Intrapreneur Ecosystem - CorporateThe intrapreneur ecosystem is complex-yet-simple – common sense tells us what would be involved but then we have plenty of humans with politics, silos, domains, and agenda that all serve to skew it. For the ecosystem to function properly, it needs the corporate buy-in. By ‘corporate’, I mean the corporation as a whole, and not simply the CEO.

The ecosystem engages with employees, drives innovation, gives you access to new revenue streams… so is worth the hassle, yes?

As with any high-impact initiative, you need the people at the top to be engaged and so this is the likeliest place to start for your intrapreneur ecosystem. As we have seen with Branson, Jobs and Zuckerberg, there can be a commitment to innovation at the highest level and this will seed down through the executive and managerial ranks to where true innovation happens – with the engaged employees.

It’s probably fair to say, in this context, we turn an organization on its head in order for the commitment to trickle UP from the leaders to those people that will be making such a huge difference to the organization – and this ties in with the ideas of sanctioned intrapreneurship.

Corporate strategy is key to the direction of any organization – an obvious statement yet I see many leaders unable or unwilling to communicate this strategy to their people. Both the inability and the unwillingness to communicate strategy need to be addressed.

As a demonstration of corporate engagement and communications, here are two contrasting examples of workshops that I ran in the British public sector in 2013. I have selected these two as they are in a similar ‘sector’ and have, therefore, comparable issues.

Organization #1
Organized by the CEO, the event was run over an extended lunchtime (food provided for the delegates) and ‘anyone interested in innovation’ can attend. The CEO was in attendance but made sure that they were present as someone just to take part and not ‘lead’. People either arrived on time or were early.

Organization #2
Organized by a director, the event was run after lunch and a team was mandated to attend. The director organizing the event did not attend themselves. The majority of people arrived on time and some arrived late – 20% of the room did not know why they were there as they were just ‘told to be there’.

Even before we begin, we can see how this is going to work out: Organization #1 has an engaged leader who communicated with people and invited anyone along with an interest in public sector innovation. In Organization #2, we see a room full of people who don’t know why they are there and, in some cases, resentful of the time away from the office when they could be ‘doing something better’.

Whilst it is great that the director in the second organization is enthusiastic about his people exploring innovation, it is evident from the moment that you walk in the room as to how the workshop will go.

People go through the motions and say the right things at the right time.

And so, the next stage of the example: the outputs.

Organization #1
Lengthy discussions between teams as they huddled around flipcharts – exploration of informal and formal innovation within their organization – new ideas developing around the concept of “what if-?” and, after two hours, a wash-up that gives a number of new opportunities for the CEO to reflect upon.

Organization #2
Greater need for facilitation as the team members proved to be unwilling to proffer any suggestions – and the suggestions that were finally provided were re-workings of current thinking. There was no real sense of ‘ownership’ of an idea and a lot of the internal language was conditional: “we could do this, I suppose”, “we might try this”, etc.

As I focus a lot of my time on an approach of facilitated peer-learning, I go to lengths to make sure that the ideas in the room come from the people in the room – they are not my ideas. I do touch upon how other organizations are thinking if I think that this might stimulate discussion but it is imperative that the employees feel a connection with an idea and, in most cases, this works best if the idea is their idea.

I refer to this as Personal Value Alignment (PVA).

Simply, if the employee does not feel a connection (alignment) to the idea, then there will be low-level antipathy towards it. They will not sabotage an idea or be overtly opposed to it; merely less enthused by it. Likewise, if the leader does not feel a personal connection with the idea of intrapreneurship, then it will not happen.

The final part of the example is ‘what next?’

What I see a lot of intrapreneurship is that there are people that will talk about their idea but struggle to move it into action. Much like on the SparkWave where people keep asking “what if-?” but don’t move it along, we have an organizational condition that is similar.

When someone comes to the leadership with an idea for improvement, innovation or invention then we see the enlightened organization (e.g. 3M) giving the intrapreneur time to explore.

In the less-enlightened organization, the leadership tells the intrapreneur either “great idea, thanks” (and does nothing) or “great idea, go away and work on it” on top of their business-as-usual (BAU) duties.

Now, the intrapreneur is probably working a 40-50 hour week already and they have now been told to do extra work over-and-above this. But if the leadership can’t show a commitment to this “great idea” then what kind of motivation will the intrapreneur have? Importantly, the rest of the organization will consider its BAU activities to take priority over the intrapreneur’s adventure.

Slowly, in the majority of cases, the idea is strangled to death.

If you a leader currently considering introducing intrapreneurship to your organization, contact me and let’s talk.

SIE – Corporate