When asked about the definition of an intrapreneur, the obvious answer is an entrepreneur inside a large organization. While technically correct, there’s much more to it.

Someone once mentioned- we can talk about intrapreneurship and innovation programs all night long, and train everyone in design thinking, business model canvassing (if that’s a word) and lean startupping, but still, not much would happen without real intrapreneurs.

Maybe Gifford Pinchot’s recent notion that they get things done faster than the hierarchy is the best way to define intrapreneurs.

Every organization needs those people who take ownership, who act above and under the radar, who get things done with and without support. Those who make, break and shake up things- and put their careers at risk just for the pursuit of that idea.

We sat down with some of the intrapreneurs featured on stage during the upcoming #IntraCnf Vienna, and asked them about their “why”, their biggest learnings and failures, and their view on what makes a successful intrapreneur. We talked culture, process, bonuses and more.


 

Let’s start with your personal motivations. Why do you do what you do?

Tobias Haug: “In a world where work is dominated by efficiency, numbers, and scale – what has happened to “the people”: their passions, their creativity, and their individual uniqueness?

Through the lens of Design Thinking, I am able to connect businesses with their greatest asset – their people – and in doing so get to see that ‘spark’ as they rediscover the amazing dynamic that comes when you take away hierarchies and reconnect without roles. As a design leader within SAP, I have established a team which if fluid, empowered, and self-defining; and where leadership is emergent and everyone’s passions can define their own work.

In this way I feel that, in small and sustainable steps, I can counteract the de-humanizing effect of modern business practices and help create a world where people can bring their full selves to their work.”

Martin Bell: “In this time of disruption, I have a proven, unique skill set — helping organizations build companies fast — that many major corporations (and the entire economy) stand to benefit from.

My focus is on execution. I designed Rocket Internet’s 100-Day Launch Process and successfully led 20 companies in under a year through it. An organization that launched a company every 5 months could now simultaneously ready-to-launch 5 companies — all while the organization maintained the same size. We were even able to launch a company in as little as 4 weeks.

I am passionate about building startups and I am driven to bring my skill set to help major corporations build successful and sustainable startups — fast.”

Albert Mikkelsen: “It’s thrilling to see people and culture transform.

Many times, and especially in the corporate world, the entrepreneur is seen as a distant almost legendary figure, a visionary capable of enduring instability and taking great risks to make his dreams come true. But, in most cases, that is not true.

Seeing individuals who have had years of corporate experience dive into an entrepreneurial mindset – learning and putting into practice techniques and methodologies such as Design Thinking or The Lean Startup – and seeing the journey that goes on from there is spectacular: from what they saw as impossible, unbelievable and distant from their reality, to taking charge complete charge of it and positively impacting the business reality of their organisation in a completely new way.

Seeing that and being part of that, is as thrilling an experience as I could imagine.”

 

Can you share your biggest learnings, successes and/or failures?

Marianne Constans: “My biggest learning is probably how to deal with time. As an intrapreneur, I want to make decisions quickly and move forward with energy and dynamism.

But I had to adapt to the “business time”, understand when would be the best moment to talk about the project and also learn to be patient for a decision to be made or implemented. It sometimes came with high frustrations but the outcomes were always worth it.

My biggest success would be to have starting my initiative from nothing, just an idea. I wanted to have an impact and change our business culture to make it more inclusive. Quite a challenge! After months of discussions, influencing and planning, my manager and I got invited to present the project to the CEO and the Executive team for four hours.

It meant a lot as from this point onwards we had the backing from the senior leaders of the organisation and it was much easier to put actions in place.

Albert: “Intrapreneurial teams must be multi-disciplinary. That was our biggest mistake in the beginning, creating intrapreneurial teams where everyone (or most members) came from the same department. Our biggest success was creating all multi-disciplinary teams; the results are astonishingly greater.

By impacting multiple individuals of the organization there’s a huge cultural impact. This allows for ‘’hidden gems’’ to come out, as well as an impact on the core processes and values of the company.

Employees who may not become intrapreneurs still use the mindset, methodologies and techniques of a startup, making them more swift and agile at their work and more data-based in their decision process.”

 

What does it take to be an intrapreneur?

Marianne: “To be a successful intrapreneur, you need a few key skills:

– perseverance: it will take time for your project to take off and you will sometimes feel lonely in driving it. But if you believe in what you are fighting for and you keep trying while being a bit patient, it’s totally worth it.

– knowledge of the business, its culture and its informal networks: you need to know who to influence, who are the decision makers and how to get them on board. This is only possible if you have a deep knowledge of the structure, processes and informal networks of the business.

– an ability to link your project to the business vision or strategy.

The only way your company is going to support your project is if it is linked to their business activities or vision.

The WHY becomes almost more important than the WHAT and you need to be able to explain it to different audiences within different levels of the organisation.

– leadership: you can’t do this alone. Being an intrapreneur requires leadership skills to gather a group of employees ready to help you implement your idea or project. It will also be much easier to lead your project if a big part of the employees are already on-board with the idea. Finally, having a senior leader to sponsor the project would give tremendous credibility to push things forward.”

 

On a closing note. Some corporates seem to give up on intrapreneurship. Is it that hard? Any advice for companies struggling with intrapreneurship?

Marianne: “It’s never easy to “let” an employee explore an idea that may lead to failure. However, intrapreneurs could bring innovation, new ways of thinking and doing and this could have a huge benefit on employee engagement or on the organisation itself.

I would suggest to companies to try small, give intrapreneurs some “free time” to test their idea and allow them to fail. There is so much to gain from their experience!

Martin: “Corporates shall never give up on intrapreneurship.

They need to create a culture of execution, a culture that values pragmatism and getting things done.

The culture of execution has two components. One component is the process. A fast, streamlined process that details how to launch a company must be defined. The process must define deadlines and assign clear ownership and accountability. The other component necessary to create a culture of execution is the organization. The organization must trust everyone at all levels taking part in the process of launching a company. As in the Toyota assembly line, anyone can pull the rope, see a defect, take ownership of fixing it, and then continue building the company.

Moreover, the organization needs to be extremely candid, which means that not only are achievements by individuals celebrated but that problems created by people are clearly and openly addressed.

Ultimately, the culture of execution is one in which a collaborative organization follows a smart process in order to achieve its goal of building companies — fast.

Albert: I believe that without the right organisational culture there is no room for intrapreneurship and, in my case, that has been many times the key reason for giving up.

A culture that does not support intrapreneurship looks like this.

Middle managers complaining that a person on their team ‘’is thinking of something else’’, different layers of the organization not believing in innovation and saying ‘’we’ve always done it this way, you won’t change it’’, a general aversion and fear of failure; a tendency to overanalyse and over-plan before testing. You get the picture.

My recommendation would be, if you’re trying intrapreneurship and failing, take action to make every layer of the organization aware of the reasons why intrapreneurship is important for the organization and what are the values and behaviours that need to underpin it.

Ultimately tie these in with the evaluation of employees and their bonuses- something that might be obvious, but is often overlooked.”


Keen on joining the conversation on intrapreneurship with Tobias, Martin, Marianne and Albert, as well as the 15+ other speakers? Don’t miss #IntraCnf Vienna – check the event page here.