In my previous post “Why large organizations struggle to innovate” we looked at the barriers to innovation within large organizations. Let’s now turn to how we overcame them within a large Fortune Global 500 organization!

The “School for Intrapreneurs” (SFI)

Not everyone is a Steve Jobs but everyone can be a disruptive innovator. Since 2/3 of innovation skills can be learned, we teach them at the SFI, which is part of an innovation ecosystem within a large company. (See also “How you become the next Steve Jobs!” )

Besides systematic skill-building, however, the SFI is less a training program but more a voluntary development experience for its participants or “students” – employees from around the world. We take these students on a journey to incubate and then accelerate their ideas by applying entrepreneurial methods. They typically work virtual and experiment together in diverse and cross-functional teams to develop their idea step by step.  Much learning comes from networking as well as experiencing the obstacles an intrapreneur faces within an organization and avoid triggering resistance by the “organizational immune system”.  (Related reading: How Intrapreneurs avoid “No!”)

Ultimately, the teams present their ideas to expert panels and executives for improvement and funding. The return-of-investment from projects implemented is 10x (=for every $1 invested the return is $10) to date, which is an excellent result.  In addition, successful participants receive an intrapreneuring certification and self-identify as change agents and ‘talent’ based on their merits only. The SFI enables break-through ideas (“small elephants”) with a 10x ROI target. (Related reading:  10x vs 10% – Are you still ready for breakthrough innovation? and How to grow innovation elephants in large organizations)

Three-tier Development Program

The SFI program consists of three custom-built and online-only courses of different length and intensity that build upon each other: DOORWAY, PATHWAY and JOURNEY:

  • DOORWAY is a two-hour awareness course that outlines how innovation happens in large organizations, what typical obstacles are, and explains what an intrapreneur is.
  • PATHWAY is an incubator and accelerator with a mix of training and group work over 12 weeks.  The course culminates in teams pitching their developed ideas to a panel of experts and managers representing different business functions for in-depth feedback and advice for improvement.  Teams with the most promising ideas advance to pitch to executives for sponsorship and support that turns the idea into an implementation project.  Receiving executive sponsorship implicitly validates the idea and ensures strategic alignment.
  • JOURNEY is a six-month course designed to accompany teams during implementation of their ideas by providing a mix of skill-building and customized coaching.   JOURNEY participants also mentor colleagues in the next PATHWAY class, in particular.  The alumni are self-identified leaders of change that share a common innovation terminology, skill-set and experience.  They help shaping the organizational culture and mindset over time and open a perpetual and sustainable pipeline of fresh ideas.

 

Lessons from the School for Intrapreneurs

  • The SFI is a valued safe and trustful environment for employees to open up and experiment. It becomes a personal journey while working in a team, which is important for participants to experience. Teaching the theory alone does not do the trick; it has to be hands-on and feeling the pain overcoming obstacles all the way to implementation.
  • In large organizations, ‘talent’ and ‘emerging leaders’ are typically selected top-down by management to receive special training and opportunities.  In contrast, in the School for Intrapreneurs talent self-identifies bottom-up and based entirely on –intrapreneurial- merits. The alumni are versed and hardened by their experience and become part of a growing community of capable leaders and engaged change agents.
  • Successful pitches to executives validate the alignment of ideas with company strategy. The 10-fold return of investment (ROI) exceeds by far the returns of conventional projects. (Related reading: Innovation Strategy: Do you innovate or renovate?)
  • Furthermore, the fact that 100% of pitched projects received executive support and funding validates the entire School for Intrapreneurs program inherently.
  • The program gives more disruptive, risky and outside-the-box ideas a chance that otherwise would not have been brought to executive attention or included in departmental project portfolios, so our executive sponsors point out. This way the School for Intrapreneurs becomes part of a larger framework to change company culture over time by cultivating discovery and 10x innovation capabilities.

Conclusion

The School for Intrapreneurs opens a new door for employees to pursue, mature and implement innovative ideas with their organization which otherwise get rejected by the ‘corporate immune system.’ We encourage and enable our participants to take risks and think outside any box. Intrapreneurial skills also allow them to engage with innovators outside of the company more easily and bring outside perspectives into the company. (Related reading: Social Intrapreneurship for Innovation in Health and Wellness) The program represents significant potential in terms of fostering grass-root innovations and transforming the way we do business.

The next post of this “mini-series” on CUREconnect.org discusses another successful approach from a FORTUNE Global 500, “Angel Investing:  Corporate venturing within a company”.


By Stephan Klaschka