Business schools and companies need to create more internships dedicated to innovation. Most MBA internships continue to focus on traditional core functions like marketing, finance, and strategy. A few schools have innovation internships, but they focus on the technical and design points-of-view. The mainstream, non-technical B-School programs are missing an opportunity.
Innovation internships are a great way to infuse an organization with innovation process and techniques. The best internships allow the intern to learn from the company and the company to learn from the intern. The key success factors are: Selection, Sponsorship, and Structure.
- Selection means picking the right student for the internship as well as picking the right company. Not all students or companies are suitable for this type of program. The intern needs to have advanced innovation training. This should include both innovation method training as well as organizational aspects of innovation. The sponsoring company needs to have a commitment to innovation and see it as a competency worth developing.
- Sponsorship of the intern is essential. Without resources, focus, networking, and guidance from an engaged sponsor, the intern will flounder. Sponsors need to work closely with business school faculty to make sure the program is set up correctly, and that the intern is brought on board smoothly and effectively. Good sponsors keep projects on track.
- Structuring the internship around the needs of the business as well as the needs of the intern is the final piece of the puzzle. Interns need to tackle relevant and difficult innovation problems within the business if they are to learn from the experience and create value for the company.
Here is an outstanding example of how to structure an innovation internship and select candidates for the position, from Sears:
- Our vision is to attract highly talented people to Sears Holdings and develop them into our future leaders
- Candidates will report directly to a Senior Executive
- Position will provide unique career development opportunities and exposure to the day-to-day issues and decision-making processes of senior management
- Successful candidates will be presented with the rare ability to shape the future of a Fortune 50 company and will be empowered to create value across Sears Holdings
- Cross Functional Team Building Skills: Ability to build and align cross functional teams to meet common goals and achieve success
- Champion of Change: Has a solutions oriented mind-set and works to initiate and drive needed change
- Entrepreneurial: energetic and innovative; can lead new initiatives from idea generation to execution, develop business models, drive action plans to completion, and report results and learnings
- Analytical: must enjoy gathering and digging deeply into data to identify issues and solve problems
- Strong work ethic: self-starter able to demonstrate strong proactive approach and self-initiative; tenacious
- Positive attitude: commitment to self-improvement and excellence
Strong business acumen: strong financial, strategic, operational and leadership skills; ability to understand business models and key drivers quickly
- Communication and interpersonal skills: confidence to interact with senior management and maturity to succeed through teamwork; willingness to learn from and coach others; ability to build strong relationships both internally and externally
- Organizational skills: ability to manage projects and work effectively under tight deadlines
- Focused on results: willingness to do what it takes to get the job done right
- Develop close partnership with senior executives to help them fulfill their existing responsibilities as well as develop and define their future priorities
- Champion innovation projects and lead new ideas from inception to execution
- Serve as organizational change agents
Drew Boyd is Director of Marketing Mastery for Johnson & Johnson (Ethicon Endo-Surgery division). He is also Visiting Assistant Professor of Marketing and Innovation at the University of Cincinnati and Executive Director of the MS-Marketing program. Follow him at www.innovationinpractice.com and at https://twitter.com/drewboyd