To lead a successful intrapreneurial group, corporate leadership
must master the skill of watchful detachment.
Last month, I ranted about the failure of large organizations to nurture the entre- preneurial spirit, thus setting their eagles
of leadership loose to soar above the rest of us,
to drive the corporation toward creativity, innovation, and vast profits. This month, I’d like to
talk about working conditions that companies
can set up to encourage entrepreneurship, or
what is now being called intrapreneurship,
within an organization.
Of course, the most enduring — and certainly most beloved — story of intrapreneurship
is Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development
Programs, also known as Skunk Works, and its
founder Kelly Johnson. Besides creating many
of the most innovative aircraft, including the
SR71 Blackbird, Johnson set the standard for
what an intrapreneurial organization should
look like. He operated Skunk Works as an
autonomous organization within Lockheed,
which meant having his own accountants
under his control, writing his own contracts,
choosing what work he did and for whom,
streamlining purchasing to get parts and supplies when needed rather than from the lowest
bidder, and adding an unparalleled engineering staff that worked hand-in-hand with the
mechanics who built the aircraft.
First and foremost, Skunk Works was, for all
practical purposes, an autonomous organization. Lockheed was smart enough to allow
Johnson to set up Skunk Works and leave him
alone. I am sure there must’ve been a certain
amount of handwringing inside upper management, as well as a desire to stick their nose into
the operations of that division, but they were
smart enough to realize that Johnson would
not tolerate interference from them. He was
successfully delivering product to his customers
that would’ve been impossible without him,
so it was in their best interest not to provoke
him. The lesson: The less upper management
involvement, the better.
Second, Johnson had a shoot-the-accountant
mentality. By doing the best, most innovative
work, Skunk Works made money for Lockheed
and created a reputation that holds to this day.
They came in under budget and on time on
virtually every aircraft they designed and built.
They had an absolute understanding of what
had been spent and very tight projections on
what was left to do, and they lived up to those
expectations. The lesson: While financial
controls are necessary, an intrapreneurial team
is responsible for knowing how to spend the
money and when to spend it. This is not to say
that the group should be able to spend whatev-
er it wants, but when a budget has been agreed
upon, the internal team should be allowed to
spend money as needed.
Mike Rainone is the co-founder of
PCDworks, a technology development firm specializing in breakthrough product innovation.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and
visit www.pcdworks.com. PDD