Thursday, April 3, 2014

Change Management Key to GE Innovation Initiative

"Forward Focus" Goes Inside GE’s Intrapreneurial Push

By Marc Dresner, IIR

General Electric has launched a company-wide initiative to increase its entrepreneurial aptitude.

This isn’t some cheerleading exercise; they’re quite serious. The effort reportedly has support from Jeff Immelt, himself.

Now, an organized push to get more entrepreneurial and innovative at the likes of GE might surprise some people.

After all, it’s a company packed with brilliant engineers and it originated with one of the most famous inventors in history, Thomas Edison.

GE aims to recapture the Thomas Edison mentality, entrepreneurial behavior and focus of its early days.

GE already has an electrifying presence in a plethora of industries and categories: from power to plastics, transportation to entertainment, home appliances to healthcare, financial and information services…

In short, entrepreneurial innovation is GE’s business; it’s in its DNA.

So what gives?

“We have size, we have scale. Sometimes, that stands in our way.” - Marilyn Gorman, GE

Well, for starters GE is among the world’s largest corporations. Secondly, it’s about 130 years old.

Marilyn Gorman, GE
These attributes while impressive are not necessarily assets in a world where agility and flexibility increasingly make or break not just companies, but entire industries—and in shockingly short bursts of time.

So, GE aims to “recapture the entrepreneurial behavior and focus that drove us from our early days,” according to Marilyn Gorman, an executive development leader at GE closely involved in with initiative.

That’s no easy feat when you’re attempting what amounts to a culture tweak among 300,000 employees, Gorman said.

“Culture eats strategy for lunch.”

“Culture eats strategy for lunch,” Gorman told “Forward Focus” in a podcast interview.

“If you don’t take into account how people feel about what’s going on and keep your ears open, whatever that change is and how engaged they are in it, it will not ultimately be successful,” Gorman emphasized.

GE has deployed a number of tools, including a “change acceleration process”

To that end, GE has deployed a number of tools—including a “change acceleration process”—designed to embed the voice of the employee into initiatives.

Of course, leaders are personnel, too, and their role in this undertaking is getting equal attention.

Avoiding the Blame Game...

“I think the natural tendency is to assume that if there is a problem requiring change, it’s [due to] somebody else in the organization,” Gorman noted.

Senior leaders might think middle managers are the problem, while middle managers are looking to them to model the behavior change.

“Sometimes, senior leaders will think it’s the middle managers that are the problem, while the middle managers are looking to them to model the behavior they’re after,” she added.

“Our employees really want the tools and the freedom that will allow them to drive more creativity and more of that entrepreneurial spirit,” Gorman said. “Our leaders are also really embracing a new set of behaviors that will help support that entrepreneurship.”

It's just more work...

One of the most overlooked hurdles companies encounter when trying to effect a broad behavior change is managing bandwidth.

Sometimes companies don’t articulate clearly enough what people can stop doing.

“In companies, we often don’t articulate clearly enough what people can stop doing,” said Gorman. “People sometimes can feel like this is just one more thing they’re being asked to do.”

In this podcast with “Forward Focus”—the official interview series of FEI 2014—we’ll take a deep dive into the entrepreneurial push at GE covering:

● Best practices and misconceptions about effecting meaningful and lasting culture change
● Overcoming inertia and initiative fatigue

● Dealing with the “F” word: It’s about learning, and much more!

Editor’s note: Marilyn Gorman will be presenting Leaders Teaching Leaders” at the 12th Annual Front Endof Innovation Conference taking place May 13-15 in Boston.

For more information or to register for FEI 2014, please visit us at

Marc Dresner is IIR USA's senior editor and special communication projects lead. He is the former executive editor of Research Business Report, a confidential newsletter for marketing and media research, consumer insights and intelligence professionals. He may be reached at Follow him @mdrezz.

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