Over the years, I have been involved in a number of intrapreneurial ventures including governance, revenue generation, ideation, and all that good stuff.

It makes me smile when I listen to ‘experts’ who haven’t actually done any of this stuff – unpicking the relationships with colleagues, managing conflict (causing conflict), persuading the CEO to run with something new… intrapreneurship is tricky and I would always advise aspiring intrapreneurs to work with people who have done it rather than talked about it.

Whilst people will talk about management being the block to change and innovation, this is just a reflection of a bigger problem.

Innovation LeadershipSimply put, monkey see; monkey do.

If the leader talks about intrapreneurship but doesn’t do anything… then don’t be surprised if your managers (and teams) do the same.

The lack of leader commitment is actually more corrosive than pretty much anything else in the initiative – let’s face it, if the CEO is committed to innovation and intrapreneurship (or any form of transformation), then they would be cultivating a culture that embraces rather than rejects it.

In many cases, it isn’t outright rejection but the passive-aggressive death of ideas akin to a pillow over the face – and whereas true leaders are plugged into the true culture of the enterprise, many ‘leaders’ are either unaware of the antipathy or apathy towards true change… or aren’t sufficiently bothered about it.

[color-box]I worked with one CEO who smiled as he told me about management permafrost stopping ideas from bubbling up to the boardroom whilst also effectively stopping key corporate messages getting through to teams on the ground. Whilst summing up the problems of his entire organisation in one simple sentence… he was smiling.[/color-box]

When I first began Eskil in 2001, I would be far more forgiving of clients who would make stupid statements but, over time, began to challenge these as I are more confident in my discipline (appreciating the value I bring to the table) and a growing intolerance of people with stupid things to say.

Maybe, as I get older, I just have less time to do all the things I want to do… and smiling time wasters are dropping off my agenda.

In my naivety I also used to assume that CEOs were committed to the success of the organisation (as opposed to personal wins).

The final element of early 21st century naivety would be the assumption that if I was earnest enough about the need for strong leadership and the need to challenge the status quo (currently referred to as transformational innovation), then business leaders would thank me for this Damascus moment and would open their budgets to me.
Time Suck
I guess what I failed to grasp in 2001 was that CEOs have self-interests that don’t necessarily embrace change and will often be the ones smiling to you as they suck the time out of your diary.

After a mere 15 or so years of advising, consulting, training, mentoring, writing, speaking… I’m at the point where I can pick and choose clients – and, whereas I used to hate letting a client go, I now see it more of a chance for me to release an anchor holding my business back and to also help the client understand their true nature.

Some listen; some don’t. Either way, the world still turns.

I sat in a meeting with a government client in 2012 (a Deputy CEO in a local council) who told me, “I want to have an innovative culture – I want a council full of entrepreneurs.”

I still shudder when I think of it – a long-established organisation full of legal obligations and long-term employees with entrenched views… and at a stroke they are to be entrepreneurs.

Four years on and, to date, we have two PowerPoint presentations confirming the need to do it. No real innovation as such… but a mighty fine slide deck.

In that same time, I’ve proposed to another CEO (in a similar organisation), designed their idea laboratory, refined their idea pathways, trained staff in Design Thinking and introduced the Business Model Canvas. Oh and they’ve spun out one enterprise already valued at £250 million with another two in play.

So here’s a breakdown of some of the questions I ask a CEO when they want to ‘be innovative’.

  • How do you define innovation?
  • Have you been involved in changing corporate culture and what were the successes / failures of it?
  • How innovative do you think your current workforce is?
  • What mindsets, qualities, or talents have you found to characterise the top innovators in the organisation?
  • What are your current metrics associated with innovation?
  • What does the process of innovation look like in the organisation at the moment? Is there a structure to it?
  • How do you currently deal with the ‘innovation blockers’ – and where do these people tend to sit in the organisation?
  • How will you deal with people looking to fail as they push the boundaries of what they do?
  • If you were recruiting a new innovation leader, what would their traits be?
  • What are your current intrapreneurial ventures?
  • What role does the customer play in this strategy?
  • How involved / visible will you be in this?
  • How do you expect people to react to this?
  • Do you have a network of innovation catalysts / champions in the organisation?
  • Do you have a workspace / sandbox / laboratory for people to develop ideas?

There are a lot of questions to ask – and I rarely ask all of these all in one go – but the key here is to find out how committed they are to intrapreneurship and how will they deal with the successes and failures of the transformation.

If you are interested in innovation and intrapreneurship, then contact Neil for an informal meeting.

Innovation Leadership