Many corporations suffer from a common disease called bureaucracy. This disease keeps them from dealing easily and swiftly with the ever-changing external environment that is our technologically and socially driven world today. This bureaucracy also leads to the frustration of many innovative and energized employees, filled with the drive to create, change, and develop, leading them to leave, and the company to lose valuable human capital. In order to deal with this, companies must foster a culture of innovation, both to keep their valued workers and to survive the dynamic environment.
In order for intra-organizational innovation to blossom, there must be a supportive and enabling environment which starts, as always, with a decision made at the CEO’s desk. However, challenges are to be expected for managers and workers, as one, that may cause much frustration and even lead to them leaving for the competition or for opening a company of their own.
Here are 9 things that organizations must start doing in order to maintain their innovative workers in the company and create positive results.
- Encourage Ideas: According to existing research, every employee at a large organization has an idea at least once per week, even if it’s the smallest idea. Encouraging ideas sounds amazing, and even creates a sense of release. But to what degree do the ideas have to fit the organizational strategy? What innovation type is the organization really searching for? Creating the right platform that will create a united community in the organization, will encourage creative thinking and will leverage ideas in the relevant fields is essential. One of the most difficult problems is that the managers need to meet company goals as part of their responsibility to upkeep the organization’s strategy. If the organization chooses to direct the challenges standing in it’s way and reflect them to the employees, it could encourage relevant innovative ideas.
- Thank You for the Idea: Now please go back to work: Many organizations teach their employees creative thinking and problem solving. But what are these tools worth if the employees don’t use them? Raising ideas, as an action, does not give the employee a sense that they are being listened to and it is not the activity that will help them maintain their position. The Idea Acceptance process must become transparent to the employee and needs to be perceived as professional feedback, whether positive or negative. With that, the process will cause the employee to feel important and “seen” along with his or her ideas.
- Entrepreneurs Like to Feel Supported: The entrepreneurial employees in the organization fight not only for the tough innovation process of developing “Something from Nothing” but also with difficult organizational politics. These processes bring about a sense of loneliness and lack of support from the organization and generate frustration. A process of accompaniment and direction is very important for employees, but also for the company itself because even if the venture or innovation isn’t successful, the employee will feel the support and will want to continue raising ideas and creating more internal organizational ventures.
- Financial Support: Innovative workers can raise incredible ideas but in the moment of truth, they need a budget. In order to get money, many companies request that their workers write out a business plan filled with multi-year foresights that include revenue and expenses, and a go-to-market plan. This process is not suitable for young ventures that are just starting. As part of the innovation encouragement process in the organization, there are existing ways to create steps with “gates” that require certain data at each step in order to move on to the next development stage and receive the right amount of financial investment according to the product and the stage the venture is in, which reduces investment risks.
- Validation: not here, not now: Validation is a stage in which the entrepreneur needs to verify the need of the product or solution that the venture provides the customer. Entrepreneurs/innovators that received approval or investment to continue with their venture need to complete the stage of customer development, but the company is a bureaucratic body and until the different departments synchronize and the worker is approved to do a feasibility check with their “customer” (whether it is within the organization or outside of it) it will take time. Time, in the entrepreneurial field, is very expensive! As part of the establishment of the innovation system in the organization, one must pay attention to the steps that will assist entrepreneurs in their work between departments and between the organization and the people outside of it. For example, establishing Innovation Community Leaders in different departments that can give the “entrepreneurs” support throughout the process and be integrators between departments can help decrease the bureaucratic waiting times.
- The MVP will harm the Brand: An unformed product? Not in our organization! We are a serious company! Part of the entrepreneurial process is building an MVP version that is an initial and basic version of the product one wants to try out on “customers”. But many product managers and marketing at large companies see this as harmful to the company brand. In their defense, I must say that this is not an irrational fear and that there are real risks. With that, there are ways to manage and decrease these risks. Instead of stopping research and experimentation completely. organizations can work with their innovation leaders and set up rules and regulations of when and how the brand can be useful to the intra-organizational entrepreneur when checking new solutions. All of this must occur in coordination with the product and marketing departments, along with customer support to create a comprehensive organizational process.
- Internal Bureaucracy: Large organizations seek security and deal with this by establishing rules and procedures. These procedures and guidelines create bureaucracy which makes it difficult to build innovative and entrepreneurial processes within the company. The innovation process is built on the worker’s ability, or the intra-organizational entrepreneur (the Intrapreneur, as I like to call them), to work quickly and efficiently in building their venture. For example, in many organizations, all of the programmers belong to different and varied divisions within the Technology department. In this kind of structure, all of the programming products must go through approval by all of the departmental managers. This means that new projects undergo a bureaucratic process, going through a pipeline of approvals that, at times, can take up to six months. This process is the antithesis of innovation and there are several solutions for dealing with this. One option is to gather the top-most managers from the different tech divisions to take part in the decisions about new projects that will get the green light for programming. In this way, one can create a sense of belonging and commitment among the managers from the start and get them involved in the whole project, allowing them to assign the appropriate resources to the worker to complete the project. Another option is continuous work with external programming companies as a solution for balancing organizational resources. The external company can support the execution process for new projects up to the point where the organization decides to implement the project as part of its products.
- On Time and On Budget: As part of the sense of security that an organization needs, large organizations operate differently, according to their long-term business plans and bureaucratic procedures. Therefore, there are many times in which projects close due to not meeting quarterly deadlines and/or budgets that were set in advance. Hence, it is important that the executive personnel track and follow these processes. Insensitivity of the senior leadership to the process and development of the venture, both internal and external, leads to the failure of the venture every time. There are several possible solutions for this. In my opinion, the simplest and most efficient option is, as mentioned before, training innovation leaders within the different organizational departments. These innovation leaders constitute part of the stages of developing the venture and can recommend, prepare, and connect between the entrepreneur and the senior leadership that need to see eye to eye the process and its goals.
- Failure Means Layoffs: There is a tendency to celebrate successes, but in order for innovation and entrepreneurship to blossom in large organizations, failures must be celebrated as well. If employees in the organization see other workers who attempted to innovate and failed fired, this will create a negative organizational culture that doesn’t accept failure as an option. This process may sound like it discusses only psychological issues, but it has significant financial implications for the organization as well. Entrepreneurs whose venture is in development but who fear failure will cover up danger signs and will extend a project for longer than necessary, which will bring about unnecessary costs for the company.
In Conclusion: As an organization, we have the option to create a reality in which workers want to take proactive steps to improve the organization. The Intra-Innovational Organization Model I developed (DUCO) moves to create an internal ecosystem that will foster, enrich and serve as a platform for the creation of organizational ventures that will provide the company with new products/services/processes that will open the true concept of “a company creates innovation creates a company”.