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Leading in a startup way

October 5, 2020

This puts pressure on organizations: As part of the “Lifting the Lid on Corporate Innovation in the Digital Age” study by Capgemini Invent and MIT, 62% of companies say that they have invested “more” to “much more” in digital innovation today compared to five years ago. It’s no surprise then that leaders are faced with the challenge of establishing a startup culture in their organization and looking more closely at what they can learn from founders.

Fascination startups – the entrepreneur as the organizational designer

The success of startups is mainly due to the pioneering mentality, the ambition for change, and the personality of the founder. In an earlier Capgemini study we showed that leaders in established organizations should see the startup world primarily as an opportunity, not a threat. One characteristic of startups is that not only do they develop innovative ideas, they also implement them. Founders distinguish themselves by being passionate about their vision and able to build a motivated team that works towards the defined ambition with entrepreneurial thinking and commitment.

How can leaders in established organizations face the difficult task of driving innovation in their own company? We believe that in order to do this, leaders must further develop themselves in the role of intrapreneurs.

From idea generation to implementation – how intrapreneurs drive innovation

In the role of the intrapreneur, leaders take responsibility for transforming innovative ideas into profitable products, services, or business models within the existing organization, thereby promoting the development of a new corporate culture.

We have observed that intrapreneurs are particularly capable of anchoring an innovation-driven corporate culture because they have the following strengths:

  • Intrapreneurs know their customers, current market trends, and political developments and can assess risks correctly
  • They regularly question the status quo, bring new innovations to life, and always include the economic perspective
  • Intrapreneurs take responsibility for decisions and have a very good network to drive innovation.

Intrapreneurs in large organizations – not a contradiction, but a necessity

Promoting intrapreneurship in large organizations brings benefits to both leaders and organizations. Compared to starting a new, independent business, intrapreneurship allows executives to draw on the resources of a large organization and to bring their entrepreneurial thinking to bear in a value-creating way. As described in a study in the Journal of Strategic Leadership, leaders are also the ones who ultimately decide about the success or failure of innovations. The study emphasizes that leaders can increase the probability of success primarily by promoting a positive error culture and the courage to innovate.

For organizations, one of the most significant advantages is that innovation is now actively promoted – and above all implemented. In addition, organizations in which intrapreneurship is embedded are more dexterous and adapt more quickly to customer needs and to constant changes in our VUCA world. Nevertheless, not every company runs like a startup, and companies and their executives must be aware of the challenges and tasks on the way to a more innovation-driven organization. The study by Capgemini Invent and MIT has shown that, in many cases, a fundamental transformation of the innovation system is necessary to successfully implement innovations in the organization. This can mean, for example, setting up an “innovation hub” where innovation processes and related skills are bundled and centrally managed.

Leaders play an essential role in this transformation. They must initiate the appropriate structural adjustments, prioritize innovations and enable their own team to be more courageous in the implementation of innovations, take personal responsibility, and think entrepreneurially.

Apply the following reflection questions to successfully drive your organization’s innovation agenda in your role as an intrapreneur:

  1. Which innovations and skills would help my organization to progress? What opportunities, but also “limits,” does my idea have and what is the business case?
  2. How do I manage to anchor new technologies and skills, some of them externally introduced, in my organization in the long term?
  3. How can I establish a positive failure culture and deal with it when innovative ideas are not immediately successful?
  4. How do I manage to sustainably promote entrepreneurial thinking and personal responsibility in my team?

Thanks to co-writers Stefanie Janssen and Thi Hoang Anh Nguyen.