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For the last five years, words such as “innovation” and “intrapreneurship” have been peppered throughout corporate communications. “Innovation is the key to future success.” “We encourage employees to act as intrapreneurs.” “We value your intrapreneurialspirit.” Are these words all hype, or do they convey a reality that empowers and engages an otherwise disaffected workforce?

The desire to innovate and exercise our creative streak lives in all of us. It’s a basic human instinct. Once we are encouraged to become intrapreneurs, we view the challenge of running simpler as an invitation to solve complex problems, become intellectually curious, learn from past experiences, and impact the world positively.

But, is your business ready for what your employees are thinking?

What five companies that know the truth about innovation

For most businesses, the workplace culture is not yet set up to fully embrace a spirit of innovation and intrapreneurship. However, there are a few that do understand five fundamental truths about innovation – and they are reaping significant competitive advantage.

Truth 1: Valuing innovation reminds your employees how awesome they really are

Liberty Global, one of the largest cable television operators in the Netherlands, is reminding its employees why they were hired in the first place – because they are talented. By rolling out an internal ideation campaign, the company is encouraging its employees to redefine and think outside the box in which the enterprise operates.

During the initial program rollout, ideas were handed off to relevant business areas for execution. Within the first year, the leadership team quickly realized that employees need to be involved – from ideation to realization. The result: 35% of the workforce submitted their ideas; whereas, most companies engaging in similar initiatives only realize a participation rate of 15% and 20%.

Truth 2: Creating a culture of innovation requires the right timing

ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest integrated refiners, marketers of petroleum products, and chemical manufacturers, believes that things sometimes have to get done against the odds and resistance. This is not only true in its field operations, but also applies when tapping into its workforce’s creative side.

When its innovation program first rolled out, employees wanted to ignore it. A year later, the leadership team hired four employees to explore ideas on a full-time basis. Now, the team organizes biweekly meetings that everyone in the company can attend to learn about the new ideas.

How did ExxonMobil executives do it? Simply put, they did not quit. Rather than control the workplace culture, they persevered in their work, stayed calm and patient, and gradually convinced their colleagues that they and their ideas would be supported.

Truth 3: Collecting ideas is not innovation – it’s about taking action

Thomson Reuters, the world’s leading source of business and professional intelligence for critical decision making, guides its workforce’s intrapreneurial spirit with ten principles:

1.       Innovation is a mission – should you choose to accept it.

2.       Ideas should support the company’s vision, mission, and values.

3.       “Overnight” success takes two years – stay patient and focused.

4.       Recruiting and hiring practices should attract and retain people who handle ambiguity and fast-paced change well.

5.       Innovators should not be afraid to redefine your proposition – test, iterate, and do it all over again.

6.       The company will push the right ideas to market quickly.

7.       The client is the primary focus – not internal bureaucracy and governance.

8.       Teams may brainstorm, challenge, and rework the idea, but a decision must be reached.

9.       The advisory board may consist of supporters, naysayers, and everyone else in between – including clients, account teams, finance, and legal.

10.   Leadership is essential – without it, innovation goes by the wayside.

By giving everyone a voice in the process, Thomson Reuters encourages all employees to take ownership of their ideas and engage themselves in the business. This mindset enables all business areas to become more receptive to risk, disruption, and the experience of others at all levels.

Truth 4: Driving innovation alone doesn’t promise success

For Xerox’s healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and life sciences business units, business strategy and innovation go hand in hand. The company supports iterative cycles that incorporate its innovation strategy, technology innovation road map, and business model and strategy.

About one-third of the innovation effort is dedicated to exploring a new idea. Then, if everything tests well, it’s developed and commercialized. Xerox’s innovation group also collaborates with relevant business groups and consistently engages with the strategy council.

More important, Xerox knows that none of this is possible without its customers. The company hosts periodic sessions where customers interact with developers. Through design thinking, ideas turn into innovations that customers want and patients need.

Truth 5: Giving your employees a reason to engage in intrapreneurial behaviors is critical

Eli Lilly and Company, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, rewards the top 100 ideas with an innovator award. Plus, the company sponsors innovation days, giving employees an opportunity to work on projects and topics that they do not regularly encounter in their daily responsibilities.

By giving everyone room for creating disruptive innovation, people can stay focused on daily operations while also fostering and sheltering a startup mentality. For Eli Lilly, location, values, and catalysts for change are all part of this mindset.

Find out how SAP is creating a culture of innovation creation and intrapreneurship to deliver the technology and advantages its customers want. Check out the blog “An Insider’s View on the Future of Innovation.”

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