The Intrapreneur’s Dilemma Making Innovation Happen at Big Companies
According to Merriam-Webster, innovation is defined as the process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods. For big companies, this process can be very difficult, if not impossible. Big companies are capable of innovating with the same speed and agility as small companies, but they have to overcome some fundamental challenges related to their larger size and slower organizational speed. Here’s a possible framework for how big companies can innovate, and it’s already been successfully tested with several incubation projects.
Addressing the Slow Elephant in the Room
There’s an underlying issue that all big companies face when it comes to innovation, and it has to do with speed. Specifically, being too slow. Even though big companies have sizeable budgets and the highest paid executives in the industry, small and agile companies are eating big companies for lunch. Why is that? In today’s economic landscape it’s all about fast vs. slow, not big vs. small. That’s where small companies are winning, i.e., they’re faster.
When big companies compete with smaller and faster companies, they usually run into the following difficulties:
Aversion to taking risks: after all, they are a well-established brand.
Slow decision-making: decision-makers are usually busy in their day-to-day jobs.
Internal operation challenges: undefined or incomplete innovation frameworks result in problems like lack of alignment, projects overlapping, lack of clarity, and working in silos.
Big organizations have a lot of decisions-makers, and getting buy-in from everyone usually takes a lot of back and forth that slows down the process. In addition, these decision-makers are usually under pressure to deliver quarterly results while overseeing multi-million or multi-billion dollar revenue streams.
Big companies have ample dollars to develop solutions, so when innovation does take place, the real challenge becomes taking the product to the market. It’s no walk in the park taking a developed idea from customer piloting, to production, to making it part of your sales offer. This is the moment where support from the executives is crucial, but at this critical stage, it can be a challenge to get their support if they were not already looped in. A Potential Solution Contrary to popular belief, innovation often starts at the top. Being able to bring senior executives and leaders to the same table is key to the success of the innovation process. A central innovation Center of Excellence (CoE) could address all of these issues. Through a CoE, an innovation team can collect ideas and validate their impact. The CoE can also organize a process similar to the TV show Shark Tank where senior executives come to the same table, hear pitches for new ideas, and give their support to a few ideas to move them forward. Through this Shark Tank process, the team can select winning ideas in several ways: by a simple majority vote, by consensus (having every member support the idea), or by having at least one member go all-in.
In addition to the main idea, pitches would contain supporting data showing competitive differentiators, added value to existing offers, ROI over the next few years, value to customers, and more. This process creates three distinct advantages:
Business leaders get on the same page and get the decision-making started. If there’s duplication, everyone can get onto the same project (silo busting).
Once a decision is made, the project has full support and visibility. This allows it to move very fast from the start. It also allows executives to focus on existing responsibilities, while supporting plans to move the disruptive ideas forward.
You can, (and this is very important), assign responsibility to the person/party who will be held accountable for taking the innovation through the go-to-market (GTM) process.
The CoE can be epicenter of innovation across companies, organizations, or business units. The CoE would oversee the ideation, prioritization, selection, implementation, piloting, and GTM segments of the innovation lifecycle. The CoE will be a big investment, but it is worth it. You’ll need to hire visionaries and technologists, and build a self-sustaining team capable of transforming concepts into working products or services.
Onward and Upward
This centralized innovation CoE can lay the groundwork for fast innovation in big companies. Once established, a company can follow the agile development process to quickly build solutions and start piloting with customers. If the customer feedback is positive and meets your GTM criteria, then you’re ready to take it to market, and start differentiating.
At this point, the idea has turned into a product or a service, and the CoE will transition this product to the core team who will be responsible for scaling, enhancing, and maintaining it. This opens a new slot that CoE can fill in with next big idea.