In November 2017, kindly hosted by Founding Member Grant Thornton, Touchpaper put together its first gathering of corporate innovation specialists, including representatives from Grant Thornton, Bristows, London Stock Exchange Group, The Coca Cola Company, Deutsche Bank, Lloyds Banking Group and Virgin.
Although the details of the discussion will remain between of companies that attended, below we share some of the topics discussed:
The oft quoted startup trope has crossed the chasm to corporates. Sometimes in order to get a good return, you need to take risks and this is never more true than with innovation. Those large enterprises that trust their innovation teams to practice this, within reason (and without career limiting consequences resulting from failure) will stand the best chance of running successful innovation programmes.
There were a couple of topics that came up to do with commitment. One was around trialling and growing projects in a ring-fenced entity, outside of the main corporate processes and procedures, to allow agility and speed of movement. This level of commitment to a project really speaks volumes on the organisation’s priorities, which helps greatly both internally and externally. The other element, involves more straight forward commitments, such as guaranteeing follow-through with the winning project of an innovation day or hackathon, instead of letting the event pass and enthusiasm wane resulting in no further progress. Making these commitments, not only ensures continuation of innovation projects, but also strongly signals the intent of the organisation, which is an important factor to attracting staff and potential innovation partners to the projects.
Following on from operating innovation activities in a ring-fenced environment, the point was made that at some point a startup that has successfully delivered a project to a corporate needs to become a regular vendor. Whilst it is absolutely the right thing to do to allow trials and experiments with startups to happen outside the full corporate processes, (or at least at a discount to its normal procedures), when those services or products hit the corporate’s mainstream business, should they be subject to the same rigour that all vendors are? There was no answer discussed at the dinner, but my view would be help prepare the startup to meet the requirements of those procedures, perhaps on a sliding scale over a number of months. If the service is of great benefit to the corporate, the last outcome either party needs is a roadblock in the form of red tape, but the startup cannot expect to get special treatment forever either.
One topic that came up throughout the evening was the politics of innovation. Be that mainstream corporate incentives being at odds with innovation objectives, CEO sponsorship of innovation projects needing middle management support, or innovation needing a committed board behind it to have a real effect - at every stage, you need to consider the human element. In the same way that any change management process needs everyone to be brought along with it, so too does innovation. There was discussion around the elements of successful projects and these often involved a large degree of internal stakeholder communication and management. In order for an organisation to accept a new innovation, or even be willing to try it out, individuals need to understand it, what the implications are and how it will impact them, both personally and professionally.
It was noted that procurement departments often come up in relation to startup-corporate collaborations. These departments have a key role to play and can be highly influential in setting the tone for such collaborations. As a result, procurement professionals can set the tone for innovation itself. Adapting the corporate perspective of risk and reward of certain transactions (i.e. working with startups) should create the corresponding change in perspective in the procurement department. Enabling them to be able to move faster and apply only those processes that are appropriate for that type of transaction would reduce the burden on innovation departments and also accelerate any company’s ability to work with startups.
So in summary, good corporate innovation involves taking and accepting risk, commitment, planning and above all else bringing the organisation at all levels with you on the journey.