5 tips you need to consider in your corporate innovation strategy

What can companies like ÖBB and Raiffeisen Bank International teach us about minimizing the risks of corporate innovation programs?
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We recently had the pleasure to speak to two of Vienna’s top Corporate Innovation Experts about their learnings and tips around setting up and leading Innovation & Intrapreneurship teams in corporates. We gained some extremely valuable insights on how they push Innovation forward within their organizations.

Nicole Stroj, Head of Organizational Innovation at Raiffeisen Bank International (RBI) and Jaqueline Matijevic, Head or Innovation Development at Österreichische Bundesbahnen (ÖBB), were our special guests on the Intrapreneuership panel at the 6th ELEVATE Demo Day. Here are the top 5 most important learnings:

1. Alignment on goals

Align your innovation activities to your bigger corporate strategy. At first, this may sound very easy and logical, but in reality, it’s quite hard to achieve.

For a start, you need to have a very clear strategic goal in place.  Then when contemplating about which challenges you want to tackle, it’s crucial that you really think about how they contribute to this goal. If needed you should adapt them accordingly on time.

This way you know at any point of the project why the intrapreneurship teams are working on this exact solution. What might happen, if you’re not clear on strategy, is to lose the bigger picture. You might find yourself questioning the purpose mid-project, which will lead to a lot of frustration.

 

2. Find the right people

Top management

Doing corporate innovation is a challenging task, that everyone in the organization must take seriously. It’s important to have your top management on board from the beginning, or else you will not be able to get anywhere, unfortunately. There should be a firm conviction on supporting innovation topics and wanting to create change company-wide.

Support on all levels

Of course, you need more than your Board of Directors or CEO supporting you. It’s also very crucial to have people directly involved, that can help you overcome some of the barriers in your organization. You need the right supporters, that know how to deal with the formal corporate processes and may even have some shortcuts along the way.

What makes such programs a success are also the people who mentor the teams and help them through their day-to-day problems.

 

3. Manage your stakeholders

The next tip is to plan and set up your stakeholder management properly. This is needed in order to make sure that the innovation department and the intrapreneurship teams can then also implement the projects they came up with.

Here comes the tricky part: there is a very fine line between having the stakeholders well involved and them disturbing the intrapreneurship process. Including the right stakeholders ensures the team stays on track and produces something really valuable for the business. What is challenging however, is having the intrapreneurs focus on their current customer’s needs while also giving them the freedom to come up with something completely new.

 

4. Empower culture of failure

Very often people participating in intrapreneurship programs are used to working with more traditional methods like waterfall project management. They are usually afraid to publish or test something in real life when it’s not perfect. This means you need to change their mindset and teach them, that it’s okay to go out with a minimum viable product (MVP) and not a flawless solution.

“That’s something people are not familiar with. So you have to really empower them to fail, but also allow them to stand up and try again. All of this is a crucial part of the innovation process.” – Jaqueline Matijevic, ÖBB

From failure to learning

It’s also about fostering such an environment. The stakeholders in the innovation board need to be aware of the different approach. Explain to them, that they will hear about people pivoting and what didn’t go so well. Sometimes this attitude can spread and have a positive effect on the regular meetings too. Both ÖBB and RBI have organized “failure night” events, where board members were invited and the notion of learning from mistakes was fostered withing the organization’s culture.

 

5. Have stamina & be resilient

Be in it for the long-term game!

Working in corporate innovation requires a lot of skills and individual strenghts. And being the Head of an innovation department, especially in the beginning, can be intimidating. It’s important to understand, that things don’t work the way they do in conventional project management. There are not only a lot of new methods, but also completely different approach and way of thinking. That’s why is essential to have a lot of stamina, in order to really push forward.

“You also need to be resilient in the innovation team, because you will have to overcome some difficult challenges. So, frustration tolerance is a good thing to have if you work in corporate innovation”. – Nicole Stroj, RBI

It’s a journey

All things considered, you should keep in mind that people will adapt. They will recognize that innovation has a benefit for them. You just have to take them on this journey and be patient.

“So take your colleagues, your business unit leaders and your board members and let them be part of the innovation process. That’s the secret ingredient.” – Jaqueline Matijevic, ÖBB

 

To sum it up

To summarize, in order for your corporate innovation programs to succeed, you need to ensure there’s a clear alignment with the company’s strategic goals. In addition, don’t underestimate the power of support from the Board but also from colleagues involved in daily operations.

Furthermore, it’s crucial to set up a well thought-through stakeholder management, while ensuring it doesn’t cause disruption in the intrapreneurship process. You are also highly encouraged to foster a culture of failure in the program but also within the corporation. Last but not least give the process of innovation management time and be patient to see results.

Bonus tip from us: a lot of these processes can be supported by using the right methodologies, that startups typically apply and you may have not considered previously. Let us know if you are interested in finding out how they can speed things up to you, while ensuring you can de-risk innovation at your organization.

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