Updated: Sep 24, 2020
Unico is a company undergoing a transformation. Not the “digital transformation” you hear so many organisations undertaking - those are largely cost management initiatives that stand to deliver little or no incremental value in their own right. Nor is it just another cultural transformation. Instead they have recognised the fuel inside their people, incredible ideas of better ways to work, or great businesses to be in, building a spark that will help ignite their passion to succeed.
New employees come to an organisation green and enthusiastic but soon the light starts to dim. As they are increasingly seen as creatures of one-dimensional value, all sorts of things start happening. They loose focus. Their productivity drops. And, worse, they start thinking the grass is greener on the other side. And as soon as they think this - for the very first time - you have lost the battle to keep your most valuable asset, your people.
Where and why they go is a subject for another day, but one of the key reasons is that they think the business won’t listen to their ideas that may add value. These are the Intrapreneurs - those in your flock who can see a better way to do something. Or a new customer to serve. Or maybe an entirely new market to serve with a different product.
What holds an intrapreneur back?
There are many factors that stop people thinking they can or should innovate. Here are three that will easily override any words from management about how important innovation is.
“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted” — Albert Einstein
KPIs – Key Performance Inhibitors One of the key inhibitors of performance in real, meaningful terms, are KPIs. I don't mean to say that measuring performance is not important, but I do think that the process of defining KPIs is fundamentally broken in many of the organisations I've observed. To the business the KPI tries to identify success criteria for a given employee. But that's not what the employee sees. They see a leash - if something is not in the KPIs, then it is not allowed to be done. Certainly, there are individuals who manage to renegotiate their KPIs regularly to reflect what they have done, but are they really just gaming the system?
Another impact of KPIs is the punitive shadow they cast over the whole organisation. When they do stick to their KPIs, there is no incentive to fail, so why would they try something new? They are not rewarded for trying something new that might fail - failure ultimately means lower financial reward. This is one of the most powerful drivers of behaviour, and if your performance measurement does not make an allowance for failure, your organisation risks becoming stagnant in a sea of fast moving competitors doing everything they can to get and stay ahead of you.
It is hard to define valuable KPIs, and nearly impossible to define KPIs that might drive an intrapreneurial outcome, since the results probably will not fall within the typical 12-month measurement window. Einstein was quoted as saying “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted”. This is very true in the case of KPIs.
Business as Usual (BAU) Many organisations tend to prioritise BAU work, which is natural. After all, BAU is what has successfully driven the business in the past, so anything that impacts that baseline must be bad for the business. I call this tactical value, and it may be necessary in sustaining the organisation for the coming year, but it is not sufficient for longer term success. Few realise that focusing on tactical value may be the very lid keeping your teams from contributing strategic value - value that could fuel the organisation for decades to come.
At least one organisation we work with are suffering this at the moment. With a key customer under their belt, BAU for them has become anything that keeps that customer happy. What they have realised is that this view of success has reduced the ability for them to progress their product roadmap beyond its original MVP, and that has limited their ability to be successful with other customers. Fortunately, that's has now turned around in favour of generating strategic value.
Ideas that have nowhere to go
A great idea can get stuck at our mind’s gate when we realise that they we don’t know how to take them forward or lack the resources to do so.
A logical place to seek help in many cases would be their employer, except that typical employment instruments make a clear claim on IP ownership once exposed. Why would you tell your employer that you have a great idea for the next biggest thing, if it’s just going to be taken away from you?
tead of flourishing it sits in the back of its creator’s mind, niggling away at them and creating more and more dissatisfaction with their job – each day bringing them closer to leaving you.
Is there a better way?
At Unico we think there is, and it starts with support, funding and recognition of the value contributed outside of traditional productivity metrics. We have built processes, funding opportunities and recognition programs to encourage ideas to be brought out into the light and be explored. And we are recognising that innovators need to be explorers - they need to carry their knowledge into new conversations, where two separate ideas can smash together like particles in a physics experiment, combining to form a new idea and releasing an energy that wraps around the team and drives them forward with a new passion.
This exploration is an opening of our doors to the outside world and inviting other organisations in to experiment with their own ideas and finding common purpose as we collaborate to bring new innovations to life.
uSpark is an organisation dedicated to pursuing innovation from all corners of industry. We have recognised through conversations with Unico's customers that there are organisations all over our nation with great ideas bubbling up within their teams, but without the processes or the support to allow those ideas to develop.
We aim to help put innovation into the heart of all businesses without disrupting core activities, providing tools, processes and space to test new ideas and identify potential customers and markets. Our team has a broad range of innovation experience, from start-ups to large corporates, both local and from the heart of innovation, Silicon Valley For more information on our processes, people of how we can help bring your ideas to life, contact us at uSpark.