How Intrapreneurs Deliver Corporate Innovation within Large Organisations

After having worked with hundreds of intrapreneurs, we’ve collected our insights into a six-step IMPACT Framework to help entrepreneurial individuals with a bottom-up approach to delivering corporate innovation projects within large organisations.

One of the most crucial obstacles intrapreneurs have to overcome when launching new ideas within large organisations is managing internal stakeholders and processes.

Apart from rare exceptions, organisations are designed to protect and optimise the profit generated by their core business. An intricate web of processes, approvals, hierarchies and politics is often implemented to ultimately help them achieve this goal.

Any innovator has experienced at least once the setback of having to find their way through a number of steps and dead-ends, and much of the reason why thousands of great ideas fail to be implemented in large organisations can be attributed to stakeholder engagement and management.

After having worked with hundreds of intrapreneurs at global brands, organisations and academic institutions, we analysed the most common patterns that lead to success, and we created a framework to guide intrapreneurs delivering innovation within large organisations.

The IMPACT Framework To Deliver Innovation Projects Within Large Organisations

The IMPACT Framework consists of six stages:

  1.  IINVESTIGATE key challenges and stakeholders
  2. M – (get a) MENTOR(S) who supports you at a senior level and helps you define a compelling proposition
  3. PPITCH your idea to execs and peers, and show that you are not alone
  4. AASSESS whether your proposition is able to deliver value by executing experiments to secure quick wins
  5. C – (prepare a) CASE STUDY to sustain momentum and help you secure the resources you need to continue on your roadmap
  6. TTAKE-OFF with the resources you have now secured to scale up your idea and institutionalise the change

Let’s review together each step, one by one, to learn more about it.

Investigate key challenges and stakeholders

Who to focus on: Peers
Outcome: You are able to explain why your idea matters, and you have verified that it matters to others as well

WHY YOUR IDEA MATTERS?

Any idea is great in the mind of its inventor. However, the way it is communicated and sold makes the difference between a hallucination and a great vision.
At first, try to ask yourself a few questions to focus your idea better.
Compiling a Lean Canvas might be a useful tool at this stage to clarify your thoughts. It takes five minutes and the simple act of compiling it will help decrease the uncertainty of the idea already.
The main area of the Lean Canvas where we encourage our clients to focus during the ideation stage is the “key metrics”. Inside an organisation, figures always tell a story much better than 100 words.
Personal goals at every level – up to key execs, are often expressed with specific figures. Certain organisations take this to the limit by asking each employee to focus on a single metric optimisation – or growth, as a north star to enable agile decision making.

  • So with your idea, what is the key metric you are going to have an impact on?
  • Is that conversion rate, sales, costs, retention, acquisition costs?
  • Why are you going to have an impact on that metric with your idea?
  • And specifically, how are you going to do that?

Once you are able to answer the four questions above, it’s time to progress to the next part.

WHO ELSE MIGHT BE IMPACTED (POSITIVELY OR NEGATIVELY)?

As you work within an organisation, you are not alone.
Mapping the environment from the very early stage of your innovation journey will help you decide the best way forward.
Look around you. Is a stakeholder going to benefit from your idea? Is it going to help them achieve their personal goals? Or is your idea going to impact negatively on their performance?
Map the environment around you, and identify risks and opportunities to avoid pitfalls.

START INITIAL RESEARCH

Now that you know why your idea matters, and you have some assumptions about who might be impacted either negatively or positively, it’s time to test the waters informally and make some initial research.
Go and grab coffees with your colleagues, invite them to a quick sync up or perhaps ask them to stay on a video call for a couple of additional minutes if they can.

  • Do they have the same problem you want to solve as per your Lean Canvas?
  • Do they agree that the metric you want to impact really matters to them and to the organisation?
  • How did they try to impact on it before? What has worked and what not?

Checking our articles about customer discovery interviews might be of help at this stage.

Also, check existing data or secondary sources (e.g. industry reports) and cross-reference them with what you have learnt during your meetings. See if you can get as much evidence as possible.

