Scaling up the culture of entrepreneurship
Sid Shah, managing director, Boston Consulting Group Digital Ventures, discusses the benefits of an entrepreneurial culture.
Just because a company is big, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to keep growing. Just like any other company, a Fortune 500 firm will be looking to keep their shareholders, their employees, their customers and their accountants happy. That could mean expansion of their core business, new acquisitions, or R&D in new growth engines that could eventually recalibrate the whole business.
At such a scale an entrepreneurial outlook can be invaluable. There’s a misconception that companies of scale should be naturally conservative, consolidating and low risk. That might have rung true for a mining conglomerate in the 1970s, but the fact is that nowadays new technology, combined with a fecund investment irrigation system, has all but destroyed the traditional barriers to market share. That puts a premium on entrepreneurial management like never before.
Creating an entrepreneurial culture in a large enterprise is difficult because you are combining a fail-fast culture with a steady, business-as-usual culture. The best qualities we associate with entrepreneurial culture – risk-taking, pivoting, seat-at-the-table, quick decisions, multi-disciplinary, founder led – will naturally jar with capital, brand, measured processes, benefits, consistency of paycheck, and reputation. So, the question is, how do you combine the two while showing all parties that you are investing for the future without damaging the core business?
Of course, a culture of entrepreneurship won’t mean you end up reinventing the wheel but it will allow you to move nimbly to maintain stable growth. This transformation could be as linear as developing a new product which makes your last range obsolete, or it could be as radical as reinventing your whole proposition to address or create a brand new market. Either way, it takes courage to trust your entrepreneurial approach and where it takes you.
There are a few key elements which are crucial to success.
Remember that culture takes time to build
Communication is critical to establishing faith in the project, so have the most senior management, including the CEO, as the ‘unofficial’ board of this initiative. They can remove red tape, take out bureaucracy, and support the intrapreneurs that are building the product or service. Make clear that you understand, expect and tolerate failures and pivots – and don’t expect change to happen overnight.
Don’t limit your scope with too much detail
Define a clear search area for the initiative, as over-briefing will inevitably end in failure because your KPIs will fail to align with the need to discover, fail and build. By defining a broad search area, your team is incentivized to figure out the right business or solution with room to pivot and/or change course as they get feedback from the market. Additionally, you’re not limiting your solutions from the start by making them adhere to superficial rules.
Give everyone an equal seat at the table
Put together a multidisciplinary team that can attack the problems from a lot of different perspectives, consisting of a GM and a product manager as well as people from engineering, design, growth and commercial, depending on the problem you’re trying to solve. And don’t forget that ideas don’t just come from the boardroom, and some of the most fundamental changes will be initiated – and implemented – on the ground floor.
Incorporate feedback mechanisms at every stage
This will reveal your ‘intrapreneur’ culture but it will also ground it in process, which can help you to build your own best processes when it comes to replicating this approach across other areas of the business. Additionally, it will emphasise the values you are trying to promote, predominantly around this being an educational process. You’ll also have better processes when it comes to decision making, giving you the ability to distinguish between good and bad risks, and move little and often rather than being overtaken by change and finding yourself having to make sudden existential decisions in the boardroom.
If you love something, let it go
A lot of firms have been able to spin off the research and innovation their entrepreneurial culture has afforded them, launching whole new entities within the brand, or whole new companies which can lead to a lucrative exit. In many ways, these developments are definitive of our tech age: DreamWorks Studios spun off DreamWorks Animations and eBay spun off PayPal. Google has so many internal spin offs it’s clear they’ve based their whole business model on intrapreneurialism. It’s hard to think of a better manifesto for building a culture of entrepreneurship within a business.
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Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.