Over the last 15 years I have attempted in my own way to transform organisations into high energy, innovative, and exciting places to work. I have tried to create genuine intrapreneurial companies, taking sometimes stagnant, beige and deep- frozen entities, often kicking and screaming, to the sunlit uplands of a vibrant, brightly coloured place that is intrapreneurship.gatre

I have given my own sweat, tears, passion and commitment to the cause. I have made every mistake in the intrapreneurs handbook (which does not exist so don’t bother looking for it) often on numerous occasions. I have despaired, almost given up, felt I’ve failed, and sometimes experienced the warm glow of success. In this series of articles, I wish to share my understanding on how you can become an exceptional Intrapreneurial Leader.

In this second essay I wish to explore how a leader might take their first critical steps to help their organisation achieve full intrapreneurship. These steps, if carried out correctly will ensure you have a strong foundation to construct an intrapreneurial culture that is truly sustainable.

Be clear why you want to become intrapreneurial

I sometimes notice that people misunderstand what we are trying to achieve when we create high energy and involving communities within an organisation. Many of my H.R. colleagues will preach that employee involvement, dispersed decision making, and democratised innovation is an end in itself. I fundamentally disagree with this notion. We do not free people to manage their own work and working style because it makes them feel better, although undoubtedly it does! We do not involve people in every decision because it makes them stay in the Company, although it does! We do not give everyone the tools to be innovative because they will enjoy the creative process, but of course they will! No, it is this back to front thinking that has demoted many H.R. professionals from the Board room and left them out of strategic planning.

I would contest that everything we do within an organisation must be to improve performance. Our actions must enhance profitability, achieve growth, deliver outstanding customer service and increase safety and efficiency. For if they do not, we are stealing our organisations resources.

Discover your organisations DNA

Before you can free the organisation, it is imperative you identify the big rules which cannot be challenged. You need to map out your processes and find those that must be followed. You need to discover your organisations unique DNA. Study what makes your customer experience work, what makes your organisation attract the best and keep them, and what makes you unique within your competitive environment.

So, we need to strip our organisation all the way down to its double helix and that will become the “How we do things around here big rules”. These big rules must be consistently communicated, must include a small number of behaviours as well as process steps and must be understandable and accepted by all.

However, a word of warning. In my experience when leaders attempt to carry out this task, they become extreme hoarders. Rather than stripping their organisations down to its core, they instead want to keep every process however minor. My advice is that you identify your DNA as a leadership team and you boil it down, then leave it a day come back and strip more out, then come back and take more out and then repeat until it is impossible to remove anything more. Only then you will know you have carried out this task effectively.

Leadership is not a role it’s a philosophy

To become a successful Intrapreneurial Leader you need to buy into an Intrapreneurial philosophy. I have noticed over the many years I have studied managers, that all the great Intrapreneurs have the same core beliefs about the colleagues they work with. I will try to describe these beliefs as accurately as I can.

Everyone has talent – All of the great leaders I have met have an unshakable view that everyone in their team have their own unique talents. More importantly, they believe that it is the leader’s job to help to free each individual so that they can fully use their talents. Their attitude is always that everyone will succeed if given the chance and that if they eventually fail then the leader has failed either in recruitment, or induction, or in coaching the individual.

Leaders are learners – The impressive leaders that I have had the pleasure to work with know that they are not the teachers but instead they are the students. They are confident enough in their own abilities to allow colleagues to show them a better way of achieving a job. They are humble enough to break out of the prison walls of their own minds by genuinely attempting to understand how others view reality. I notice the very best leaders are far more interested in asking the right questions than in trying to give the right answer. By continually observing and learning these leaders become the conduit for new ways of working and best practice. Through gaining a deep understanding of what is happening the leader becomes the storyteller who through their narratives helps others try new things or gain a belief that they can also succeed.

Talking destinations not route maps – Key to becoming a successful Intrapreneurial Leader is the ability to simply and clearly describe where we the organisation needs to get to. We need to be able to draw a picture of our goal in such a way that their colleagues are inspired, believe it is worth achieving and will be proud to succeed. Sadly, most leaders I observe are obsessed with dictating how the team must get to the end point. Trapped in their own world view these managers convince themselves there is only one route that everyone must take. They prescribe each step-in mind-numbing detail and by doing so stifle all hope of innovation, individualism or plurality of thought. It is a courageous leader who is comfortable to only know their team are progressing towards the goal but when asked by their boss what is going on admit they are not clear how they are achieving progress. I am leading some exceptional, hardworking and high achieving colleagues in an amazing Company at the moment and some days I am not only unclear on what they are doing I am not completely clear even where they are. However, I have full confidence that they are working towards achieving some outrageous goals and they have never let me down.

In Conclusion

Great leaders understand they have no special skills or knowledge that are unknown and unobtainable by team members. They are honest enough to know they are not more special than anyone else in the organisations. They appreciate that they have no unique insights.

The exceptional Intrapreneurial Leaders are clear that they will not achieve greatness from looking inside themselves but instead only by looking outwards and harvesting the ideas and talents from all of those around them.

I will return to leadership later in this series of essays. My next article will describe how you can identify and engage a community of the willing within your organisation.