By Bryan Tublin on March 30, 2016
Few things halt innovation faster than bureaucracy and politics within the enterprise.
Teams get excited about an idea, but can’t get it funded.
Endless approvals and tollgates are needed before a project is supported by senior leaders.
Managers preach the importance of innovation, but don’t protect employee’s time to work on new ideas.
As discouraging as this red tape can be for intrapreneurs within a large organization, there is a silver lining—every company deals with politics to some degree, so ideas are surfacing that make these challenges solvable. All you need is the right approach to pushing through the bureaucracy.
Here are four ways you can navigate bureaucracy and politics to innovate within your enterprise:
1) Align Your Project With Business Priorities
Make things easy on yourself by aligning your innovation project with a strategic initiatives of the overall enterprise. This will help you make the case for resource funding later on, and help stretch your thinking about the problems you’re trying to tackle. Senior leaders are incentivized to see the big picture, meaning the goals they set for the company are likely high-impact objectives. Piggybacking off company priorities will show you are capable of thinking big.
“If possible, align your innovation with a strategic theme or trend your company already recognizes is important,” recommends Eric Kowalchyk, Co-Founder at Kernel Networks, and former Product Manager at LinkedIn and Intuit. “It’s really hard not to focus on easier incremental innovations… push yourself to think big, change perspective, rewrite how the game is played.”
Starting with strategic business priorities will steer you in the right direction, allowing you to think big and build a team that can help you achieve your ultimate vision.
2) Gain Support From an Executive Sponsor
Support from a senior manager in the organization will give you much needed assistance to push your project forward. This is someone who can provide guidance and advice as you validate your ideas, protect time for team members to work on the project, and help present your case when the time comes to ask for business resources.
“Having a high-level senior leader [support an innovation project] is the only thing I’ve seen work personally,” says Hugh Molotsi, former VP of Innovation at Intuit. “That person becomes that project’s sponsor to support and provide air cover.”
An executive sponsor can also help entrepreneurial teams drive change. According to Chris Andrew, Managing Director at Hearsay Social, this is a crucial but often overlooked task for intrapreneurs.
“You need a very savvy exec sponsor and an even more savvy project lead,” says Andrew. “In a large organization the big success is moving a change forward, [since] the innovation is often something you can duplicate or see elsewhere. Understanding that the innovation itself is not the biggest challenge is tough to accept sometimes, but helps the team to focus on the core challenge – change.”
When seeking an executive sponsor to help drive innovative change, approach forward-thinking managers invested in the growth and development of their team members. You can also try writing project-related goals into your personal development plan with your manager at annual review time, which may encourage him/her to support your efforts as the project progresses.
3) Show, Don’t Tell
Successful innovation teams don’t just talk about their ideas—they gather evidence to prove they’re heading in the right direction. This data gives a team confidence in its approach to solving the problem, and makes a potential business investment seem less risky from a senior leader’s perspective.
Consider using your limited resources to run experiments that test your most crucial assumptions. If you’re struggling with where to begin, start small and work your way up to bolder experiments. “Rather than start with pure innovation, run a small experiment on something that exists already, make a hypothesis, and stay accountable” advises Adam Berk, a Consultant at Pearson.
Think about how your new feature or idea will increase one specific metric, and put a timeframe around how long you think it will take to drive that change. This will give you the ammunition you need when pitching your project to senior management.
Which leads us to…
4) Speak The Language of Senior Leadership
Most organizations use a specific set of criteria to make funding decisions. Successful intrapreneurs understand what senior leaders look for in a project, and tailor their story to the relevant business metrics when seeking resource support.
“Teams must be familiar with their company’s current funding calendar, evaluation process, funding decision makers and company priorities,” according to Simeon Sessley, Strategic Advisor at Moves The Needle and former Innovation Leader at GE. “Once those factors are known, then teams must clearly articulate how little funding they need for customer discovery versus the full funding if assumptions are validated.”
Pair up with a financially-savvy person within your organization to understand how budgeting decisions are made, and use the appropriate language to make funding your project a no-brainer. Understanding how to justify the ROI of innovation can help with your pitch. If you need guidance or support, ask your manager or executive sponsor to help frame the story in a way that is tailored to senior management. This will help communicate why your project is important to the overall business. Showcase the evidence you’ve collected so far to de-risk the investment in the eyes of those making resource decisions.
Politics Will Stand In Your Way If You Let It!
Dealing with red tape within the enterprise is no easy task for passionate intrapreneurs. Those who succeed are able to employ several, if not all, of the following methods to push through internal politics and bureaucracy:
- Paint a big picture vision that aligns with the company’s strategic priorities
- Gain the support of an executive sponsor
- Show evidence that de-risks the investment from a business point of view
- Communicate why investing in the idea is worthwhile for the business, using language senior leaders understand
Have you successfully overcome politics and red tape while innovating within a large organization? Do you have advice for how others can do the same? If so, please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.