PREPARE A FIRST PITCH DECK 

Use the Lean Canvas and the insights collected to put together a compelling pitch deck, perhaps following these steps.
A proper deck might not be needed yet, but the act of compiling it will certainly refine your storytelling.

Get a mentor who supports you at a senior level and helps define a compelling proposition

Get a mentor who supports you at a senior level and helps you define a compelling proposition

Who to focus on: Senior Manager
Outcome: you have formed a coalition with a mentor that supports you and your idea

UNLESS YOU ARE THE BOSS

Someone will need to sponsor you and your idea unless you own the business. And even in that case, you will need to get buy-in from your leadership team.
Unless you work for an organisation where individual initiatives are actively encouraged and even embedded in the organisational culture, you will need to get at least a first green light to go ahead. Better start from there then.
Since you have completed your preparatory work, you now know why your idea matters, you have analysed the environment, its risks and opportunities, and you have validated your assumptions informally.
Now it’s time to go and speak with a fairly senior manager who wants to support you.
Perhaps you might want to try with your line manager first. At the very least, they will recognise your proactivity and entrepreneurial approach.

DRAFT A PLAN TOGETHER 

With a senior manager as a mentor, you will get help to navigate the internal politics of the organisation and to refine the messaging.
Your first meeting will be a reality check. You will be able to test whether you did your homework right, you nailed the right metrics, you are targeting the right problems, your idea makes sense and your stakeholder mapping is accurate.
Your manager may weigh in by adding details based on their access to different insights than yours. Use them to sketch together a new plan:

  • Who should you bring on board?
  • How should you position the idea?

Compiling a new Lean Canvas and an iterated pitch deck at the end of this meeting might be helpful to download all this information in a structured format. 

Also, don’t forget to agree with your mentor on how to work together on this new project. Perhaps a coffee every Monday morning first thing to update on progress and highlight any blocker that your mentor may help unlock is appropriate?

BUILD A COALITION AROUND YOUR IDEA

Before progressing with the next step and moving up the organisational ladder, it’s always better to create a coalition.
You don’t want to look like you are alone. Leaders do not show up for a battle without an army.
Showing that you and your mentor are not alone will essentially create the first proof of traction for the execs you have to convince, and it will decrease the risk they have to take to give you approval.
It’s all about making their life easier and letting them say “yes, great idea. Come back in one month with updates and let me know how we can help smooth the path for you”.
When onboarding a coalition of peers and managers from other departments that are involved in some way with your idea, use the pitch deck that you have compiled after the meeting with your internal mentor.
Also, it’s good practice to have an appendix ready, where you can pre-empt the questions stakeholders may ask and provide a convincing and compelling answer.
As usual, use the right figures and metrics as they tell your story much better than 100 words.
Identify how they could be of help, and that would be your final ask. See how they might benefit, and that will be your initial framing of the idea, and get preliminary, informal buy-in.

How to put intrapreneurship into practice?

Our brand new Intrapreneurship Challenge covers 6 lessons on intrapreneurship, including practical tips and tools, valuable both to Leaders and Intrapreneurs looking to deploy innovation effectively.

The Intrapreneurship Challenge

Pitch your idea to execs and peers, and show that you are not alone

Who to focus on: Executive Leaders
Outcome: To get their blessing to proceed with a test/experiment

UNLESS YOU ARE THE BOSS (AGAIN)

Now that you have built a coalition around you, it’s time to get some kind of approval from key execs in your organisation.
The role of your mentor is vital here because they might recommend that you go stealth for now.
This might be the case if, for example, the initiative is within their merit, or if based on your environment assessment, it’s unlikely that your idea will cause any controversial reaction upwards.

ASK FOR MENTOR’S HELP 

If you have to pitch to execs, the mentor’s help will be crucial. Through their senior position, they get access to useful insights.
More importantly, they know the language that execs speak and respond well to. They have daily meetings with them, so they know how execs work, what their key concerns are and what they want to hear.
At this stage, the mentor will be able to frame your idea in a way that will resonate to the ears of your execs. Speaking their language is key to make sure you get understood, and eventually, you get approval.
Use these insights to finalise your pitch deck, perhaps following these steps.
During the pitch, make sure to mention the members of your coalition as the first form of traction achieved so far.

