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The following excerpt is from Jill Schiefelbein’s book Dynamic Communication. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes
In creating a culture of innovation within an organization, you want to make sure you have the ability to not only highlight people and bring their ideas to the surface, but also have a process in place so you can escalate those ideas up the chain to get action taken. Creating systems for intrapreneurship is a key success factor in many of today’s successful companies.
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An intrapreneur is someone who thinks like an entrepreneur but is an employee within an organization. They get that steady paycheck, but they want to bring ideas to the surface and know they can impact decisions and the trajectory of the business. Your intrapreneurs are entrepreneurial thinkers who drive organizational change and are motivated by creation.
Squashing attempts at innovation is an easy way to kill employee morale and experience high-talent turnover. To avoid this, develop an internal process that all employees can use to bring ideas to the table and communicate them to the right people within your organization. This will encourage your intrapreneurs to contribute and think about ways to make the business better.
Here is a six-step blueprint you can use to help your employees develop their ideas. Not only will ideas come to you in a more actionable format, but you’ll be professionally developing your employees and giving them skills that will live on long beyond their current role — creating a great employee experience. (And if you’re a solopreneur, don’t stop reading! You can use these six steps to help create better pitches to potential clients. Just reframe the language a little, and you’ll be well on your way to more sophisticated proposals.)
Step one: identify — know your audience
Your employees should know to whom they can bring ideas. Do you have a hierarchy, or can they go straight to the top? Define this process and determine who are the people in the organization they should pitch their idea to, who has the power to make their idea come to fruition and who has the power to assign resources to help them make their idea a reality.
Step two: match — is this the right fit/place/time?
The following criteria will help your employees evaluate if their idea is the right fit for your organization:
- Does their idea fit the mission, vision, values or purpose of the organization?
- Does their idea fit a need the company has?
- Does their idea fit a need the customers have?
- Does their idea fit a need the organization has internally?
If an idea isn’t an obvious fit with one of the four items above, then suggest that they rethink it so it does fit. You want to make sure there’s some connection between the two.
Step three: evaluate — ideas, ideas and more ideas
Once someone has an idea, knows the audience who’ll consider the idea and believes the idea is the right match for an organization, it’s time to evaluate the idea further and see if it can be even better. Before coming forward with an idea, your employees should consider running it through a handful of questions to help evaluate and strengthen it:
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- If you had implemented this idea six months ago, what would the organization look like now?
- If you asked five other people in the company how to solve the problem your idea fixes, what would they have to say?
- If you were evaluating this idea from the perspective of [insert person, business or other entity], how might it change? (For example, Disney, Google, Steve Jobs, Shaq, ET, Frank Underwood, etc.)
- If you break your idea into three micro ideas and pick the most important one, what would it be?
- If you had to explain your idea to a kindergartener, how would you do it? (This helps someone see whether their idea is more complex than it needs to be.)
Step four: gather — get buy-in and support
Now it’s time to look at the idea from the perspective of the people who’ll actually benefit from, use or implement the idea. They might have the most brilliant idea in the world, but if the people who are going to be enacting or implementing the idea don’t do it well, that idea is going to fall flat, your employee is going to be judged for it and they won’t see the fruits of your labor. Getting buy-in on multiple levels is really important.
Let’s look at an example. Say you own a software development company. One of your engineers realizes that consumer feedback isn’t getting to the engineering team accurately all the time because the customer service reps aren’t documenting well enough. The engineer has an idea to get the customer service team iPads so they can take notes more efficiently and immediately upload them into the company cloud. But if they take this idea to the top without getting buy-in from the customer service reps, they may not get great implementation. So it’s important that your engineer talk to the people who’ll actually be using, implementing or acting on their idea, because if they don’t have their buy-in, success may not happen.
Step five: analyze — know your position, situation and attributes
A lot of people have heard of a SWOT analysis — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats — for analyzing ideas. But when it comes to bringing ideas forward in an organization, your employees should be doing a SWOT analysis not just on the idea but on themselves.
I call this a P-SWOT, or a Positioning SWOT. Your employees will use it to evaluate their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats when it comes to being in a position to spearhead this idea or present it in the first place. Here are some questions they can ask for each part.
- Why should you be the one to make this idea happen?
- What skills do you bring to the table that will ensure its success?
- What is your personal investment in the success of this idea?
- Do you have the necessary time to complete this idea?
- Do you have the necessary resources to bring the idea to life?
- What skills are you lacking that would help increase the rate of success?
- What experiences in the past would prohibit you from succeeding in the present?
- What opportunities beyond this idea exist if it’s implemented successfully?
- What can you learn from others who have implemented similar ideas?
- What are some opportunities to expand this idea?
- What personal opportunities might come if you execute well?
- What is standing in the way of you making this idea work?
- Are there others in the organization who would oppose this idea?
- Do any of your weaknesses leave you vulnerable to threats?
- What internal and external factors to your business exist that may threaten success?
- What internal and external factors to yourself exist that may threaten success?
Step six: craft and deliver — message, channel, pitch
Now that your employees have a killer idea ready to bring to you for consideration, have a way for them to design and deliver their ideas that makes sense for you and your business. Here are some considerations for you to think about when designing this step.
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- How should the pitch be delivered?
- Through what channel(s) do you want it communicated?
- What documentation do you want to accompany the idea?
- Who should be included in the conversation?
You might want to also consider setting expectations for when a pitch will be received and evaluated, and when a decision will be made. Another strategy is to create an “application” process that will filter out pitches and ideas that aren’t fully developed. Finally, a way to encourage innovation and intrapreneurship is to schedule monthly all-hands-type meetings where everyone can listen to selected ideas, setting the bar and motivating through obse