How to accelerate business innovation in externally funded scalable start-ups?
“Given enough time and money, your competitors can duplicate almost everything you’ve got working for you. They can hire away some of your best people. They can reverse-engineer your processes. The only thing they can’t duplicate is your culture… Do you know the difference between strategy and culture? Well, when Napoleon was in Paris in a room with all his generals around a table, discussing how to attack Russia, that’s strategy.
But what makes a million men march to Moscow that is culture!” Herb Kelleher Southwest Airlines
This article draws on my previous experiences as a business innovation coach, coaching some of the top HPSUs (High Potential Start-Up) in Europe and the past 10 years as an executive coach working with CEOs and senior leaders in international corporations and large public sector organisations.
I have the privilege of working with some of the most innovative start-ups through the H2020 Phase 2 programme managed by the European Commission and as part of this very competitive programme (<6% success rate) I coach clients from their concept to market maturity. The main coaching outcome is aimed at bringing their innovation to investment readiness and maturity for market take-up.
I love these coaching engagements because I can prototype some of my own concepts around systems thinking, psycho-dynamic analysis using OD/team coaching as a conversational leadership tool for change with firms ranging from 20-70 employees; moving from seed funding to round A of venture capital financing; where the main working styles are about innovating, researching, exploring, exploiting opportunities, pushing for change….
I love these coaching engagements because of the buzz, energy, passion, fire element, post-modernist worldview of ‘making a difference’ - working with the oldest and youngest millennials – the generation Y as oppose to the other side of my coaching practice working with the traditional (i.e. fulfilling duties, preserving tradition) large public sector organisations and modern worldviews (i.e. appealing to status) of the Fortune 1000.
In every Phase 2 engagements it’s clear that the means to address key strategic challenges, mainly scaling the HPSU, already exist within the organisation. However invariably there are factors which get in the way – such as next round of funding or hiring functional experts but the main one I found is the ‘professionalising of the organisation’ – the upgrade of its operating system led by the Senior Management Team (SMT). Many of these issues are solvable but not by individuals on their own.
It’s widely accepted that the biggest barrier to innovation in companies is the suppressive effect of culture and leadership but by taking a more strategic approach to coaching and mentoring, it’s much more likely that they will address these difficult challenges.
For example, the majority of the Senior Management Teams I coach see themselves as a – pseudo or potential team on the Katzenbach team performance curve (see Phase 2 client examples from pic). Katzenbach and Smith define a Real Team as “a small group of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they are mutually accountable”.