Many good ideas are lost when forward progress is blocked by the need to use resources from other parts of the organization. In most cases they are lost because the intrapreneurs did not know how to gain the trust of those whose help they need.
What the intrapreneurial warrior needs to succeed in getting resources:
1. A vision that inspires: a dream others find is 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 progress 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 to various approaches.
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 defensiveness 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 organizational lines.
10. The business judgement and frugality to make good use of resources once granted.
As we leave the industrial era, work is increasingly about innovation and doing something different for customers. Machines and computers are eliminating dull and mindlessly repetitive jobs. The jobs of the future involve innovation and caring, both of which require self-motivation and freedom to improvise.This creates a suggestion to bosses to grant such freedom, and equally a message to employees to take the initiative without always waiting for approval.
Once one leaves the macadam roads of defined procedure and habitual action, and takes to the byways where innovation happens, the skills and attitudes that lead to success change. Traditional bureaucratic expertise is not enough to achieve the rate of innovation needed today. What is needed are the skills of the intrapreneurial warrior. To be valuable to your employer in a time of rapid change, so long as you are not exposing the organization to a major risk, you often need to see what needs to be done and just do it. You will discover that many of the constraints we imagine are not real.
Nonetheless, there are times when you must wait for resources or permission. Suppose your project has come to a screeching halt because the people in some other department 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 your boss to lobby others on your behalf may be part of the solution, but it is not the place to start.
- Explain the glorious implications of your idea?
It’s tempting, when visualizing the positive impact of your project, to tell the world all about it, but the effect of your excitement may be to scare people. If, in its fully realized form, 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. This does not move your project forward.
- Ask resource owners for advice?
The danger of premature glorification is neatly matched by the danger of premature requests for resources. Ask too soon for too much 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 (mental?) 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.
If it is delivered with total sincerity, few can resist gratitude. However, it may take “emotional weightlifting” to actually feel gratitude as opposed to defensiveness and anger, Nonetheless, the gratitude strategy will only work if genuine. When you feel that you have been attacked it requires greatness of spirit to genuinely forgive and appreciate. Don’t try it until you have done your emotional homework.
- 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. This makes sense in theory, but it doesn’t work in practice. The problem is this: 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.
- Plead with your boss?
Getting help and resources for your project is more about relationships and trust than it is about the quality of your ideas. Listen. Find out what others care about. Be respectful of their needs.
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. The intrapreneur builds a strong team of folks committed to making it happen.
Posted originally on March 19th, 2013 on the Bainbridge Graduate Institute Blog