The Art of the (internal) Start-up

Courtesy of A Fresh Start (up)

As some of you may know, I am in the midst of switching portfolios in my organisation and heading to the National Art Gallery, Singapore to lead the corporate services function. Unlike my previous role at the National Heritage Board, this one covers a broader spectrum of responsibilities - from HR, Finance, Admin, Strategic Planning, Policy, Marketing & Communications, to IT. You can say that it stretches from conceptualisation, development, funding, and staffing to communication, reporting and implementation.

Due to the start-up nature of the institution (which just celebrated its first birthday), many things need to be put in place. It has certainly been an exhilarating couple of weeks thus far, and I look forward to more excitement ahead.

With the switch in focus of my day job, the contents of this blog would also take on a more expansive feel. While my principal chatter still remains largely focused on marketing, branding, PR and social media, there would be occasional forays into the wider dimensions of business like finance, strategy, and people management.

Perhaps the first area I would like to explore is that of Intrapreneurialism.

Ummm... what is that tongue twisting word all about? Well, according to Wikipedia:

..."A person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation". Intrapreneurship is now known as the practice of a corporate management style that integrates risk-taking and innovation approaches, as well as the reward and motivational techniques, that are more traditionally thought of as being the province of entrepreneurship...

To do so, several factors may be necessary:

First, executive and senior management sponsorship is critical. You need to ensure that top management buys in to any new scheme or idea so that experimentation occurs in an environment that is supportive and encouraging.

Second, one needs to seed new initiatives while limiting the risks that big hairy audacious projects may fail miserably. Intrepreneurship doesn't mean betting the house (factory or museum) in return for a potentially disproportionate gain. However, it does mean making small gambles now and then when perfect information isn't forthcoming.

Third, an organisation needs to have the right culture which encourages empowerment, independent thinking and accountability. Some degree of flexibility is needed in any ideation exercise, and traditional hierarchies need to be subverted to some extent. While a certain degree of control is still needed to mitigate failures, employees should be nudged to venture into new territories subject to budgetary limits.

Fourth is the ability to focus on the outcomes of the business as opposed to the processes or inputs. In other words, what is the raison detre of your firm or organisation as opposed to its traditional functions. For example, one could say that a hospital's role isn't just taking care of critically ill patients per se but also promoting long-term health and well-being.

Fifth is the encouragement of teamwork and cross-functional efforts in spearheading new initiatives. By promoting heterogeneous groups, diverse views and perspectives are sought. This cross-fertilisation of ideas and experiences could be useful in generating something more radical and game changing. However, special care must be taken to ensure that participants can contribute equitably.

Finally, the creation of an intrapreneurial culture can only be done by celebrating successes without despising failures. Inadvertently, there will be some projects that will fare better than others and this is a given. As the saying goes, "failure is the mother of success", and one cannot expect to have one's cake and eat it all the time.

To learn more about intrapreneurship, check out this excellent paper written about it.

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