The theory of intrapreneurship is a popular one – it is pretty difficult for any CEO or Director to dispute the benefits realized from such a program: increased revenue, growing profits, competitor attack plans, innovation, team cultures… but it’s a hard road if you are committing to creating a sustainable working environment.
To achieve these benefits, you need a strong CEO.
How strong is your CEO?
All too often, we see great companies hitting a bump in the road due to poor leadership and, conversely, companies in low-growth offering winning returns on the basis of exceptional management.
At the moment (2014), I am having daily meetings with organizations interested in how to reinvigorate – some due to the fact that their funds are being cut (e.g. public sector), some as they realize that the market of pre-2007 has massively shifted and they are unprepared for the new economy. Some organizations, both public and private, have shredded headcount and have now lost valuable intellectual property.
The problem is this: intrapreneurship is simple-yet-complex – and organizations want a 100% foolproof and easy solution that offers up enormous returns.
The truth is: that’s never going to happen unless the CEO is strong. So what should we be looking for if we want open innovation and open intrapreneurship to flourish?
Any CEO that cannot articulate to all stakeholders exactly where the organization is going will struggle. Walter Gretzky, father of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, once said “skate where the puck is going, not where it’s been,”. Look to Steve Jobs – he had a clear vision that the hardware would be the interface to complex software – akin to nothing more than the toaster in your kitchen. He understood the potential of mobile computing and wanted aesthetics married with functionality. And everyone in Apple knew this.
All too often, I have the CEO telling me their vision – and I understand it. I understand it because the CEO sits down, draws it out on a piece of paper, stands up, walks around, speaks to me… and probably takes a good 30-45 minutes to makes sure that I ‘get it’. They then spend minimal time to explain this to the important people – the staff, customers and partners. A good CEO has a vision – a GREAT CEO ensures that everyone else sees the vision (and is aligned to it).
The CEO guides the direction of the organization – they understand that colleagues are equally excellent-in-function and do certain tasks (finance, HR, customer service, etc.) The CEO does almost nothing on their own – and they don’t inhibit corporate growth because they are afraid to hire people smarter than they are. Bill Gates once said that the secret to his success was that he hired people smarter than he was.
Honesty, Integrity, Consistence
If the CEO doesn’t display these traits, then why should anyone else? If the CEO lacks these, don’t be surprised when directors and managers will, for want of a better phrase, “bullshit the business”. What this also means is that the CEO admits their own mistakes rather than pass the buck. How many directors do you know will leave colleagues out to dry as they cover their own ass?
Kill the invalidator
A good CEO sees the people who are playing the organization
- say yes but mean no
- say yes but then don’t do anything
- blame other people rather than be responsible
- don’t deliver, don’t act, don’t support, don’t believe
We usually refer to these people as good politicians – they play office politics well. Intrapreneurial organizations have zero need for politicians.
The GREAT CEO… gets rid of these people. No messing. No excuses. These people are a cancer in the business. I see HR Directors directly involved in reorganization that protects their job; Finance Directors who will kill funding of a project if it affects work that their friends are involved in; IT Directors accepting ‘incentives’ from suppliers if they choose their solution instead of a competitors.
The Strong CEO sees these actions and stops them. Immediately.
To achieve the vision of an intrapreneurial organization, the CEO:
- drives a functional and effective environment
- removes multiple layers of bureaucracy
- removes ambiguity where corporate invalidators can hide
- dismantles fiefdoms (almost without exception, the corporate invalidator resides in a fiefdom)
- injects urgency into the business – expecting a report in a month? Make it a week.
- welcomes, encourages and rewards new ideas regardless of who / where from
- make EVERYONE accountable for the output
Embedding intrapreneurship is hard. It calls for rules, governance, structure, budget and time. It will dismantle silos and it will cause conflict. If the CEO wants to realize great benefits, then they must accept that the scale of the investment goes beyond mere money. Sometimes there is no choice but to close an under-performing business and fire the workers, but start with the corporate invalidators – six months after these people are gone, you will see a far better organization