How can an intrapreneur working in a large company really make a difference?

So The Intrapreneur Lab is taking place this week at Saïd Business School and we’ve been working night and day these past few weeks getting ready.

One of the best things has been preparing for the ‘Inside the Intrapreneur Studio’ sessions - in-depth interviews exploring the personal and professional journeys of successful intrapreneurs from some of the world’s largest companies.

I have found them all to be deeply inspirational people.

Humble, driven & passionate in equal measure – and a real testament to my belief that we are not born brilliant, but become brilliant through our life-choices.

And whilst they take great pains to point out that the projects they are delivering are the result of many factors – visionary leaders, a great team and just being at the right place at the right time – I have no doubt that if it wasn’t for these individuals, these projects simply would not been as successful as they are.

So some questions for us to think about:

  1. What does it take to be a social intrapreneur?
  2. Is social intrapreneurship always possible? Is a certain ‘enabling-environment’ required or can you make it happen regardless?
  3. How do you measure the success of a social intrapreneur?

Look forward to hearing your thoughts...

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The intrapreneurship journey starts with the individual. One has to intentionally seek out the intersection between the social issues that evoke passion within you and your unique skills and influence.

Operating from within large companies intrapreneurs have the potential to effect change on a huge scale but it is rarely a smooth journey, no matter how great the idea. Strong drive, a personal connection and deep passion for the particular social issues they are addressing is essential to give intrapreneurs the personal resiliance they need to complete the journey.

Welcome to this online discussion! We have just spent a few days at the Saïd Business School in Oxford exploring the journey of the intrapreneur - that individual within a company who is pushing forward innovative products and services that benefit the business and society. It is inspiring to see what can be achieved. It is also clear that the journey of an intrapreneur can be as complex as it is rewarding. We're joined today by both intrapreneurs and those who have been working to support them.

We're really looking forward to this discussion!

Many congrats to you, Milan and all those involved in setting up the Intrapreneur Lab at Said. Feedback sounds amazing

Q1. Can I start by asking: What does it take to be a social intrapreneur?

We've heard so many gems these past 3 days at the Lab - its difficult to know where to start.

One comment from 2 of our participants, late one night at the bar resonated - 'we're not hardcore bankers [though they're both successful VP's/AD's from a large investment bank] and we sure aren't development experts. We're just guys that make things happen.'

How can an intrapraneur overcome a lack of interest in doing social good among management, even when the opportunity to do so is relatively easy and clearly beneficial for the company?

More than anything, it's about your mindset. It's about seeing possibilities where others might only see challenge. It's about overcoming - as the Built to Last folks call - the tyranny of the NO.

So true. It's really about thinking and action combined. I love how Miriam Turner from Interface talked about it 'Dream big and start somewhere.'

May I ask - how do you spot an intrapreneur

This is such a common barrier for intrapreneurs. It's not that people don't care; it's just that people are focused on so many other things so much of the time. The best advice in our toolkit on this is to really listen to what people are saying to you and find out what their motivations are - both personal and professional. Find ways to connect your idea and your case with what really matters to decision makers. And find early champions - it often only takes one other person who 'gets it' to help you get your ball rolling.

Being clear on how you are making the business case is a really important first step. Look at things from the perspective of the management team - what are their business objectives and what is top of their priority list? Is it onboarding new clients, growing sales, entering new markets, growing the brand?

Then you can build your business case around how your proposal contributes to achieving those objectives.

Not sure how this e-discussion thing works or if I'm allowed to ask questions at this stage (?) but I was just curious to learn a bit more about what your views on the panel's view on the "enabling environment" as mentioned in question two above. Perhaps especially to Adrian and Mark; could you single out some characteristics that make social innovation possible within your repective companies? And, conversely, could you single out any organisational factors that you believe directly inhibits corporations to engage in social innovation?

A single minded determination, verging on stubborness - a passion to affect change ..... a willingness to take some risk with career and reputation

i came to realize that social enterpreneurship is sort of a calling...serve others before self, so with the economy being this unstable its not easy for most people to forgo profit making focus towards social enterprising

Does anyone have an intrapraneur success story that they can share as an example of how the process works from ideation to realization?

Such a great question Mavis. I've heard often from Venture Capitalists say that 'you know an entrepreneur when you see one' and sometimes I feel the same about intrapreneurs. They come in so many shapes and sizes it can be hard to generalize. But, I think the shared characteristic is one of attitude. Someone who leans into a problem and says - how can I apply my talents or the assets of our organization to make a difference on that issue? How can this challenge be re-framed as an opportunity for our business?

Reynard - I would definitely recommend you looking at Maggie's new toolkit:

Yes please ask away!