlos.
    Banking illustrates lack of innovation that lead management to make money by cheating sidestepping regulations. Eventually regulators realized about their “innovation” and filed various lawsuits that ended up in settlements whereby the government received billions of dollars.

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