Many companies struggle to turn their employees into autonomous intrapreneurs. And that’s a shame! Your hands-on people with their feet on the ground know best what is going on and where improvement is needed. And most often, they are very willing to share their ideas to help the company forward. But those ideas then aren’t validated or developed, leaving them in this hunch state that management cannot decide upon.
Companies may want to counter this by sending their employees to an external innovation training or Bootcamp. They’ll probably learn new theories but never really make it their own because business-as-usual takes over when they’re back in the office. Another approach could be to roll out standard innovation training internally. Those are, however, of general nature and not tailored towards your specific business goals and needs. Often, these approaches are intended for start-ups and do not consider existing products, services, or processes.
Resulting in no implementations and thus no innovation. Much effort but no value. Skepticism about the employees’ capabilities causes distrust, low employee self-esteem, and – worst of all – employees potentially leaving your company.
When I was the Global Innovation Program Manager for a large international telecommunication company, I ran into these challenges myself. We collected ideas from 45.000 people worldwide through online ideation campaigns. Although these campaigns successfully identified potential solution directions, these were only prototyped and validated to a limited amount. We didn’t have the capacity as innovation teams, and the idea submitting colleagues didn’t see how, when, and with what means to do so.
We set out to find a solution to validate and grow high volumes of ideas without needing new hires. After ditching all the external, one-directed training for the above reasons, we chose a standard white-labeled option that we could modify to answer our specific needs. We, for instance, added company-specific tools and aligned the look and feel of our branding. We stuck to the primary approach where people would get instructions, time, and money to work on their ideas.
The results were overwhelming. Employees were ecstatic about the approach, the level of learning, and the trust given to them. They could work autonomously and even independently decide if it’d make sense to pursue their idea or not. After the two-month cycle, the developed ideas were presented to senior management, and their jaws just dropped. Completely validated concepts with functioning prototypes, and half of the pitches received the funding for the proposed next steps.
Two years after the training, we still saw the positive effects. Not only did we see idea submission quality (based on the ratio between selected and submitted =ideas), but the impact and value resulting from implemented ideas were significantly higher than before the training.
Armed with these insights, I started helping out other companies to set up their own Intrapreneurship training. We identified even more methods and tools for specific situations and realized there’s no one size fits all. Just as you cannot expect corporate employees to act like startups, you cannot use the same tools and methods across industries and markets.
My experiences made me realize five key elements to keep in mind when you are looking to create more intrapreneurs in your company.
One size does not fit all. In Greek mythology, Procrustes had an inn close to Athens with a bed that was said to fit all guests. But he stretched or even cut his guest to fit the bed. When you want your people to create solutions or new offerings for your existing company, you cannot mold them into the standard training shape. Of course, there’s value in offering classic creativity or DesignThinking training to make them aware or inspire them. Turning your staff into independent intrapreneurs requires it to be aligned to your ambitions, decision-making criteria, and organization. And then some tools are perfect for digital consumer products but don’t apply for B2B offerings or internal changes.
Yes, the world is turning digital, but this should be done physically. An offline, in-person training session and a tangible toolbox that they can touch and play with. E-learning has many advantages, but here, you want to have everyone in an (untypical) room. According to a study, students prefer offline instruction as it creates more engagement and better understanding. It also includes better interaction between the trainer and the trainees and allows the trainer to observe the behavior and react if needed. The physical box makes people proud and will enable them to return the materials if required later. A great side-effect of such a physical box is that participants put it on their desks, which also intrigues their colleagues to join in!
3. Learn – Apply – Reflect
You cannot just explain a new method and then assume people will apply it – let alone use it correctly. They have to experience it and find deeper insights by doing so. Learn from mistakes. Our approach explains the process, methods, and tools in training, after which they directly practice by applying the new knowledge. Then there’s joint reflection to learn from everybody’s experiences. After the training, there should be free time to use the newly gained skills again but now on a real-life idea. An idea that they love and want to turn into reality. That creates many opportunities to apply and reflect on, intended to develop innovative habits.
4. Create genuine autonomy and drive
You don’t want to chase up your participants during the training period. Nor do you want to chase any innovator in your company to make them finish their project. You want people to be able to function autonomously and from intrinsic motivation. Make sure your participants consider their motivation and provide them with the necessary input (like time and resources) to complete their innovation project independently. In the end, you want everybody to assess their ideas and only request additional funding from the company if it makes sense and provides a solution to your challenges.
5. Manage all stakeholders
As Collaborative Innovation Manager, you are often the ‘shit-umbrella’ for your colleagues. You prevent they become distracted by all the shit happening in the company to make sure they can focus on their innovation project. But you must align that with senior management and the participants’ direct managers. It cannot happen that you promise them time to innovate during the training to hear from their managers that they have to return to their day-to-day job.
These five elements should give you a head start when creating your intrapreneurship training approach. Buckle up because it won’t be a short and easy ride. You’ll run into corporate antibodies, need a long breath, and people might call you crazy (take that as a compliment). But if you succeed, there’s not much more gratifying.
👉 June 28th, we organize a free roundtable to explain more about turning your employees into intrapreneurs. See further down below or register directly here.