School for Intrapreneurs: Lessons from a FORTUNE Global 500 company

The earlier post “How you become the next Steve Jobs!” relies on an innovation ecosystem of sorts that already exists in your organization – but what if there is none?

What if you find yourself in a place that struggles with Why mature organizations can’t innovate and Overcoming the Three Big Hurdles to Innovation in Large Organizations?

It is not easy and takes time turning an organization’s mindset from what is into what if.  It’s a great and rewarding achievement, though, if you can pull it off!

Building an Ecosystem

So, let’s continue there:  If you find yourself in a company which does not provide an environment that supports intrapreneuring, you may need to build an innovation ecosystem within a large organization.  Practically, you choose to become a midwife helping ideas of your colleagues getting a chance to come to life.  This enables other aspiring intrapreneurs to step up, unite and act together.

It’s a bold step and disruptive approach but necessary to induce ability to meaningful and fundamental “10x” change again to an organization (see also 10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?) as part of an ambitious Innovation Strategy: Do you innovate or renovate?

Based on my personal experience, here are some key ingredients to succeed following words of Steve Jobs that “Creativity means connecting things.”

sustainable environment consists, at least, of

  • A safe-haven for employees to  experiment
  • perpetual pipeline  of ideas from all areas of the organization,
  • A  process to develop them without triggering the “organizational immune system” early on and
  • A  transition mechanism to feed these ideas back into the regular organization to become funded and implemented with strategic alignment to company goals
  • Preparing management how deal with intrapreneurs. You will need to build or teach
  • A set of relevant  intrapreneurial  skills for employees
  • A  supportive team  and for you to maintain
  • A  positive attitude that you will need to persist and push on.

The “School for Intrapreneurs” (SFI)

A very powerful approach and critical puzzle piece in the ecosystem is the School for Intrapreneurs.  We achieved to build this school successfully together with help from like-minded and supportive colleagues that I was fortunate to meet along my crooked intrapreneurial career path, if you want to call it that.  The underlying premise of the SFI is that innovation skills can be taught, as mentioned in  “How you become the next Steve Jobs!”  – So, we teach them in this program.

In the end, results count or in the words I adopted from Accenture’s advertisement:  “It is not how many ideas you have.  It’s how many you make happen.”

Program Focus

Building intrapreneurial skills systematically, however, is only part of the deal. The real value of the program for the participants lays in experiencing the obstacles an intrapreneur faces in an organization themselves: the rocky road of rejection trying to get an idea on its feet.

We prepare our fellow employees in a process where they form supportive teams to collaborate in order to develop their ideas together and experiment.  This includes ways to communicate with management in constructive and non-threatening ways on How Intrapreneurs avoid “No!”, for example.  It culminates in pitching ideas to experts and potential sponsors for funding, implementation and support.

Executive sponsorship ensures strategic alignment of ideas with company interests.  It also increases the chances dramatically for idea transitions into the established processes of the regular organization, i.e. the idea becoming a project to be implemented.  This is why special emphasis needs to be put on preparing management how to support and benefit from intrapreneurs; after all, there are risks involved with intrapreneuring for the individual (see also  The Rise of the Intrapreneur).

This SFI program design addresses How to grow innovation elephants in large organizations and deliver big results along the lines of 10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation?. In fact, the return of the SFI program so far is a 1:10x return-of-investment (ROI), so we are right on 10x.

Building the School for Intrapreneurs together: Stephan Klaschka (left) and Gifford Pinchot III
Building the School for Intrapreneurs together: Stephan Klaschka (left) and Gifford Pinchot III

The three courses build upon each other; we named them DOORWAY, PATHWAY and JOURNEY:

  • DOORWAY is a two-hour awareness course that outlines how innovation happens in large organizations, what typical obstacles are, what is an intrapreneur and already hints towards what is offered in the succeeding courses, PATHWAY and JOURNEY.
  • PATHWAY is in its core an incubator and accelerator over a 12 weeks with a mix of training and group work.  Research suggests that approx. 5% of the workforce have the intrapreneurial spirit, which is consistent with our school’s enrollment numbers.  At the end of the course, the teams pitch their developed ideas to a panel of experts and managers representing different business functions for in-depth feedback and advice how to improve the ideas. – Think “Shark Tank” but without bloody teeth.  Teams with the most promising ideas then pitch to high level executives for sponsorship and support to turn their idea into an implementation project that enters the regular development processes in the organization.  Receiving executive sponsorship is another level of validation that confirms strategy alignment with company interests.
  • JOURNEY is a six-month course designed to accompany the team implementing their ideas by providing a mix of skill-building and team-customized coaching.  – Why is this needed and important?
    Even with executive sponsorship the project has neither been budgeted for nor are other resources planned and available for its implementation; so, the project still disrupts the establishment and may trigger resistance.

Shaping company culture

We also ask JOURNEY participants to connect with the next group going through the PATHWAY course to network, share their experiences and help guiding the “next generation” of graduates.  The goal is to achieve sustainability of the program by growing the number of like-minded, experienced and connected employees over time.

Over time, an increasing number of graduates keep the perpetual pipeline of fresh ideas open.  They also grow to become a powerful, far-reaching and growing network of active change-makers across all parts of the organization as they connect and pass on their knowledge to the next class going through the School for Intrapreneurs.

These are the self-identified leaders of change that share a common innovation terminology, skill-set and experience while they help shaping the organizational culture and mindset on the way towards a sustainable environment, an innovation ecosystem.

Lessons from the School for Intrapreneurs

My key learning from this challenge in a nutshell is as follows:

  • The personal journey and ‘intrapreneurial experience’ is of utmost importance for the School’s participants – a theoretical training alone does not do the trick.  It has to be hands-on and all the way to implementation.
  • This is why the participants value the safe space to operate and experiment in.
  • Typically, talent in large organizations is selected top-down by management.  In contrast, talent self-identifies bottom-up and based on –intrapreneurial- merits though the School for Intrapreneurs.
  • Alumni are hardened by their experience and become part of a growing community of capable and engaged change agents.
  • Successful pitches to executives validate the alignment with company strategy – not only for the individual idea but also broader for the entire program of the School for Intrapreneurs.
  • The program allows gives more disruptive, risky and outside-the-box ideas a chance that otherwise would not have been brought to executive attention, or so our executive sponsors said.
  • The School for Intrapreneurs is part of a larger framework to change company culture over time by cultivating discovery and 10x innovation capabilities once again.

 

Related Links:

Author: Stephan Klaschka

Stephan Klaschka is an awarded innovation executive, C-level consultant, Intrapreneur, and serial entrepreneur with over 25 years of international work experience. He held various senior business operations, strategy, regulatory compliance and innovation roles with Boehringer Ingelheim, leaving as Director of Global Innovation Management and Strategy. In this first-of-its-kind position, Stephan's work was central to the new growth rejuvenation strategy as a catalyst to initiate and drive pivotal innovations, leadership development, and disruptive and digital transformation across the Boehringer Ingelheim group worldwide. He has recently served as CEO interim of the "German Institute for Telemedicine and Health Promotion" (DITG). Stephan holds Masters Degrees in Computer Science, Management, and Business Administration as well as advanced degrees in Strategy, Innovation, and Leadership from leading schools in Europe and the United States. PMP certified. He has published extensively and created award-winning workshops on topics including intrapreneurship, healthcare, pharma, and new technologies. Stephan currently consults independently out of New York.

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