Stefan Lindegaard’s Post, Innovation Fails Because of Corporate Antibodies, points out a number of good ways to manage the corporate immune system. He says:
“Recognizing that corporate antibodies are likely to show up at some point in your innovation process and having strategies in place to deal with them should help you derail some of the people who want to impede change and maintain the status quo.”
This is so true, though I would warn against seeing critics as enemies. It works out better to see critics in a more positive light.
A number of Lindegaard's more specific suggestions also resonate with my experience:
Make people backers rather than blockers: Lindegaard gets off to a good start with stakeholder analysis and communicating proactively. He gives good suggestions for managing the ego of potential critics.
To his suggestions I would add this: Hear the criticisms of your ideas as attempts to help. Find ones that might have a grain of truth and check them out. Learn something useful. Then come back with gratitude. You might say:
“Last week when you said (criticism) I was not pleased, but I checked it out and you were right. I’ve fixed the problem in the following way… Thank you so much – if it had not been for you I would have gone on making a very expensive mistake.”
It is hard for your critic not to feel better about you and your idea once you express gratitude and define them as contributors to the idea. The challenge with this strategy is that it only works if you are sincere. Be sure you really have managed to forgive and to become genuinely grateful.
Stay below the radar: Good advice here. Publicity triggers the corporate immune system. Rub the rough edges off your idea by showing it to friends before you let potential blockers form negative opinions about it.
Have frameworks and processes in place. Here I worry about what people will do with Lindegaard’s advice. “Putting processes for innovation in place” is usually implemented with a “Pipeline Process,” in which deas move through a defined pipeline with committees stationed at various checkpoints along the way. At each stop the committee must approve the project to move to the next phase. These checkpoints become ways to kill new ideas. The ideas that generally pass through all those committees are mediocre ones. All the truly innovative ones as well as the lame ones are screened out. That is not good enough.
What works better is a system that encourages managers to become sponsors of specific innovations. This sponsor system relies not so much on a process as on relationships of trust. Sponsors shepherd the intrapreneur around the immune system, provide resources and protect the intrapreneurs from the slings and arrows of an outraged bureaucracy.
Provide high autonomy: Providing high autonomy to individual managers as well as to innovation councils is a great way to create a network of empowered sponsors. If many managers have the power to protect and fund intrapreneurs, there will be many innovations.
It is encouraging to see writers like Stefan Lindegaard who understand how innovation actually happens inside large organizations.