Part 1: Finding and Developing Business Builders in Your Company

Today’s corporations are not poor on ideas. They have plenty of them. Some are good, and some are not so good (to put it politely). Healthy, purposeful organizations often have capital to put behind them, resources to experiment, and access to back-office support to facilitate their advancement. So, why don’t we see breakthrough innovations coming out of established organizations all the time?

There are a variety of reasons, but here is one. They often lack qualified, motivated business builders—those who can take an idea from concept to commercialization as an entrepreneur would—to navigate the treacherous, complicated waters of building a business within a business. Sometimes these leaders are already within the corporation but just have not been given the room to run with an important project. Other times, they must be recruited externally. In order for innovation to thrive in the corporate context, companies must identify the business builders and put concepts in their hands. However, the hardest part can be actually finding and developing them.

Here are some ideas about how to get started.

Sound the alarm
Business builders need a significant problem to solve. They won’t raise their hand to jump into a “nice to solve” problem. The risk isn’t worth it and the reward isn’t great enough. If you give opportunities to address “need to solve” problems, you’ll be surprised who comes out of the shadows. So, sound the alarm and inspire business builders with urgency.

Plow the path
Business builders want to know they can pursue the mission without being ambushed by a colleague—that senior leadership has plowed a path for them politically. Senior leaders who prepare business builders for success find more volunteers than those who don’t.

Pull up the bus
Business builders need permission to recruit talented people to get on the bus, rather than having a team assigned—or worse yet, not to be given a team at all. This is a risk, and dedicating valuable staff to new projects or additional work may be costly, but getting new results requires new tactics.

Provide the armor
Trailblazers take arrows, figuratively. Therefore, they need armor to protect against threats, such as internal resistance that will try to dilute new ways of doing business or to kill new concepts. While some threats cannot be prevented, the business builder can be protected by a senior leader who publicly supports the project, the team, and the leader.

Offer lifelines
There will be points where a business builder will have exhausted all options, leaving them at a standstill. Venture capitalists often find entrepreneurs from their portfolio companies in this position, and they will tap their resources (beyond money) to make connections to experts and customers, offering new perspectives. Senior leaders need to take a similar approach when the business builder gets in a bind.

Promise a mulligan
There are going to be mistakes; there is simply no way around it. When mistakes occur, the business builder must know that they have more than one shot at success. Otherwise, they won’t take the difficult path, which limits their potential for breakthrough. The mistakes can’t become excessive, of course, but they must be given permission to try, fail, and try again.

Release the rabbit
Too often, business builders are expected to perform with no incentive to do so: no equity or upside in compensation or professional rank. In addition to their desire to take on a new challenge, they must also have meaningful incentives. Be sure to give them rewards (something “alive”) to chase after.

Plan a party
Picture success. Talk about a payday. This is often what keeps an entrepreneur going. They imagine themselves in the winner’s circle, and when the going gets rough, that vision is what will keep them going. Determine the ideal end game, articulate it, and repeat it often. You’ll be surprised how motivating it can be, especially during hard moments.

In Part 2, we provide a treasure hunt: 12 things your newly minted business builder needs to ensure the project’s success.