Nowadays entrepreneurs have become celebrities. Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are treated like rockstars. But even as we celebrate their individual accomplishments, we must not forget that innovation is never a solo pursuit. Successful innovation results from the combination of great visionary ideas with profitable business models. It takes a village to build a successful business.
This is even more true for the intrapreneurs working inside large corporations. No innovation team can bring a new product or service to the market on their own. The complexity of innovation requires collaboration among all the key functions within an organisation. For example, when Apple was launching the iPod and iTunes platform, this required coordination with manufacturing for creating the product, marketing for selling, technology for writing software, legal for contracting with record labels and many other divisions.
A Bridge To The Core
This is why it is not a good idea for intrapreneurs to cast themselves in an antagonistic way with the main business of the company they work for. For their work to succeed, they are going to need to leverage some of the company’s key assets and resources; such as brand and access to customers. As such, innovation teams have to get alignment with other key functions at the company. Let’s think about the journey of a product or service from idea to scale. Let’s see who might get involved in the process and how:
- Executive leadership: for defining innovation strategy and deciding that an innovative idea is something the company should focus on.
- Finance: for budgets and other key resources.
- R&D and technology: for breakthrough technologies and other technical support.
- Manufacturing and operations: for producing the product and ensuring delivery to customers.
- Human resources: for recruiting new team members and deciding on the right incentives.
- Marketing and sales: for selling the product through various channels and managing customer relationships.
There are several other key functions that I have left out of this, including branding, legal and compliance. But I hope that you get the point I am trying to make. You need to work with all these key functions for innovation success. This is why it is important that we build a bridge between innovation and the core business.
Strategic alignment is one of the most important things for intrapreneurs to get. We should make sure that we are working on innovation projects that are aligned with our company’s strategic goals. Several innovation teams I have worked with find it hard to scale their projects after they have found product-market fit. The reason is often because they are working on ideas that are not on any key leaders’ strategic goals. As such, they can’t find the support or budgets they need to scale their ideas.
Beyond strategy, alignment with finance is also very important. When I was working with a global education company, one of the first teams we tried to align with was finance. We viewed this function as a key driver for innovation in the Lean Product Lifecycle process we were designing. As such, we spent months working with finance to create an investment framework for innovation they were comfortable with. Ultimately, we succeeded in agreeing a ceiling spend for each innovation stage. They also agreed to create for us a new financial template for when teams were ready to take their ideas to scale.
In another scenario, I was working with a company in the financial sector. In this industry, compliance with regulations is really important and we spent time working to align with legal and compliance. Over a series of workshops, we developed an understanding of the requirements that they needed before a product was taken to scale. We then worked through how those requirements could be adjusted based on the innovation stage of a product. The goal was to achieve a legal and compliance process where the requirements were lighter for early stage products but then got heavier as the teams made progress towards full-scale launch.
It Take A Village
Working to align with key functions in your company is perhaps the most important thing you can do in terms of catalysing innovation projects. I have seen good innovation projects stalled because of finance, legal or procurement issues. However, if there is alignment between key functions within an innovation process, there is minimal friction for innovation teams. They don’t have to keep renegotiating approval every time they need it. This means that innovation projects can more easily flow through the necessary steps and get taken to scale in the market.