When it comes to defining employees’ entrepreneurial mindset and tools, or intrapreneurship skills, within large, established organisations, two crucial elements very often overlooked are networking and stakeholder management.
Intrapreneurs are often defined as creative problem solvers, able to manage risk and navigate ambiguity, equipped with a resilient growth mindset and, finally, resourceful individuals able to move at a fast pace.
However, some crucial intrapreneurship skills are very often overlooked: the ability to network and manage stakeholders.
Intrapreneurs do not work alone
Intrapreneurs are part of a larger organisation. Throughout our activity at Studio Zao, we have never ever seen an intrapreneur succeeding alone.
They may be often right and have a great vision for the future of their company, but getting along well with the rest of the team, being able to create a strong network and break silos to collaborate effectively is often more important.
One of the advantages of being an intrapreneur is that they have the opportunity to leverage the vast amount of resources and insights available within the organisation they work for.
This puts them in an incredibly advantageous position compared to an entrepreneur wanting to launch exactly the same business idea. However, it’s a crucial success factor for intrapreneurs to be able to navigate internal politics and generate support and momentum across stakeholders to ensure their innovation initiative will be eventually deployed.
Intrapreneurs get their strength from the rest of the organisation. At one simple condition though: they need to be able to bring the organisation with them, and manage their stakeholders with excellent emotional intelligence and awareness of the context.
Intrapreneurs are great at networking
When we were working for large organisations ourselves, we were regulars at water coolers, corporate canteens and coffee bars, and got the best deals with colleagues and senior stakeholders done over an informal coffee or a lunch rather than an official meeting. In unofficial settings, people tend to open up more freely, and do not feel like they have to play certain roles as it often happens during regular meetings.
Sometimes we would prepare the field for a key meeting where we were hoping to secure approval for an innovation project by having lunches and coffees with all the participants in advance so that we could preempt any critical point or observation, and crucially take action before the actual big day.
We would discuss the idea with all the stakeholders and decision-makers in advance, framing the opportunity in their best interest, looking for objections and preparing to address them, and looking for support. We would then use these insights to iterate our idea, following up with our colleagues to ensure they understood that their observations were being taken into consideration. Then we would finally have the large official meeting with senior executives to get final approval, knowing that everyone at the table was on the same page.
This kind of exercise, strictly done on a one-to-one basis, has been critical to our success as intrapreneurs, as we would find much fewer surprises and curveballs being thrown at us while pitching to senior leaders. A much more comfortable situation as opposed to going blind into a key presentation. Eventually, we realised that the more we would do this preparation work, the more our likelihood to succeed would increase.
Being able to manage stakeholders and nurture a great network is the paramount capability of a great intrapreneur, and it’s probably the biggest failing point for aspiring intrapreneurs.
How can Intrapreneurial skills help drive higher Return On Innovation?
Using stakeholder mapping for innovation ideas
Mapping the environment is one of the first things successful intrapreneurs do when they are tasked with challenging and often ambiguous tasks. There are two reasons for this.
- They consider organisations, departments, institutions, or individuals who may be directly or indirectly involved in their challenge so that they can plan successfully their networking and influencing efforts. By looking at our IMPACT framework, one of them might even become their mentor!
- They get a view of the customers, or beneficiaries, targeted by their challenge so that they can come up with successful innovation ideas. This helps generate customer empathy and closeness, which is one of the key elements that made Design Thinking a very powerful tool to innovate successfully.
One of the frameworks we use with our clients to do this is our stakeholder map. It’s quite straightforward to use:
- Recap your idea into a couple of hashtags, and write them in the middle of the canvas
- Brainstorm stakeholders: ask yourself who are the internal or external departments, institutions, individuals or even organisations that might be impacted, either positively or negatively, by your idea.
How intrapreneurs become experts at networking
Once intrapreneurs have mapped the environment around their idea, they move on to engage with their network.
To create and nurture a network, we recommend the intrapreneurs we work with keep in mind the key factors of good networking: generosity, openness, and determination.
While only a few people are natural networkers, the rest of us have to practice. The best ways to overcome shyness and become better at networking are constantly learning from the best colleagues out there and relentlessly practising every day.
The first key point to keep in mind is that generosity and loyalty are the foundations of good networking. The logic is simple: if you are helpful to others without being selfish, they generally will be more ready to help you in return. When we make an honest effort to help others, we will reap a double or even triple of what we have sown.
The second is that intrapreneurs know well that building a strong network within the organisation is key, and they start creating that from the first day on the job, using any opportunity to nurture it. Induction days, day outs, team building events, Christmas parties, they seize any opportunity to expand their reach.
The key reason is that building a network when you need it is more or less like signing up for insurance after you have had a car accident. If you build up a network before you need it, people will build up trust more easily that way, one step at a time.
Finally, great networkers are open and genuine. Networking with people can actually be fun and interesting for a curious mind. Everyone has an interesting story to tell, and have very specific skills in areas you might not know about.
Instead of trying to fill out the time over a coffee with banal or boring small talk, intrapreneurs are as honest and open as possible to the other person, asking meaningful questions that demonstrate genuine interest.
Once they have created a strong network, they will more easily succeed at managing stakeholders. By having genuine and inquisitive conversations, intrapreneurs will know each stakeholder’s aspirations, challenges, ambitions, perhaps even their goals and metrics on which their annual bonus is calculated. This will offer unique insights to craft their ideas and get the support of stakeholders for their innovative idea.
Successful intrapreneurs create trust across their network
These Intrapreneurship skills also include the ability to create trust capital at any level of their network: with the top, with peers and across the organisation.
As Jean-Baptiste Limare, one of our Intrapreneurship Examples, recalls, “to gain stakeholders’ confidence, I had to show them a track record of “making things happen”. I also needed a good enough understanding of how to deal with key stakeholders and their concerns”. This is again where genuine curiosity and interest comes into play.
These are both entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship skills that must be mastered. The only difference is that in the intrapreneur’s environment, company politics plays a bigger part. Bottom line: in the corporate environment, you can’t get somewhere without a powerful support network.