You’ve got the idea. You know it will work. If only you can move fast enough, keep up the pace of those younger, smaller startups. The opportunity should be yours but you worry that bureaucracy will slow you down.
Over the past six weeks I’ve interviewed 40 internal entrepreneurs who faced, and overcame, the same challenge you face right now. The key that they collectively share is to predict, befriend, and prepare to bend the rules.
You can only take the idea you have – for that new product, new strategy, new market approach – so far without having to rely on others. Eventually you will sell something and you will need an invoice written, you will need IT to build something, you will need a contract. And then, you will bump up against the bureaucracy of your organization.
Don’t be surprised by this. You know it is going to happen. The key is to predict from where you will need support in the future. Through my interviews I identified five key departments that you will probably need support from:
It’s hard to say no to a friend. When a friend asks you for a favor, you want to help them out. Since you know that you are about to ask for some favors from the five areas listed above, you should probably begin now to make some friends.
Find someone in each of the five areas above that you share something in common with. Reach out to them. Invite them to lunch. Create a reason to talk to them. For example, your project will probably eventually require their expertise, so interview them now to understand the implications of their domain to your project. Interview IT people to understand what the IT implications are for the new product you’re considering. Do the same for each of the other four areas.
The key is to do this authentically. You are not trying to manipulate them. You need their help and you will need more of it. So get to know them.
As you get to know them, seek simultaneously to share your vision and convince them that your project is important. Get them to see why they should get excited about your project’s success. For example, why will your project help customers, help the company, help the world?
This is something that smart innovators do naturally. They think about the stakeholders from whom they will need support and they begin cultivating relationships. They build social equity.
Bend the rules
There are three ways to get anything done. You can follow the rules, ignore the rules, or bend the rules. Your success depends on your ability to know which to do when, as the head of innovation for a leading health insurer shared with me today.
Know which rules you can ignore because, for example, the consequences of ignoring them are low. Know which rules you absolutely must follow because, for example, to not follow them would put you into deep water with regulators in compliance.
Now that you have friends in key places, if you followed steps one and two above, you have the chance to bend the rules when appropriate. Your friend in IT, for example, might recognize that what you are asking for is just a very small experiment, and not a full project, so they will put it not at the bottom of their queue but rather, assign it to a resource who can bang it out in a couple of hours.
We’re not talking here about pursuing anything that would put your career or your company at risk. But if you have your company and customer in mind, you will know the right thing to do. You will recognize that sometimes the rules were written for unrelated situations and what is appropriate here is to bend them.