Following on from the article that introduces ‘covert intrapreneurs‘ is one about the people with not only the authority to be intrapreneurial but have a pathway to follow from concept-to-launch’: the sanctioned intrapreneur.
One of the common obstacles to intrapreneurship is the fact that people throughout the organization just aren’t so convinced that their idea will be a) heard or b) transformed… and so they don’t bother.
In pretty much every workshop that I run on this subject, regardless of where in the world it is, I always propose the same thing: set up a good old-fashioned ‘suggestion box’. In far too many cases, people tell me “oh, we had one of those” and then go on to say that the suggestion box idea didn’t work – mainly due to the fact that nobody bothered to pick up any of the suggestions and run with them.
The easiest thing is this: set up a suggestion box; set up a process that takes people’s suggestions and converts them into reality.
I can pretend that it is more complicated than that, if you like but the fact of the matter is that intrapreneurship is taking ideas from everyone in the organization and then working on them – breaking them down, building them up, testing them, failing, trying again…
As a leader, if you don’t bother to listen to your employees, why are you so surprised that employee engagement is low?
I work with CEOs and directors on the development of the intrapreneur ecosystem – the overarching environment that supports their corporate entrepreneurs so that everyone has a nurturing environment that takes them from idea formation through to incubation, acceleration and launch.
Whilst this is happening, I work with teams so that we plan out the intrapreneur pathway – the anticipated route that will take people from the early stages of Intrapreneur 101 to the point of being able to incubate their idea.
- Seek out inspiration – everyone has ideas… and I mean everyone. Whether it is to address something that’s proving to be a pain in the ass, something to make life easier, something that is ‘so obvious, why hasn’t it been done before’… inspiration is out there. Check your suggestions box and you will see. A focused one-day event with fifty people can draw out as many as five HUNDRED ideas. ‘Inspiration’ is a broad term for ‘what-if?’ – it is the foundation of an idea where the brain doesn’t interfere by using logic and reason – it is when the thought has no limits and can be as wide and wild as you like. The next step is when we start to introduce the brain to it… slowly;
- The call for ideas – so imagine this: if fifty employees could come up with a list of general things to explore, what kind of ideas would come out of fifty employees and fifty people outside of the organization? More importantly, think of how different the ideas become when you bring in people from ‘outside’. The problem with this is simple: way too many ideas, many of them probably crossing over with ideas from other people, lacking a cohesive structure. An ideation weekend focuses on idea-gathering (promotion, aggregation, absorption, rejection) before bringing the numbers down and forming Idea Teams for the next phase;
- Build the Idea Team – we are now starting to run two ‘campaigns’ – one is the promotion of the idea and the other is ‘logic’. This is a time when the idea is starting to take form – what will it deliver, to whom, at what cost, with what ROI and when? Whilst we still have the inspirational elements of the early stages, we are breaking the idea down further and further before building it back again. At this stage, Idea Teams form and Idea Teams fade away: we also see the people who are really interested in their ideas as they persevere.
- Develop the business plan – bring in internal and external mentors to help form the business plan (after all, this intrapreneurial adventure must demonstrate an ROI whether it is financial or social or both). This stage should have a timeline for people to work to but, equally, should give enough support to ensure that the best plan is bought to the table.
- Local pitch – is where the business plan is road-tested. Remember: make-break-learn. The teams are so swept up in their idea that they become impervious to negativity – it can be a shock when, in front of a panel with the authority to give them ‘dabble time’, they are declined (not rejected… just sent back to do more work on it). Some teams will have a great idea and a great business plan, and so we can look to the next stage – incubation.
- Incubation – this runs in two streams: one stream is that the organization has agreed to allocate c. 20% ‘dabble time’ – one day per week when the team works on their idea. This time is ring-fenced. If leaders let this time be eroded, then they are basically saying “we are committed to intrapreneurship… just not that committed.” Whilst the organization is incubating the idea, the Idea Team is also busy incubating – they have one day a week before the big pitch. Do they have market information, customer information, competitive analysis, market needs analysis, cost analysis, etc.? For many team members, this may be the first time that they have been involved in setting up a business and this is where the mentors come into play. Seek out external people – people with experience as entrepreneurs who can come into the organization and work with the teams.
- Big pitch – this is the event where the Idea Team is up before the big guys – people with authority, influence and budget – people who can say ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘not right now’. My advice at this stage is to have external financiers sat on the panel as we consider the possibility of the spin-off.
For those ideas that pass through the big pitch, there are now follow-on discussions about funding, resource allocation, etc.
For those ideas that are declined, there is a chance to go back and re-visit the idea and refine it. It may mean going back to the very beginning and bring in new people with new ideas.
Chances are, the next cohort of mentors will be people that have been through this process.
what about the ideas that were successful but not aligned to the business? Well we have the spin-off. Spin-off is something that is quite painful for an organization: you have invested into your people so that they can develop an idea… but it’s an idea that doesn’t sit well with your company profile / strategy. Do you simply kill the idea? An alternative would be to spin the idea off, retaining an interest in terms of equity, revenue-share, IP, etc.
The simple fact is this: if it’s a great idea, the Idea Team will (in the main) leave your business to pursue it. Do you want a share of it or not?
What I’ve been able to do here is show your people that they can take “what if-?” and, in a structured and sanctioned fashion, grow it into something – to transform the idea into something tangible. Their career path may change. Their managers may initially resent the fact that they are ‘losing’ resource. HR will have to think of new ways to reward these new entrepreneurs. Your organization will be different.
The impact of this program is organization-wide and it can be exhilarating as you create dozens of new startups.
There is an alternative to this… you can have a growing number of frustrated employees who become covert intrapreneurs – and that can get messy.