The Innovative Beat of Corporate Social Intrapreneurs
(Editor's note: This post originally appeared on Forbes.com)
The breakout year for the social intrapreneur continues. After being recognized as 2014’s most valuable employee last month, the social intrapreneur will now be at the center of an upcoming book by Professor David Grayson (photo) of the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility and co-authors Melody McLaren and Heiko Spitzeck. “Social Intrapreneurism and All that Jazz” is filled with evidence of intrapreneurial social impact, analysis of intrapreneurism and its most distinguishing characteristics, and how all this can be understood in the context of jazz as a comparison.
The book makes clear that social intrapreneurs are becoming important players in tackling the world’s most pressing social problems and that their stock will rise as the deadline for achieving the United Nations Millenium Development Goals approaches. The reader takes away that social intrapreneurship represents a totally new model of doing business that is not just about innovating new social programs, but establishing a paradigm where initiatives for social good are being driven by economic factors for long term impact and sustainability.
As part of this special Forbes series on social intrapreneurship and co-creation, Professor Grayson has agreed to give us a sneak peak into the findings for the upcoming book, scheduled for release this March. The following has been excerpted from his book:
Defining social intrapreneurs and their “close relatives”
We define social intrapreneurs as “people within a large corporation who take direct initiative for innovations that address social or environmental challenges while also creating commercial value for the company”… In contrast with social entrepreneurs, social intrapreneurs can leverage existing infrastructures and organisational capabilities to deliver social value on a large scale…
…Unlike their “close relatives,” such as corporate volunteers, corporate responsibility (CR) champions or green team members inside companies who are also furthering social and environmental goals, social intrapreneurs aim to generate entirely new forms of commercial value through significant innovations in products, services, processes or business models for their employers. However, as will become evident from the examples in our book, these diverse members of the corporate “family” may find themselves working together as an “ensemble” to enhance the sustainability performance of their companies.
How social intrapreneurs, like jazz musicians, are not “solo acts”
While there is a Western business stereotype that celebrates the heroic efforts of the intrepid business entrepreneur, a successful social intrapreneur, although perhaps originating an intrapreneurial project idea of their own, must learn to work in, and then help to create, “ensembles” of like-minded individuals with complementary skills and ideas—as happens with jazz musicians who are “jamming” or performing together—in order to succeed.
If the number of individuals involved is sufficiently large (i.e. the intrapreneurial project requires assembling a “big band” with a diverse range of talents), the proportion of orchestral “scoring” required relative to the amount of free improvisation may need to increase to grow a corporate project to a large scale.
And, as with jazz ensembles, the mere presence of other players is not enough. We found that the quality of the “conversation”—the collaborative relationships—between social intrapreneurs and their colleagues both inside and outside their organisation (often partners in external not-for-profit organisations) was instrumental in determining whether an idea could get off the ground and secure support in a company.
What makes a successful social intrapreneur
Successful social intrapreneurs have spent time learning skills associated with their own corporate specialism—whether it’s marketing/communications, engineering, procurement, finance or some other business profession or function—as well as gaining an intuitive sense of how businesses work generally. They have “learned the ropes” of how things get done in their own company, internalised the company’s values (what matters most) and, crucially, how, when and where to communicate ideas in the language of their corporate peers, developing a robust “business case” for their project ideas. They have also mastered the delicate art of balancing the behaviours of risk-taking entrepreneurs and rule-following employees within a large organisation.
On the motivation for studying social intrapreneurship
The value of studying social intrapreneurs lies in their potential to develop solutions to our global challenges by virtue of their positions in organisations that manage significant resources and power. Social intrapreneur Gib Bulloch at Accenture explains: “Affecting even small change in large organisations can lead to significant positive social impact” (SustainAbility 2008)…
…Why are these stories important? Because they prove that work can, and should be, more than “just a job”; it can be a fulfilling means to making the world a better place. Social intrapreneurism, we believe, is a gateway to an entirely new way of doing business: creating value, not just for investors, but for society as a whole. Businesses need to be recognised for what they truly are—not isolated entities operating in bubbles but value-generating (and potentially value-destroying) communities, interconnected with the wider world through networks of employees, suppliers, customers and others. We look forward to a future era in which it will be commonplace for inventive minds to design products and services that not only are commercially profitable but also address the world’s most pressing social, environmental and economic challenges.
Perhaps you, a reader of this book, will be a leader in that future. If so, we look forward to meeting you and learning more about the great work you will be doing.
This post is part 4 of a 10 part series on co-creation and intrapreneurship. It was written by Joseph Agoada, a digital platform innovator, resource mobilizer, and technology development specialist teaching social intrapreneurship with TechChange: The Institute of Technology and Social Change.