Assessing Your Organization's Climate for Innovation

7391452In an earlier post, we introduced you to a useful reference on the topic of "Intrapreneurship", written by Gifford Pinchot and Ron Pellman.  In his website, Pinchot introduces the idea that organizations have a climate of innovation, which can be measured.  If you're an aspiring social entrepreneur working within an existing organization (i.e. a social intrapreneur) - whether public, private, or nonprofit - you may find it very helpful to assess your employer's innovation climate.  This assessment can be a vital part of the Internal Review stage of our Enterprise Development Process. Factors to Consider

The following list (drawn from's 'Innovation Climate Questionnaire') will introduce the factors to consider about your organization's climate for innovation. The idea here isn't that your organization has to rank high on all these factors, but rather that your chances of success will be higher if you've got a better sense of how your organization works with new ideas.  Knowing this will help you anticipate challenges and strengths, and keep your idea moving forward.

Transmission of vision and strategic intent Employees are more effectively empowered if they are given a clear vision of the future and where the company is trying to go. The need for innovation is then apparent to them, and they know how to direct their efforts

Tolerance of risk, mistakes, and failure Both innovation and organizational learning require trying new things, seeing what happens, and learning from the experience. When those trying new ideas are punished for "mistakes," two things go wrong: (1) people stop experimenting, and (2) mistakes are covered up, so no organizational learning results.

Support for intrapreneurs Intrapreneurs are employees who behave like entrepreneurs on behalf of the company. They are persistent visionaries who act courageously to turn ideas into profitable realities. They become the hands-on leaders of specific innovations within an organization. Intrapreneurs are an essential ingredient in every successful innovation process.  In your experience, how does your organization respond to intrapreneurs?

Managers who sponsor innovation Sponsors are people with power or influence who support, coach, protect, and find resources for an intrapreneurial project and its team.  What percentage of your organization's managers have the skills, power, commitment, and courage to be effective sponsors of intrapreneurial initiatives?

Empowered cross-functional teams Innovative organizations create cross-disciplinary project teams to implement innovation, and they empower them to make decisions. For example, a new product team might-at a minimum-include people from marketing, engineering, and manufacturing.

Decision making by the doers Some organizations push most decisions up to a level way above the doers. Such organizations are not good at implementing innovation.  What percentage of your time is spent getting or waiting for permission to act rather than taking action or gathering information so that you and your team can make your own decisions?

Discretionary time New ideas and hunches require exploration before their value can be demonstrated to others. Innovative organizations give people the freedom to use some of their time to explore new ideas and hunches without having to ask permission.  What percentage of your time at work can you safely divert from your assigned tasks to explore new ideas you believe have promise?

Attention on the future What an organization becomes depends in part on how far ahead it looks. Innovation is more likely to occur when people are thinking well into the future.

Self selection Intrapreneurs appoint themselves to their role and then seek the corporation's blessing for their task. Intrapreneurial team members are recruited rather than told to join the team. Despite this, some corporations still appoint people to carry out innovations

No hand-offs The knowledge generated by an intrapreneurial project is stored in its people. Despite this, when an intrapreneurial project becomes successful, corporations often take it from those who created that success and give it to "professional managers." In general, each early-stage hand-off has a 90 percent chance of killing the project.

Boundary crossing New ideas generally don't fit the existing organizational pattern. Therefore innovators have to cross boundaries to get help and support. But bureaucratic managers often say no to people from outside their area, just to demonstrate that they are in control.

Strong organizational community In companies with a strong organizational community, people take care of each other and help each other out. They think in terms of the good of the whole rather than just the agenda of their area. Organizational community provides a base of support for innovators and a force to direct freedom toward worthwhile ends.

Focus on customers Refocusing on how to better serve customers drives organizations toward productive innovation. Focus on internal politics tends toward conservatism, mistargeted megaprojects, and failure to exploit genuinely superior technology.

Choice of internal suppliers When an intrapreneur faces many internal monopolies for essential services and permissions, the chances are that any truly novel project will be stopped. The most innovative companies provide more than one place to go for most things, so intrapreneurs can "wire around" people who are blocking them.

Measurement of innovation Innovation is frequently discouraged by the way performance is measured. The most innovative organizations develop measurements that encourage innovation.

Transparency and truth Information is useful to an organization only if the people doing the work and making the decisions have it. In the most innovative organizations, information flows freely, both horizontally and vertically.

Good treatment of people Companies that treat employees well gain a competitive advantage: employees are more loyal, and they have a greater sense of safety, which gives them the courage to innovate. When you observe managers of this organization making decisions, what do you see?

Social, environmental, and ethical responsibility Companies with a strong commitment to serving society's needs-to social, environmental, and ethical responsibility-often anticipate external changes and out-innovate their competitors. In addition, they attract a better type of employee, with greater commitment to serving customers and improving the world.

Avoiding the "home run" philosophy Many organizations value only those innovations that can be confidently projected to add at least 5-10 percent to the bottom line within a few years. For huge companies, such opportunities are rare; aiming for them usually results in very costly failure. The better way to growth involves numerous smaller bets, many of which succeed modestly and some of which open the door to huge opportunities in which you have a commanding advantage. Then you may prudently invest for the "home run."

Want to Assess Your Organization's Climate for Innovation?

Complete's 'Innovation Climate Questionnaire'.

In Our Next Post...

We'll introduce you to 'enterprise assets' - many of which your organization or group already has, and can be used as launching pads for new social and community enterprise ideas.  Taking stock of your enterprise assets is a key part of the Internal Review stage of our Enterprise Development Process.  See you soon.

Andy and David, Common Good Solutions Inc.