All entrepreneurial efforts inside organizations encounter resistance. It is how you deal with it that can make the difference between success and failure.
Even though the CEO and corporation have sanctioned the new initiative, the rest of the organization may be slow to embrace it. The organization may understand the need for the new initiative intellectually, but often they can’t accept it emotionally.
A Fortune 500 information services company was developing a new online service that would leapfrog their products ahead of their competitors. Although the CEO supported the new initiative the rest of the organization dragged its feet. Apparently the company had tried developing a similar service a year before that had failed. Organizational resistance would be huge. The new service was designed to leverage assets across five divisions. Gaining cooperation across organizational boundaries would be a nightmare. It was clear that the project team would have to go it alone until they could get others on board.
Although the CEO had established legitimacy for the project by sanctioning the funds needed to develop the new service there was a question about how much more he would be willing to invest. It wasn’t the investment that worried the President of the division responsible for the project it was the resistance that he encountered from his peers and the rest of the organization. Moving the company into the future would be difficult as jobs, divisions and power structures within the organization were being disrupted.
Despite all the resistance the team continued to move forward in developing a state of art product that was years ahead of their competitors. They engaged the organizations largest clients in the development effort and built a strong pipeline of prospective customers. It was clear that customers were excited about the prospects of this new service. Not only would it be a valuable resource for them, they saw it as opportunity to leverage this new service with their own clients.
At that point the momentum was so strong that the rest of the organization realized that the train had already left the station. Either they get on board or they would be left behind. Slowly they began to cooperate and engage in the development effort. It was only then that they saw how this one service not only moved the company forward it was providing a new platform that the rest of the organization could use to upgrade their services. The team had finally achieved legitimacy for the new service.
By its very nature a new business initiative, product, or service consumes precious resources and introduces changes that threaten the stability of the existing organization. As a result you may find that you are swimming upstream against an entrenched culture that does not welcome the change.
Establishing legitimacy is part of the process and part of the problem. On one hand, you realize that you need the cooperation and support of other parts of the organization to accomplish your objectives. On the other hand, you realize that the rest of the organization may be silently hoping that you fail, so cooperation is slow and painful. The trick is to find ways to deal with the resistance that will inevitably arise when you are trying to establish legitimacy for your project and your people.
The best way to establish legitimacy is to get traction and show momentum. Often the very fact that you are making progress gets others to understand that you are going to do this with or without them. Eventually they begin to realize that the probability of this initiative succeeding is increasing, and their initial resistance may be viewed negatively. In other situations you will need the political clout of the sponsor or CEO.
Recognize that it is often necessary to find viable alternatives to support your efforts, even if it requires going outside the organization. Always factor this into your planning. This may not be standard practice within your organization, so include it when establishing parameters with sponsors and the CEO.
The team must do its part in establishing legitimacy as well. Give them the tools and support to deal with resistance. Motivate the team to be creative about getting around organizational obstacles. They will need to challenge assumptions, suspend judgment and look for viable alternatives. The team will need to set the stage for collaboration.
Focus on developing competencies that will come in handy, like influence and negotiating skills. Influence will be the key to gaining acceptance of your ideas. Understanding the best way to influence different types of people is something you can learn. Knowing who the key players are that can influence the outcome may be just as important. Negotiating for a firmly held position may be difficult if the organization has not embraced what you are doing. You may find that you are not bargaining from a position of strength. Linking your position to broader organizational goals may help. Having good influencing and negotiating skills will be invaluable.
You will find that legitimacy alone is not enough. Gaining legitimacy is the first step to acceptance and support. Expectations will have to be met to preserve and sustain legitimacy over time.
What obstacles have you encountered when trying to establish legitimacy for your entrepreneurial project?
What creative steps have you taken to establish legitimacy?