New ideas don’t generally fit neatly within the existing organizational boundaries; thus they require innovators to cross the boundaries of the organization in search of help, resources and permission. Many good ideas are lost when forward progress is blocked by the need to use resources from other parts of the organization. Getting people from other parts of the organization to contribute time and resources to an innovation requires either raw power or the skills and mindset of an intrapreneurial warrior.
What the intrapreneurial warrior needs to succeed in getting resources:
1. A vision that inspires: a dream others find worth fighting for.
2. The integrity to be trusted — amidst ambiguity and chaos.
3. The persistence to keep going when the going gets tough.
4. An inner compass that guides toward the vision.
5. The courage to follow one’s inner compass even when others are telling one to turn back.
6. The emotional intelligence to understand how others will react.
7. The wisdom to know how to use diplomacy, reframing and tact to avoid creating trouble for yourself or others.
Definition – Reframing: creating a new way of looking at a situation to move a person from negative states like anger, worthlessness, or revenge toward ways of seeing the situation that give energy, life, productivity and affection.
8. The stealth and cunning to avoid stirring up the corporate immune system.
9. The generosity of spirit to make and keep friends and allies across bureaucratic lines.
10. The business judgement and frugality to make good use of resources.
As we leave the industrial era, work is increasingly about innovation and doing something different for customers. Machines and computers are eliminating dull and repetitious jobs. The jobs of the future involve innovation and caring, both of which benefit from self-motivation and freedom to improvise.
Once one leaves the macadam roads of defined procedure and habitual action, the skills and attitudes that lead to success change. Traditional bureaucratic expertise is not enough to achieve today’s rate of innovation. What is needed are the skills of the intrapreneurial warrior.
Your project has come to a screeching halt because the people over in some other departments don’t seem to understand how important it is. You know the return on investment for the company would be great. You need their help or their permission, but they are too busy to help. What can you do?
- Plead with your boss?
Well, you’ve probably tried asking your boss already. If it worked, fine, but before you ask your boss to spend precious political capital on your behalf, ask yourself if you have made the job as easy as possible. When your boss requests project resources from someone in another area, it’s going to be easier if you have pre-sold the idea to the people who will do the work. Have you already converted some of those people to your cause? Getting someone to lobby others on your behalf may be part of the solution, but it is not the place to begin.
- Explain the glorious implications of your idea?
It’s tempting, when visualizing the positive impact of your project, to tell the world about it, but the effect of your excitement may be to scare people. If, in its fully realized form, the implications of your project will change everything – their department, their job, and the comfort of familiar ways of doing things – you cannot blame them for being cautious. If you make your project seem too world changing, they will respond with delaying tactics and requests for more information, not action or help.
- Ask resource owners for advice?
The danger of premature glorification is neatly matched by the danger of premature requests for resources. Ask too soon and there is a good chance that you will get some version of “No!” Once someone has denied you resources, rationalization sets in: if they refused to provide resources, then your idea must be bad, otherwise they made a bad decision not to support it. The more they say “no” to it, the worse your idea becomes in their minds. This vicious cycle of rejection can easily be turned around. Simply ask for some form of help that will be granted. The request for help most likely to be granted is a request for advice. When someone gives you advice, they are contributing to your project. If they contribute to your project one of two things must be true: (1) Your project is worthwhile, so helping it is a good decision and they are a good manager. (2) Your project is no good, in which case helping it is a bad use of time, and therefore they are a poor manager. The attraction of seeing oneself as good manager will win out almost every time. Keep asking for things they will agree to. Be careful not to ask for too much too soon. The more someone contributes, the more the project becomes their own. So start with advice and build your requests gradually until you can ask for more costly resources. The intrapreneurial warrior gets people involved before asking them for anything costly.
- Express gratitude?
Gratitude cements the value of whatever help you have been given, and can even dissolve overt hostility to a project. When someone in a position of power criticizes the project of an intrapreneurial warrior, the intrapreneur takes careful notes. After some time to cool off and a bit of checking, the warrior finds truth in some aspect of the criticism. As a result, in some way small or large, the plan is changed. The intrapreneur then goes back to the critic and thanks him or her for pointing out a problem that might have sunk the project: “Without your help, we might have…” Your critic may have tried to define himself or herself as your enemy, but you have reframed the criticism as a form of support. To balance things out they rationalize that there must be good in your project. Few can resist gratitude, if it is delivered with total sincerity. However, it may take “emotional weightlifting” to actually feel gratitude, Nonetheless, the gratitude strategy will only work if genuine – you have the greatness of spirit to genuinely forgive and appreciate. Don’t try it until you have done so.
- Broadcast your idea?
It seems smart to “run your idea up the flagpole and see who salutes.” There must be someone out there who can appreciate it. It makes sense, but it doesn’t work. Every innovation involves a bit of creative destruction; the new way replaces the old. As Machiavelli pointed out, those who would benefit from the innovation don’t fully imagine those benefits and remain on the sidelines, while those whose privileged positions or comfortable routines would be disturbed by the innovation recognize it at once and come forward with spears sharpened. The lesson is this: premature promotion of your idea triggers the immune system. The grander you make your idea sound and the more widely you distribute it, the more people it will frighten.
- Build a team and a network of supporters?
Gone is the era of the lonely innovator. The intrapreneurial warrior knows that when you are not in charge of everything you need, your success hinges on the quality of your relationships with the other players (and the referees). The warrior is alert to the feelings of others and pre-sells the idea quietly to those in a position to help or hurt the idea. He or she builds an informal team of co-contributors even before a formal team is assigned. As progress is made, he or she distributes credit widely (the more credit you give away, the more people that support your project). The intrapreneurial warrior keeps everyone in the coalition well-informed and keeps relationships alive even when there is no immediate need for help. Building a network of friends, sponsors and co-contributors is “Innovation 101.”
- Seek out another project?
Every innovation passes through dark and discouraging days. Intrapreneurial warriors don’t give up easily. They find creative ways around obstacles. There are fake intrapreneurs who only want to head large projects with an impressive staff roster. They jump from project to project depending on what is in favor. If the project hits a political snag, they blame others and move on. This may be a good career strategy in some companies, but it will not lead to effective innovation.
- Build a coalition of sponsors?Just as the intrapreneur and the intrapreneurial team are essential for innovation, so too is a coalition of sponsors. Sponsors help find resources, provide political air cover, coach the team and in general help move the idea through the decision system of the organization. The intrapreneurs focus on tasks like design, development, sales, team coherence and the like.
Getting help and resources for your project is more about relationships and trust than it is about the quality of your ideas. The intrapreneurial warrior treasures a reputation for integrity, for without trust innovation is impossible. The intrapreneurial warrior is somewhat modest about the idea and its potential, lest others be scared by it. The intrapreneurial warrior asks for advice before resources, because advice is the form of help that people are most willing to give.
about the author
Gifford Pinchot III is President of BGI and a well-known author, speaker, and consultant specializing in new venture creation and innovation management within large organizations. He has helped launch over 700 business units within corporations, several of which are doing over a billion dollars in sales. He is also a partner in a successful angel capital firm, Alacrity Ventures.