The Executive Broker

by Steve Todd

Next in this series on mentoring high-tech employees in the social media era, I further explore the theme of the Invisible Executive.

In my first post of the year I discussed adding new skills. One of these skills is known as the Invisible Executive.

My advice focuses on the acquisition of emerging and relevant skills, and reasoned that if you are the first person on your team to acquire these new skills, you have an advantage that can be leveraged.

In my case, I added the new skill of social media, and emerged as a technology strategist for my company. This skill applies beyond the high-tech industry that I am part of. The role involves proposing new visions that are compelling and resonate in any industry.

The question then became: “how does one execute new strategies”? Traditionally this has been done by working one’s way up the career ladder as a Manager, Director, or VP who controls the pieces on the chess board.

Given that social media provided an avenue for emerging strategists, there was precious little advice describing how an individual contributor could execute strategy. This is where the role of Invisible Executive was born. As I stated in the last post, the Invisible Executive is a new management approach for “executing unapproved corporate strategy using someone else’s resources”.

The Invisible Executive draws on a set of skills to get this job done. In this post I will dive into the first of these skills: The Executive Broker.

Several years ago I had decided that my company needed to create a global, analytic platform for measuring corporate innovation. This was my first strategy. It wasn’t a hard sell, and it made a lot of sense. It tapped into a number of important trends in my industry and also in my company.

I estimated that I would need a dozen or so employees to build this platform. The “catch”, however, was that these employees had to be globally distributed, and I was sitting in corporate headquarters in Hopkinton, MA. How do you locate the right employees in the right locales, and convince them to sign up to build something (especially something that had nothing to do with their day job)?

Finding the people was easy enough. As part of my company’s innovation culture there is a yearly idea contest known as the Innovation Roadmap. I had participated in this contest for years; it is highly popular outside of the United States. By browsing global ideas and interacting with the global inventors, I had made the acquaintance of top-notch ideators around the world. I decided to reach out to them and try and broker a commitment with them.

I have found that there are some geographic cultures where this is easy (they say “yes” without even asking their managers) and some cultures where this is hard (there are strict expectations between manager and employee). The offer to work on my project had to be really, really attractive so that I had 100% participation from each critical geography (locations where R&D was occurring).

Pitch the Prize

I needed to present a compelling “reward” as a way of brokering an agreement and commitment from employees that didn’t work for me. So I came up with a prize that I knew they would like: international travel.

The conversations went like this:

“There’s a new strategy here at EMC, it’s called Innovation Analytics. I need top innovators from around the world to build a new platform. If we can build a team to do this, I’m thinking that after 6 months of working we’ll try and fly the whole team over to corporate headquarters. We’ll meet with the company’s top technologists and you can present to them. And then we’ll spend a day at MIT.”

I used this approach with two technologists in Ireland, three in Russia, two in Cairo, one in Israel, one in India, and two in China.

Every single one said “yes”. As I expected, some asked me to communicate with their management chain, and I said “Fine, but let’s get started first”.

And off we went. Every week at 7AM EST for five months.

For an Executive Broker, pitching the prize is step #1 in executing unapproved corporate strategy.

In my next post I’ll describe the interaction with their management chains and introduce the skill of Executive Bartering.

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Steve ToddSteve Todd is an EMC Fellow, the Director of EMC’s Innovation Network, and a high-tech inventor and book author Innovate With Global Influence. An EMC Intrapreneur with over 200 patent applications and billions in product revenue, he writes about innovation on his personal blog, the Information Playground. Twitter: @SteveTodd