The intrapreneur, continuous improvement and managing the mixed messages of innovation by Andrew Lenti

13 ways to build a fail fast, fail forward work culture in your organisation.

A couple years prior to leaving the corporate world I accidentally stumbled upon a presentation which was published by Corporate HR and reserved for a small circle within Senior Management. In it's content was the corporate vision of how it wished that the leadership team would begin promoting an entrepreneurial culture within the company.

This was the first time I ever saw the phrase 'challenge the status quo' used in a professional document. At the time I didn't realise what such a concept entailed but in the years to follow, the more I explored this theme by looking for ways to put it into practice, the more I got myself into trouble realising why such a document had still not yet been distributed to the staff.

As I continuously reflected on how its contents supported the vision of our leaders at the corporate headquarters who consistently promoted the philosophy of innovation to the staff in our quarterly town hall meetings, I gained granular visibility into the challenges that impeded the company from being able to implement such a philosophy.

As the Program Director for Continuous Improvement trying to identify where bottlenecks in the system impeded this dynamic concept of the future, I continued to promote the search for out-of-the-box ways to improve the company. As I continued to do so, I began getting a negative reputation among my peers.

The more I pushed the topic of innovation, the more I discovered that I was lining myself up to be in direct conflict with the middle management team responsible for managing the reality of our day-to-day business.

As a corporate intrapreneur with a mandate to make changes, I continued to clash with middle management's 'do-not-rock-the-boat' culture and often found myself in a state of professional and ethical confusion.

Furthermore, not having been hired nor trained by any of the senior managers with whom I was working with, I found it quite difficult to pose my loyalty to my superiors since I truly believed that the management methodology being promoted locally was still notably misaligned to the global corporate vision which I had been exposed to over the years working in the other positions I held in other locations.

To make a long story short, the mixed messaging that the company transmitted made it impossible to achieve the business goals I was given creating an enormous amount of confusion in moments where decisions of action needed to be made. This led to my highly visible fall-out with the managing director himself concluding my 16-year career with a company that sent me to 6 countries to help grow its more-than-successful empire.

Build your foundation to support a fail fast, fail forward culture

Recently, I read an article which shed light on what it means to be a corporate intrapreneur putting in layman terms the one simple message I failed to grasp and articulate in my corporate days as a continuous improvement lead;

Entrepreneurs break rules and if you want your company to innovate, your company needs to induce a culture that allows your rule breakers to feel at home.

To date, very few companies have yet to master this philosophy and rightly so because the downside risk in allowing such a culture is unmeasurable.

Since 2015 when I began my journey as the CEO of a continuous improvement consulting firm, I have had the opportunity to capture lessons learnt from my days in the corporate world while continuously re-fining our approach in the field working with our clients. All of this together with my wonderful colleagues who understand very well that 'continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection' (M.Twain).

Although the journey towards innovation is never-ending, over the years we have built a set of founding principles that help establish trust at all levels of the company and induce a culture of innovation by promoting a fail fast, fail forward methodology.

If I had to go back to my last years fighting naysayers in the corporate world, I would bring with me these 13 founding principles of innovation that me and my team are delighted to share with you.

If of interest, please share your feedback and connect with me. These are amazing topics that become more interesting over time through the passion of those of us who believe that innovation and progress are not a luxury but a duty of the human spirit.

All the best and good luck in all your innovation efforts.

