Best Practices for Corporate Entrepreneurship – #6 “Adoption, Integration & Pull”
If you’ve been following the last few articles, the theme has been exploring the unique endeavor of “entrepreneurship within large organizations” (aka “corporate entrepreneurship”), its challenges & paradoxes, its opportunities, and what it takes to get it right. Based on our experience of helping others & doing it ourselves, we’ve identified some key “best-practices” that are foundational to success. So far we’ve covered:
(I encourage you to read these articles for context)
If the front-end of the innovation funnel depends on customer-proximity (#2) & strategic business-sponsorship (#3), the backend is the mirror image of that. The funnel doesn’t work without the constant focus on ensuring “Adoption, Integration & Pull.” While it seems so logical, it’s a major challenge for innovation teams to master the paradox of both generating discontinuous innovation-breakthroughs, while ensuring they “fit somewhere into the puzzle” of the overall host-organization.
Here's a simple axiom we’ve found to be tried and true – “if the host-organization paying for the innovation activity doesn’t see value in the activity, the innovation-team’s work will end up on an ‘island of abandoned toys’.”
While this seems so logical, it’s key the reason why most innovation teams in large organizations fail and get shut down – their work simply wasn’t continually made relevant and wasn’t impactful enough to justify the investment.
Here are some best-practices to keep in mind to avoid the “island of abandoned toys, and build strong innovation-relevancy and pull:
Stay Close to the Customer (externally) – in large organizations that easily drift from the “voice of the customer” to “internal opinions,” staying rooted in fresh customer-insights & proof of market-demand is an ace that customer-centric innovation teams have to consistently play. This should happen in a few ways:
Customer-Direct Input: be sure to share firsthand quotes, stories, pictures etc that make the customer need & interaction with your solution come to life.
Involve Stakeholders with Customers: give internal stakeholders front row seats to “seeing/hearing it for themselves.” This could look like participation in interviews, experiencing the concept, a “day in the life” of a customer etc.
Stay Close to Sponsors & Strategy (internally) – your innovation initiatives are not going to live with you forever, but will have to be transplanted from your greenhouse (ex incubator or lab) and live somewhere else sooner or later. Begin to cultivate & prepare the soil now. Here are a few tactics:
Have a Significant Sponsor – this should be a senior level executive (preferably C-Suite) who is influential as an advocate for the project, outside of the innovation team. This helps create visibility and proof of internal desirability from the start.
Frequent “Strategy vs Innovation” Discussions – as the initiative continues to evolve & take shape, pressure-test its fits to a business-sponsor’s specific strategic ambitions. It forces the strategy to become practical and identifies disconnects sooner than later.
Frequent Experience – experientially “show & tell” the product letting stakeholders “feel it in their own skin.” This is an invaluable way to get feedback and hear about concerns & challenges early on. Don’t wait until the end for the “big reveal” (aka “big flop”).
Skin in the Game – as the initiative progressively matures, ask sponsors to progressively put more “skin in the game” – ex money to finance the innovation activity, participation of their people, staffing of their teams, decision-making with their management, etc.
In summary, if the goal of an innovation project is for it to survive and thrive beyond its infancy, grafting it back into the organization cannot be an afterthought, but must be something that is consistently nurtured and thought about … from the beginning.