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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Inspiring Corporate Entrepreneurship to Fuel Innovation

by Robert F. Brands with Jeff Zbar

Inspiring Corporate Entrepreneurship to Fuel InnovationIt's been said that successful people either are entrepreneurs - or think like entrepreneurs.

Look around your company. Are you surrounded by entrepreneurs? Is your team comprised of people who take ownership of any project or task that comes across their desk or inbox? Do they embrace challenges, possess the process, and take responsibility - for successes and failures alike?

Some may come away thinking that 'corporate entrepreneur' and 'employee' are contradictory. They believe that entrepreneurs take the ultimate risk - ditching the security of the day-job, as it were, and facing the personal, financial and psychological challenges of business ownership.

That's one definition. Another would be 'corporate entrepreneurship'. This realm is inhabited by people who - though they receive a paycheck signed by someone else - see the organization (or at least their small domain within it) as their turf. This is the most valued type of employee.

Innovation and corporate entrepreneurship are inextricably intertwined and fuel well-reasoned risk taking. Especially in large organizations traditionally risk averse, innovation drives leaders and teams to become more corporate enterprising. This process encourages growth from within, which helps set the stage for leadership continuity.

As a business leader, you must build an environment that tolerates such entrepreneurial thinking. It's the leader's job to encourage such entrepreneurial thinking - to exude and build trust, to embrace the risk to fail, and to inspire people to take well-reasoned chances.

In the book, "Grow From Within: Mastering Corporate Entrepreneurship," co-author Robert Wolcott discusses how companies can enable and support 'internal entrepreneurs' to achieve innovation-led growth. Such entrepreneurial thinking drove IBM to realize some $15 billion in new annual revenues from 22 Emerging Business Opportunities, and Whirlpool to realize $4 billion in revenues from companywide innovation efforts - "despite global recession and the steep drop in housing markets," notes one review.


emerging models of corporate entrepreneurship
The authors reveal four models of corporate entrepreneurship laid out on an axis of organizational ownership (on the horizontal) and Resource Authority (on the vertical). Each possesses unique and specific characteristics. The Opportunist (bottom left), takes no deliberate approach to entrepreneurship; the Advocate (bottom right) evangelizes for it; the Enabler (upper left) provides funding and executive attention, and the Producer (upper right) establishes full service groups with mandates for corporate entrepreneurship

Applying Robert's Rules of Innovation, the Advocate, Enabler and Producer can thrive in this environment for each has corporate support. They have executive support, from Inspiration to Net Reward, needed for innovation borne of corporate entrepreneurship to thrive.

Yet for corporate entrepreneurship to thrive, it needs more. It requires the structure and culture. Assuming the right people are in place, leadership must provide divisional and business unit autonomy. How can you lead your organization to a climate of corporate entrepreneurship?
  • Like innovation, Define what entrepreneurship means. The phrase "Corporate Entrepreneurship" must mean the same thing organization-wide. Moreover, leadership must delineate objectives and point the way as part of its vision and mission.

  • Incubate and nurture. Corporate entrepreneurship doesn't flourish without guidance. It starts small - and grows through encouragement. Begin with small projects heavily supported by leadership. Those success stories should be heavily communicated as such. They then will become the lead project to pull the rest of the group or other entrepreneurial-minded teams along.

  • Create a reward system. Risk and reward, when properly aligned, can foster accountability. Rewards - whether in the form of praise from immediate managers, attention from leadership, or the chance to lead future projects or task forces - are powerful motivators. They also can help solidify the creation of stronger corporate entrepreneurs.

So look around your organization. Are you surrounded by employees - or entrepreneurs? The difference may be not only the way they think, but they way they're being nurtured.


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Robert F BrandsRobert Brands is the founder of InnovationCoach.com, and the author of "Robert's Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival", with Martin Kleinman - to be published in March by Wiley (www.robertsrulesofinnovation.com).

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