Andrew Lenti, CEO

    13 principles to follow when creating a fail fast, fail forward work culture

    • 1. Catalogue and make available all your business processes. If you would like to break down corporate silos, the first step is knowing how everybody in the company services your value chain. To do so, start by building a catalogue of business processes for each function (team) in your company and make it accessible to everybody. Document key touchpoints and hand offs to ensure that all inputs and outputs are visible at the process level.
    • 2. Teach waste management, it's easy! Give a mandate to your process owners to make incremental changes by teaching the concepts of waste management. Ensure that every employee knows the definition of each process waste identified by your Process Excellence/OPEX Team and that it is the responsibility of everybody to continuously find wastes in their daily work and report them to their team leaders.
    • 3. The best way to have a good idea, is to have a lot of ideas - Linus Palding. Embed a culture that teaches each staff member that all ideas are welcome and whether acted upon or not, play a fundamental role in giving Senior Management visibility into the level of creativity that their leadership style offers their organisation. Teach middle management to not be afraid of maintaining a long list of ideas from their staff. Create a monthly committee that ensures that ideas are continuously reviewed, refreshed and re-evaluated.
    • 4. Group ideas by type and ensure that each staff member understands the difference between each. The simplest grouping we have used on numerous occasions includes the following 3 idea types; (1) Ideas which make the company run better (2) ideas which change the way the company is run (3) 'Just-do-it' ideas which require only the approval of a line manager to implement (often referred to as 'low hanging fruit' ideas)
    • 5. Install a framework to capture and report quickly the expected costs and benefits of each idea. By using a simple low, medium high grading scale, have your team leads rank each idea by classifying the potential benefits in the following 4 categories; (1) client service (2) time saving (3) risk reduction and (4) competitive advantage. Quickly capture expected effort by ranking each idea by level of difficulty in implementation. By reporting this in a structured way, middle and senior management will have increased confidence in the prioritisation of your portfolio of business ideas and accelerate the decision making process when acting on opportunity.
    • 6. Pay your senior leaders to support continuous improvement. Continuous improvement needs to be supported from the top down. If it is not included in each leader's annual performance goals, then lets face it, it is a nice-to-have and will be the first thing to be postponed in periods of high client demand.
    • 7. Capture lessons learnt, best practices and hacks picked up along the way and build an effective archive. When an initiative is closed unsuccessfully, ensure that time is dedicated by all the involved parties to discuss, document and make available the lessons learnt along the way and what pitfalls to avoid in the future. When best practices and trade secrets are discovered during the implementation of a project, flag each of them so that future observers and visitors of your archive can pause, reflect and absorb the findings of their predecessors.
    • 8. Pose business challenges to your staff without contaminating the 'what' with the 'how'. When seeking ideas by posing a challenge to your staff, in the initial stages, keep your thoughts about the solution out of the equation by explaining only the problem and collect all incoming ideas before sharing them among the team. It is possible that someone's hypothesis for a solution may be so abstract or out-of-the-box that it will require its own isolated environment for cultivation.
    • 9. Teach the concept of the strategy cascade and hold people accountable with measurable objectives. Give visibility to middle management into how their annual objectives support the company's long-term, break-through goals. Create KPIs at the team level that can be easily associated with middle management's annual objectives and dedicate time with each team leader to help them understand how they are supporting their departmental annual goals. Ensure measurable continuous improvement goals are embedded in KPIs at the team level.
    • 10. Architect a PMO which promotes non-confrontational tactical decision making. During the course of its voyage, each business initiative underway can encounter unexpected pitfalls, misfortunes, and various types of roadblocks which if not managed correctly, will create downstream bottlenecks. Ensure that your Project Management Office uses a Project Charter with each initiative so that all stake holders have visibility into the core principles, dependencies and project objectives and that each has ample opportunity to voice concerns in moments of doubt.
    • 11. Leverage Lean methodologies without getting caught up in it's bureaucracy. Lean methodologies and Six Sigma is rich in techniques that can support staff members to become better problem solvers. The lean-savvy teams in the company should make their tool sets readily available to the organisation and be of service for training in moments where there is a potential opportunity to leverage them. Be aware that not all Lean tools and methodologies are appropriate in all scenarios and ensure that when your company chooses to use a Lean tool, that its expected output will bring an immediate value.
    • 12. Make nay saying out of fashion and squash the 'we have always done it this way' mentality out of existence.
    • 13. Use software to create a culture of intuitive, online collaboration. Meeting and e-mail fatigue are killers to productivity and deep learning. If your company taught something yesterday and forgot it today, the 'forgetting curve' has claimed another victim. Offer your company simple and relevant information that can be located quickly to transform learning into a daily activity. Find the right set of continuous improvement tools to minimise time spent in useless meetings, administration, and offline data capture (e.g. spreadsheets) and invest in digital technology to allow your team the opportunity to collaborate in real time.


    Andrew Lenti has been working with multinational organisations involved in business transformation initiatives since 1999.  In that time he has been based in 7 different countries. He has rich experiences working with business leaders at all levels of the organisational hierarchy and has spent vast amounts of time working with shared service centres of excellence on business restructuring implementation projects. He is one of the co-founders of TOPP Tactical Intelligence Ltd, a European operational excellence software provider and is one of the original architects of P.R.E.S.T.O., the cloud-based,  performance enhancement continuous improvement business management software currently being used by large and small organisations as a tool in performance management and assisting with operational restructuring. 

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