Having worked with multiple start-ups as well as corporate growth and innovation teams at large multinationals, I find it interesting that although both launch from very different places in terms of support and funding, they face similar challenges when communicating project value to help ensure their businesses come to fruition.
Well-known start-up challenges typically include: (1) lack of experience or resources; (2) an urgent need to prove an untested solution’s or business model’s viability; (3) lack of market knowledge or traction; and (4) multiple complexities in terms of people, processes and strategies.
Business units of larger entities, on the other hand, tend to have more experience and better access to resources, people and systems. However—and this may surprise you—they also face serious challenges that affect the likelihood of success for their corporate entrepreneurial efforts.
Most often, these challenges occur in the form of growth executives not thinking through or being able to “sell” their ideas to upper management. In our experience, when growth executives apply some of the following tactics that are non-negotiable for start-ups, they not only improve their chances of success but also wind up enhancing company culture, making it more efficient when executing future growth and innovation efforts.
1. Articulate a solid, fact-based, valuable initiative that stands on its own merits. While obvious for a start-up, many corporate managers forget that at the core of their effort is the need to create a real, sustainable business for the company. Good, well-articulated projects sell themselves internally (even when pitted against politics and dysfunction).Focus on building a project that is supported by facts and work with your team not only to craft a meaningful business plan but also to ensure you can communicate its contribution to the overall company portfolio.
2. Work to align purpose and context across all key stakeholders from ideation to launch. Even in the ideation stage, understand who might be involved in making your initiative succeed. Then connect with them to socialize your program and identify points of contention. Craft your internal messaging and rationale and create a plan to educate those that do not fully understand your initiative’s value and how they could contribute.
One important note: Be sure to manage expectations in terms of interim results, time and resources required. Try to be as accurate as possible so people around you value your judgment and see you as an efficient change agent.
3. Follow due process so key stakeholders see you are developing a great new opportunity for the company. Even if you have access to a small team and limited resources, focus on creating clear, achievable milestones, selecting the best team members, and properly managing the project and its team dynamics. The more you deliver on promises however small, the more you generate goodwill and trust that you can handle larger and more complex situations in the future.
4. Deliver quick wins (even smalls ones). If you show you are leading a solid project with a functional team, you eliminate the doubt whispering in executive ears that you may not deliver on promised results.
Divide your initiative into small, achievable chunks so you can achieve milestones and interim results. Additional wins of any size will continue building goodwill with both your team and key stakeholders, providing helpful support later on when more resources and commitment are required as your initiative progresses.
5. Measure not only your results but also your progress—and communicate both. Management can get impatient for results. In some cases, due to the nature of the business or the initiative, quick wins are just not achievable. Track not only progress towards major goals but also how activities are executed and improved. Be sure to communicate your progress in multiple dimensions so key stakeholders understand you are moving forward. Remember, just 1-5% progress each week is a whole new business in 6 months.
Successful corporate entrepreneurship is at the core of corporate renewal. It allows an organization to benefit on latent market opportunities, develop new capabilities, and adapt to competitive challenges. When you ensure that executives have the information they need to fully understand the opportunity at hand, you will be better able to clear your initiative’s development path and deliver meaningful solutions and valuable business results to your company.