Being entrepreneurial at a startup comes naturally. But when running a team inside a Fortune 500 company, how do you achieve and maintain that spirit? As a digital entrepreneur who has spent a decade inside large organizations, I've developed some winning formulas-11, to be specific-that helped me and my team drive change and rapidly innovate. In my last corporate stint, I successfully led a makeover for a large analytics team and launched a new line of business with multiple successful pilots using these techniques. Here's what I did-and what I learned.
Buck the Trends
1) Break some rules - just figure out the right ones. Not those that directly violate corporate policy, of course, but the ones in the grey area. Six months into my most recent position, my boss told me, "You have to learn the rules first before you break them." It is actually beneficial to have less clarity on the unwritten rules because then you can just ask forgiveness as needed.
2) Be delightfully disruptive. Corporate America can be pretty stiff and I would purposely say ridiculous or outrageous things in my boss' or my own staff meetings to make people laugh and loosen up. A more fun and relaxed state stimulates creativity and freer thinking.
3) Don't sweat the small stuff. If someone demonstrates innovative thinking, don't focus on email grammar or whether that person comes to work on time or dresses in proper corporate attire. None of that matters if he or she can spark innovation.
Having the Right Attitude
4) Find the virtue in impatience. While large companies do require some patience, accepting the typical snail's pace of request/approval/execution will be like a slow death to the entrepreneurial types on your team and delay results for you.
5) Learn to juggle. Keeping your sanity amidst the slower pace of corporate America is easier if you have enough projects going so that you can turn your team's attention to another project when delays on one are unavoidable.
6) Bring the swagger. Don't suppress your innate attitude-wear it like a badge of honor. Just make sure you and your team have the goods to back it up.
Build a crew
7) Be the Typhoid Mary of enthusiasm. Make your excitement infectious. You will need that passion to overcome the inevitable naysayers. As one executive told me, "When you ask people for their help, their goal is to figure out how to say no-because saying yes involves more work for them with no direct benefit." You must get people excited about the project AND their role in it.
8) Find air cover. I was lucky enough to have support in all of my roles, but see #7 and remember to be enthusiastic up the food chain. Remember, your boss gets worn down with her own political battles. I always share the team's successes and pulling my bosses in to reinfect them with the enthusiasm they need.
9) Create a mix of entrepreneurs and corporate types. The entrepreneurs will teach the corporate types to be nimble. The corporates will teach the entrepreneurs to navigate the politics.
10) Demand teamwork. Individual stars who don't know how to play well with others ultimately drag down the team. I actually fired an A consultant on my team [MS1] because he openly dismissed his colleagues and had an attitude of superiority about his more advanced expertise. Although he did have unique expertise, he failed to recognize and respect the knowledge of other team members that was critical to the project's success.
11) Distribute credit for every success. Think of every person in the company who had a hand in a launch or pilot's success, and acknowledge each one publicly. We gave out team awards each quarter for successful pilots, I reached out personally to key contributors, and the company also gave out individual awards. These were wonderful ways of giving monetary and/or public recognition for people's efforts that otherwise would have gone unseen and unrewarded.
Bottom Line: Entrepreneurs can be successful as intrapreneurs in a corporate setting. Bring your innovative spirit to the corporate environment and infuse your contrarian style with a playful and positive attitude toward your team, your boss and your peers.
Tanja Omeze is a seasoned digital executive with expertise in the areas of IoT and apps. She has led digital and mobile marketing, partnership development, product innovation and development, new business creation and analytics teams for both startups and Fortune 500 companies. Her most recent leadership roles were at Verizon Wireless, Scholastic and Weightwatchers, and she also founded and served as CEO for iAnswers. Ms. Omeze started her career as an analyst at Wilshire Associates and spent a few years consulting. She earned an MBA from Wharton and an undergraduate degree from CSU Dominguez Hills. During her off hours, Ms. Omeze is also an avid tennis player, traveler and reader.