BE LEAN

Just to frame expectations here, you might not want to ask execs for a multi-million investment at the first step. Managing risk and maximising the Return on Investment (ROI) of cash and resources the company holds is a key concern for execs.
We have seen through experience that adopting the 4 key principles of Lean Entrepreneurship increases the likelihood of corporate innovation and transformation initiatives being deployed.
One of these principles is about “Increasing investment as uncertainty decreases”. If the evidence of customer desirability, technical feasibility and financial viability is not available yet, go lean.
Identify the riskiest assumptions for your idea, plot them on a roadmap based on how easy it is to validate them, and pitch to get just enough resources needed to validate the first assumption. No more than that.
Once you receive the green light from the execs to proceed, agree on a follow-up meeting to review the outcome of your first “experiment”, and take it from there.

FEELING LEGITIMATE HELPS!

Getting execs approval will open many doors. The risk for peers and managers of other departments to jump onboard will drastically decrease, and they will be keener to offer support to your idea.
If you manage to get to this step, you have achieved a key milestone.
Make sure to celebrate, and most importantly make sure that your coalition knows, so that you can start executing your first experiment as soon as possible.

Assess whether your proposition is able to deliver value by executing experiments to secure quick wins

Assess whether your proposition is able to deliver value by executing experiments to secure quick wins

Who to focus on: External or Internal stakeholders (depending on the idea)
Outcome: To gather data to get validation for your idea

BE EXPERIMENTATIVE AND START SMALL AND CHEAP

This is the moment of truth, where your idea is tested on the field.
The instinct would be to jump into the “build mode” and just launch what you have in mind.
However, as for anything new, no matter how ambitious the goal, there is always the first step.
We have seen that the likelihood of success for intrapreneurs is higher if they select the riskiest assumptions to be validated, and go for the easy win to demonstrate early positive impact, quickly.
Moreover, the smaller the bet, the smaller the impact of a potential failure in case you were wrong. This approach will help you manage your reputation, and provide you with the opportunity to pitch to further initiatives in the future provided that you are able to demonstrate that the experiment produced useful learnings for the organisation.

PROVE THAT IT WORKS

Whether your assumption was about customer desirability, technical feasibility or financial viability, use the lean entrepreneurship principles to plan and execute an experiment: define a hypothesis (what you believe is true), define a success criteria (the metric that will tell you if you are right), execute a test and then measure the results

We have noticed that framing the experiment in the form of a “sprint” helps energise the coalition team you have put together. 

It gives them a structure, and a predefined deadline by which the results will be available, as well as a clear timeboxed schedule of what will be worked on and when. Your idea is likely to be complex and part of a broader journey. By dividing it in bitesize chunks you will help everyone to savour the pleasure of achieving each milestone.

MAKE SURE EVERYTHING IS IN PLACE FOR MEASURING WHAT MATTERS

As you are making an experiment, and you are working towards specific success criteria, before launching the actual operations you may want to verify whether you are getting the right data to help you validate your assumption. This data will also provide you with sensible insights to go back to execs and pitch for additional funding to progress your roadmap.
Being data-centric by design helps conduct an experiment which will provide the required data to make informed decisions, so make sure you embed the right measurement mechanisms in whatever you are experimenting to avoid finishing the sprint with nothing valuable in hand.

Prepare a case study to sustain momentum and help you secure the resources you need to continue on your roadmap

Prepare a case study to sustain momentum and help you secure the resources you need to continue on your roadmap

Who to focus on: Peers, Senior Manager, Execs
Outcome: To get budget and resources to go ahead with your plan

USE DATA TO ESTIMATE IMPACT AT SCALE

Ok so, the sprint has finished, and you have gathered the data needed to validate your assumption.
If the result is not positive as you were hoping, do not despair: the whole reason why adopting Lean Entrepreneurship helps intrapreneurs to be more successful is because by taking small bets you hedge the risk of things not working out exactly how you expected.
So in case, the evidence is disproving your assumption, good stuff, you saved your organisation from wasting lots of money and time on an initiative that wouldn’t have worked in the end. In this situation, think about why your assumption was disproved, go back to the drawing board and try to test a new assumption.
But if you are right, it’s time to use the evidence you have gathered with your experiment as ammunition to get a green light to progress your proposed roadmap.
This process will repeat over and over until you will be able to assess what would happen if you delivered your idea at scale.

