Many large organizations are interested in fostering an entrepreneurial culture similar to the one found within startups to drive corporate innovation at the speed of customer needs. From Google and Amazon to Coca Cola and GE, more companies are taking on the startup culture to innovate and launch new ideas.

While startups provide solid innovation best practices that can benefit large organizations, the reality is that "best practices" do not always fit within the context of a larger organization.

As you push new initiatives and corporate innovation through your organization, the following three key enablers will help you to advance and sustain those initiatives through time.

1. Alignment to Business Strategy

Innovation is primarily about business strategy. The reason your company makes investments is to sustain and grow its business in the long term.

A great corporate innovation strategy is closely aligned with your company's strategic priorities. Once business strategies are identified, you can build an innovation portfolio of experiments that are closely aligned to the strategy, and better articulate your initiative's alignment.

For example, if your company has a strategic vision to gain a stronghold in a growing market, align innovation experiments around market penetration or expansion. Articulate how the different experiments will assist with growth strategies.

Your portfolio acts as a compass and will help you explain how your innovation investments are enabling your company strategy while leveraging modern innovation methods, disruptive technologies, and market trends. It will also create an upfront agreement on the level of risk that your company is willing to digest.

Tip: Include a few incremental innovation experiments in your initial innovation portfolio, that will help you to deliver some quick wins, build foundational innovation capability, and increase confidence around your innovation agenda.

2. Tracking the Right Metrics

The challenge of measuring innovation is to agree on what metrics to measure.

There are three simple areas you can measure innovation work:

  1. The effectiveness of the experiments in building innovation capability.
  2. The evolution and growth of the innovation experiments.
  3. The business results that the experiments deliver.

Driving innovation is a journey and takes patience and perseverance beyond "more than a few quarters". Recognizing the long haul ahead will help to identify performance.

When launching a new innovation experiment, you might initially focus on measuring the first two dimensions of innovation capability and growth before you get to measure business results -- ROI and revenue.

If truly disruptive, your innovation experiments will need time to prove credible product-market fit. In this case, measuring the time taken from idea to prototype - time-to-insight - can showcase the value of experimentation since the faster you experiment, the faster you learn, the faster you remove uncertainty and get to deliver business value.

Tip: You should celebrate and reward the ability of your team to learn fast, which will foster the "culture of experimentation".  Use those learnings to fine tune your innovation portfolio in regards to priorities and allocation of resources across products.

3. Empowered Cross-Functional Teams

Innovation is a team sport made up of many roles and players that will bring ideas to the goal. It requires a diversity of perspectives and backgrounds to create a truly disruptive innovation.

When looking to create product innovation, you will need to create a cross-functional team with accountability and follow-through at every level. The team can be led by a product owner with total accountability for the associated business outcomes.

Product teams should be small, made up of seven to 10 people, and cross-functional with a diversity of backgrounds from engineering and support to sales and marketing. The group must be granted the appropriate level of autonomy to directly connect with customers and make decisions on product features and priorities.

Tip:  You should maintain a healthy connection with the main business by establishing an informal innovation board--made of senior executives of your organization. These advisors will provide strategic direction for the evolution of the innovation portfolio.

While large corporations are investing in building a culture of entrepreneurship, the reality is that implementing disruptive innovation is a complex endeavor. It requires to move resources from your core business to experiment on potentially successful, ambiguous business concepts.

Leveraging these key enablers will help you to navigate that complexity. An innovation portfolio tightly aligned to your company business strategy, upfront agreement on innovation accounting and a well organized and staffed innovation team will provide with a solid platform to continuously engage your organization along with its innovation journey.


This article was co-authored with Marcelo De Santis, a corporate innovation leader and former CIO of Pirelli and Mondelez.