Recently, the World Economic Forum convened in Davos for its annual meeting. What, one may ask, does such a high brow event have to do with intrapreneurship and innovation in business? Actually, one of the panel discussions at the Forum was on social intrapreneurship. The definition that was being used seemed to focus on the social implications of the issue as it relates to those change makers who offer creative solutions and drive growth. Gib Bulloch, the Executive Director for the Accenture Development Partnership, writing for the Huffington Post last week, noted that there exists no job title for the social intrapreneur. Admittedly, he argued, no one leaves college or university to become one and the role lacks a clearly defined job description. Companies that embrace the power of these intrapraneurs to think differently and innovate, Bulloch said, have significant opportunities to leverage their passion and benefit the business.
Bulloch recalls Vodafone’s M-PESA mobile banking business as a prime example of the benefit of empowering intrapreneurs:
The idea of using mobile phones as bank accounts for the un-banked in Kenya was not born in the corporate boardroom. It was the brain child of a middle manager in the marketing department, Nick Hughes, who came up with the concept and brought it to the attention of those who could advance its development, both inside and outside the company. Seven years into the program, a thriving M-PESA business now delivers socio-economic benefits for Kenya and business benefits for Vodafone.
Therein lies the key to social intrapreneurship. It is not a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program. It is a business growth initiative that tears down barriers and embraces the passionate ideals and innovation of the millennial generation now flooding into the workplace. It is a concept that captures the zeitgeist of young people who care less about making a fortune on Wall Street and more about making a difference on Main Street.
For organizations that aspire to leverage the rare win-win of business benefit with social good in 2013, four key takeaways have emerged as guideposts for developing an effective social intrapreneurship program:
• The role of leadership is key: In the early stages of an innovation program, leadership must provide the air cover required to protect bottom-up ideas. As the best ideas mature, they must be promoted within the organization and embraced from the top down.
• Harness the troublemaker: Social intrapreneurs are at their core different from their peers. They march to a different drum beat and their passions fuel both their personal and work lives. Having a culture that both nurtures the change maker’s innovative spirit but also harnesses the troublemaker’s enthusiasm and energy to break molds and achieve where others have come up short will return significant rewards.
• Realize the retention value: For the social intrapreneur, making a difference is often equal to making money. For organizations that embrace the value of providing “bottom up” channels for creative business solutions that provide social good, the long term benefits for retaining your best innovators cannot be understated. Simply put, for the millennial generation, making a difference matters.
• Base decisions on the Business Case: Even for the most passionate social intrapreneurs, the numbers still matter. Innovations that pull on the heart strings as opposed to the levers of business value are unlikely to be sustainable or scalable in the long run
How do you see these guidelines at play inside your own organization? Is top leadership committed to openly supporting new ideas? Are those who see the world differently perceived as liabilities or assets? What are you doing to keep these change agents engaged and motivated? Does your group operate on emotional or sound business foundations? Harness the power of the intrapreneur!