USE EVIDENCE TO GALVANIZE STAKEHOLDERS

If the experiment did not produce the expected results, you may want to collect the insights, see what is the learning there, and share these learnings with your coalition alongside a new plan of action for your idea.
After all, the first principle of Lean Entrepreneurship is “do not fall in love with your first idea”, so there is nothing wrong with what is technically called a “pivot”.
If the experiment worked, it’s time to properly celebrate with your coalition!
The sprint has been a success, the assumptions were right and the team has worked very well together. Also, your role as a leader is beginning to take shape and credibility.
It’s time to prepare a new pitch deck, highlighting your progress, and define what you need to make it to the next step so that you can get back to the execs.

ASK FOR MENTOR’S HELP 

Your mentor has been crucial in this journey so far, and you want them to continue to walk alongside you moving forward.
So make sure you celebrate properly while you review with them the new pitch deck you want to share with the executive team.
In this way, you will make sure that priorities haven’t changed while you were busy with your sprint.
Your mentor might be able to help you reframe the idea in case it’s needed, but the early traction you have achieved will be a powerful tool to secure additional senior support.

Take off with the resources you have now secured to scale up your idea, and institutionalise the change

Take off with the resources you have now secured to scale up your idea, and institutionalise the change

Who to focus on: External and Internal stakeholders (depending on the idea)
Outcome: You eventually deploy your idea and establish yourself as a leader

BUILD CROSS FUNCTIONAL TEAMS

The process of systematically de-risking your idea helps you to get more and more evidence to gradually secure more resources until you will eventually be able to deploy at scale.
During the journey, you might have already observed that intrapreneurs do not work in silos. Unlike solo founders or entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs have the backup of an entire company behind them, including talented professionals, access to customers, market and customer insights, partners and ultimately cash.
So once you have achieved enough traction to get the approval to deploy your initiative, make sure to transform your initial coalition into a proper cross-functional team to deliver at scale. 

CELEBRATE MILESTONES

Corporate innovation can be painful and setbacks are always around the corner. It’s difficult for intrapreneurs, and it’s similarly tough for your coalition, now transformed into a team.
It requires stepping outside of your comfort zone, working extra hours, perhaps taking responsibilities that are not properly listed in your job description.
For any milestone achieved, even the smallest one, make sure you properly recognise and reward it.
A regular team-drinks session, where success and learnings are shared and celebrated, might be a good way to empower the team, and ultimately have fun.

INSTITUTIONALISE CHANGES

Once innovations are deployed, it’s time to set up the proper structure to let them become the new Business As Usual.
You have demonstrated to be able to lead through uncertainty and complexity, ultimately showing your leadership skills.
More importantly, you have shown that innovation is possible within your organisation.

  • What has worked well during your journey?
  • What has helped you overcome challenges?

Any learning from your success should be shared across the company so that a new approach can eventually become part of the DNA of the company.

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Studio Zao facilitated an engaging Strategy Council Session for us, aligning 30+ TV industry senior members on the main advantages of the Lean Startup approach, and embedding members with TV-industry entrepreneurs so that they could reach consensus and identify innovative solutions to customer industry-wide challenges. Highly recommended!”

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Is Intrapreneurship the skill of the future? How can HR help build models of success? Forget moonshot labs — make every employee an intrapreneur Intrapreneurship: Inside Hustles A Chat With Davide Turi, Co-Founder at Innovation Studio: Studio Zao The Intrapreneurship Challenge Powered by Studio Zao How to Drive Transformation through Intrapreneurship. The I.M.P.A.C.T. Framework Intrapreneurship and Ambidextrous Leadership to Drive Your Core Business.001lr Innovation Portfolios And Experimentation for Corporate Innovation Studio Zao US Retailer Case Study Assess whether your proposition is able to deliver value by executing experiments to secure quick wins

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