Intrapreneurship Clinic: Navigating the Politics of Your Corporate Ecosystem

I wonder what Machiavelli would make of the modern day corporation? He certainly would be familiar with the politics. The unwritten rules of the company that dictate when and how decisions get made and which ideas (and teams) will sink or swim.

For social intrapreneurs it can feel like their entire job is one of influence and persuasion. And in many ways it is.

In our discussions with social intrapreneurs around the world, most refer to the hours they spend trying to understand the underlying motivations of others in order to get them 'on side'.

In this clinic, we will explore how successful social intrapreneurs have navigated the corporate waters. In particular, we will look at the following questions:

1. How do you decide who to approach and when?

2. What tips do you have for getting people 'on-side'?

3. How authentic and 'human' do you feel you can be inside a company?

Looking forward to the conversation!

Editor's Note:

This Intrapreneurship Clinic is the second in a 5-part series with the League of Intrapreneurs. Twice a month, members of Business Fights Poverty will have the opportunity to engage with Maggie De Pree, a lead author a the new Cubicle Warriors Toolkit, and other invited panelists. Each time, we will focus on a different element of the Tooklit.

Visit the last Intrapreneurship Clinic, on making the business case for social innovation, here:

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Welcome to this live Intrapreneurship Clinic with Maggie, Gib and Kavita during which we're going to be looking at navigating the politics of your corporate ecosystem

Let's kick off with the first question:

Q1. How do you decide who to approach and when?

Hi Zahid, its a great question. As always I think the trick is to start with the people who are positively disposed to your idea. Gather the friends and supporters. Not only will they help develop your idea more, they will provide energy and create a buzz. Then start with the folks who are essential for the success of your idea - the decision makers, the funders, the implementors. Again go where the barriers are lowest so you can have an early success and show impact.

Hello everyone. Most intrapreneurs we have spoken with highlight the importance of finding your champion early on. This is someone who can provide you with some air cover and possibly seed funding to develop the initial idea. Interestingly, we've also heard to be careful not to be seen as anyone's pet project - so once you find your champion, start enrolling others and giving them a stake as well!

And also be sure that you gather external supporters who can help by strengthening your idea and also providing practical support. Often external acceptance can provide competitive impetus internally!

So, Kavita, do you start my actively mapping out key people (eg those who are positive and influential vs those who are negative and influential)?

Hi Kavita! Definitely agree it's great to seek out your supporters early on. We have also heard interesting stories, however, from intrapreneurs who actively seek out the more difficult folks. Daniel Vennard at Mars, for example, says he keeps a list of potential 'naysayers' and tests them on his ideas to find out where the potential holes or pushback might lie from the main corporate DNA. Of course, this won't work for everyone, but a different approach!

Hi Zahid, yes a proper mapping is worth doing. But rather than spending too much time on getting it complete, I have found that the more conversations you have the better it is, the more you hone your idea, the better you understand where not to waste time!

Hi Folks..... Looks like I'm last out of the blocks here...... interested answers from my feloow panelists Kavita and Maggie....

From my perspective, it's certainly not as simple as digging out the corporate org chart and aiming at the most senior person who you think might take your call or enswer your's more nuanced than that. who will the idea resonate with`? what's in it for them? how do you sell the idea in a way they'll share and see your passion

Timing is also important..... if you approach the CFO towards quarter end, dont be surprised if they're a litte distracted! worse still, you may come across as a nuisance

Hi Kavita, and good to be in touch again this way. Indeed, the low hanging fruit approach. And do you find that those most likely to be positive to your ideas are those who have most to gain from a business point of view in the success of your idea. There's nothing like mutual advantage for stimulating support!

Hey Maggie, Daniel is right that knowing the naysayers is important as that helps make the idea more robust and you get the challenges in the open early on. But early success is more encouraging and enables people to better understand what you are talking about and how it could work.

Gib - one question I get often is how can someone who is new to an organization navigate the system? That is, more experienced folks are sure to have deeper networks. Do you have any advice for newer (and also more junior folks)? THX!!

Kavita - please share your thoughts too. For example - how did you uncover who were key influencers and decision makers when you first joined Syngenta? Did you make any 'mistakes'?

'Giving a stake' or 'making the idea resonate' or simply put not feeling possessive about the idea is important. The idea is bigger than you. Give away some control :-)

In the early days of ADP I got some great advice to try to engage a "naysayer" on our advisory Board......once I got over the initial fear of engaging said person, it turned out to be one of the best things we ever did. They were flattered to be asked onto this board and become one of the most engaged and vocal internal champions for us.

Hi Graham! Good to hear your 'voice'. Yes, mutual advantage creates support. Though I have often found that at senior levels, many people just want to support innovation and champion new ideas or stand for sustainability. I guess there are different rationales for support - understanding that will be important!

Such a great story, Gib. And a great reminder not to make assumptions about potential stakeholders. Question - how do you go about understanding what motivates people?

Kavita - I just asked same question of Gib: How do you go about understanding what motivates people?

A tricky one...... I think it inevitably takes a bit of time to get to understand the workings of the internal corporate ecosystem and to build a level of credibility and perosnal network. That's why I believe soc intrapreneurs are at their most powerful when they've had a few years in the business...... they might be fed up and want to change job or company.....but the opportunity to stay put and change the company they're in could be more impactful.....

It's not to say that a new joiner cannot come up with a brilliant idea supported by a strong business case early on in their career......they may just have to be realstic about the fact it will be even harder. patience is a virtue of good intrapreneurs!

I spoke to everyone I could, Maggie! Starting with the senior managers and folks critical to the agenda we wanted to create. Some days were great and some depressing :-) but in the end, I knew where to focus my energy, where we would find traction, and where to come back at a later date. We can only do so much, and you need to start somewhere. Other follows (or they don't!)