Intrapreneurship is harder than entrepreneurship and any who contests this point has probably only ever been an entrepreneur with an outside view of what intrapreneurship is all about.

For every ‘lucky innovator who works within an organisation with ready access to all the resources to get their idea to work’… there are another hundred (thousand?) employees frustrated that their voice isn’t being heard.

One of the key workshops that I deliver on behalf of Spark Global Business is that of ‘applied intrapreneurship’ – the prime components are Design Thinking and the Business Model Canvas with an ongoing theme based around rapport building as a way to address internal politics.

In every workshop delivered, I am asked by the delegates how to get around difficult managers, how to get people on board, or how to ‘get my idea heard’.

I am a big fan of sanctioned intrapreneurship – getting the buy-in and support of the organisation in your innovation / transformation work. Without the buy-in of the organisation, it’s debatable if ‘below-the-radar’ covert intrapreneurs would have led to the development of the much-cited Post-It Note (and let’s not underestimate the success of this product – according to WPP, even after the Post-It Note patent expired in 1997, the brand still spent c. $9 million on advertising ten years later – not bad for a sticky note).

So, if the organisation is to support its innovators and intrapreneurs, we need to understand the minefield: the fear, resistance, and obstinacy that can strangle ideas.

Urban myths & legends, endless meetings, business cases, gateway reviews, management reviews… the list of new and interesting ways to stop your organisation from evolving grows on a daily basis. If people put as much effort into a new ideas as they did into blocking it… ah what a world we would live in…

One of the first things I stress to aspiring intrapreneurs is that you need the naysayers (de Bono’s ‘Black Hat’). This isn’t to say that you need the belligerent spoiler in the room, but you do need to have people who will push back so that you constantly refine and improve the idea. If you had a room full of ‘yes’ people, then your idea would 100% suck.

So how do we get the right kind of support? How do we tiptoe through the minefield?
Tiptoe Through The Landmines

Align your ideas to the corporate objective

I have seen senior executives and managers going through their leadership development programs where they have been encouraged to develop a project – something to cut their teeth on, develop an idea, transform it into a reality. In doing so, they have failed to speak to the organisation in order to find out if it is congruent to what the enterprise is aspiring to; if it is replicating something already being done somewhere else; if it is running contrary to a project somewhere else.

It’s at this point that you can probably see why sanctioned intrapreneurs are more productive than the covert ones.

When it comes to asking for funding or resource, it is much easier if you are pitching something that supports the corporate objective. It will certainly help you to get support from key stakeholders – and this may even increase the scope and scale of your idea. There’s little point in investing time into a small idea or improvement when the organisation can lend it’s weight to something much bigger.

The best way to do this is to review internal documentation or speak to senior executives in order to understand the corporate objectives – if there’s a Director of Strategy, then this is a great starting point.

Get your AIMS on your side

There is no doubt that protectionism and fiefdoms will work to undermine certain ideas. If you are working on an idea that focuses more on supporting the corporate objective then it is likely to step on at least a few toes (and put a few noses out of joint). You will need the protection of a senior player (sometimes referred to as a ‘Godfather’) – someone with the Authority and Influence to give you their patronage. It goes without saying that, if they are giving you their patronage it is because they have the right kind of Sentiment towards the initiative: they believe in it and they feel positive about it.

Finally, this Godfather will have the right kind of Mentoring Mindset – they will be available to provide the advice and guidance necessary for you to pick your way through the relationships.

Their profile (if they are seen to be a good leader) will help attract supporting resource (people will see that there’s something in it for them by being attached to this work).

When looking for your AIMS, seek out a forward-thinking executive to provide overarching support / protection but also consider working with your line manager to incorporate project-oriented goals (that support the team goals) – making your manager ‘look good’ is no bad thing but, if the manager is an idea-blocker, well you have your AIMS guy to work with.

Intrapreneur Coach

Get a Coach

Within this context, the ‘coach’ is a very special kind of individual – this is a person who believes strongly in you as an intrapreneur and the current idea that you are working on but is also someone respected by the senior stakeholders (e.g. the people with the funding). An intrapreneurial coach can champion your work and enthuse others in the process. Self-praise is worthless but if a well-respected individual is praising you…

It will be easier securing your AIMS if you have a coach who can not only help you in developing the right kind of networks and skills but is a trusted voice fighting your corner. Don’t expect this person to take a bullet for you so don’t get complacent.

Prove it

In organisations, there is a LOT of talk. Too much talk. The sheer volume of chatter means that talk is cheap and fairly meaningless. This means that it is essential for the intrapreneur to deliver (let’s avoid the phrase ‘quick wins’ and shoot for ‘the right wins’ instead) – gather data, not opinion; show evidence, not models – give your AIMS and Coach confidence in what you are about.

Work on make-break-learn: get it out there for people to play with, mess it up, get people slating it, learn from it and go again.

If you are working on a new service, work with a small customer team to beta test it (don’t ‘pilot’ it as this suggests it’s a fait accompli for the customer) – grab feedback and data. Show your stakeholders that the idea is being road tested.

Align your values

It’s important that any idea resonates with colleagues – it secures a Coach, the AIMS – it can secure time and finance to develop the idea further.

People are always enthused about a project if it has a central theme that appeals to them as people: the values of the idea need to align with their personal beliefs. For example, if you are working in local government and have a nascent idea based around the provision of cheap (clean & green) fuel to residents of a halfway house for abused women then you may find that people interested in women’s rights and / or clean energy. From an AIMS perspective, there are financial returns as well as benefits to the community.

Importantly, as an intrapreneur, if it doesn’t connect with you as a person, you are unlikely to stick with the idea when it is critiqued and the feed back is negative.

Speak the right language

No matter how creative or inventive (or innovative) you are, you need to be able to speak the corporate language too. Articulating your idea into profit & loss, community impact, ecological benefits, market share, revenue streams… if you have started your idea off by reviewing the corporate objectives, you’ve been using your AIMS and you have a coach supporting you, then the way you communicate should be already embedded into the initiative.

As the idea progresses from incubation towards acceleration for spin-out, you will have a finance person involved to help with the funding elements; a marketing resource to put the material together; contacts with the (internal or external) community to provide the independent view – build a team to articulate the message with (and for) you.

Know the business metrics; understand the benefits of the idea; know the funding rounds… be prepared.

[color-box]It’s in our nature to adapt to our environment – it’s how we have successfully colonised the plant – we adapt (innovate) or die. But there is also another inevitability: through learned behaviours or experiences, people are resistant to change. The art of the intrapreneur is to be able to persuade more than just potential customers and investors (e.g. the entrepreneur), you also have to work person-by-person with an organisation that may be wholly opposed to the success of your idea. This is why intrapreneurship is harder than entrepreneurship but is also far more fulfilling.[/color-box]

If you are interested in innovation and intrapreneurship, then contact Neil for an informal meeting.

Tiptoe Through The Minefield