For all you aspiring intrapreneurs out there, here’s another inspiring intrapreneur sharing her story and experience with you. This time, we asked Elisabeth Eude our most burning questions.
Elisabeth works as a Senior Strategist in Corporate Strategy at Alcatel-Lucent since June 2011. She has 13 years of experience in telecommunications, starting in Research and Development on mobile communication infrastructure, then as Technical Project Manager for major mobile network operators, and also as Product Manager of mobile communication and wireless transmission equipments.
Elisabeth holds an engineering degree in Physics of Material & Optoelectronics from the National Institute of Applied Sciences (INSA) in Rennes, France, and received the Dean’s award from the University of Strathclyde (Glasgow, UK) for BsC courses in Physics and Electrical engineering. She has also followed the Alcatel-Lucent corporate MBA program with EM Lyon and SDA Bocconi Schools of Management.
Let’s hear from Elisabeth directly:
You call yourself an intrapreneur. Can you tell us what that means to you?
Being an intrapreneur means starting an innovation, a project, that is not in your current job mission, and that generates value (tangible or intangible) for your company. I did not call myself an intrapreneur at the beginning, but at some point, I looked back and thought: I have created an innovation inside Alcatel-Lucent called StrongHer (the employee network for gender diversity in Alcatel-Lucent), I have developed it across the company, raised budget and sponsors for it. Now StrongHer has grown into a great network with more than 950 members in 51 countries. It is a movement that is recognized inside the company for the value it creates, and it’s a business initiative as it is well demonstrated that diversity is a booster of business performance. That’s all the characteristics of intrapreneurship for me: a small grassroots initiative that develops in a real business opportunity for the company. (Click to Tweet this)
What’s your biggest intrapreneurial success and what did you do to make it happen?
My biggest intrapreneurial success is the StrongHer network I mentioned earlier. I founded it with 5 other colleagues in 2011. StrongHer is the employee network in Alcatel-Lucent for women to unleash their potential and to change the way we look at talent, irrespective of gender, for all to benefit from this untapped energy. But the success is not the size of the network in itself, it is the impact it has on the company and its employees: it is giving a voice to women and also men, it is driving a culture change of true collaboration and co-development between employees across countries and organizations, increasing motivation and engagement, spreading gender-awareness across countries also reaching remote workers, increasing efficiency of corporate diversity initiatives, and ultimately leading to more diverse & performing teams.
StrongHer is really a teamwork success, in which I gave the first impulse for action, leading by example. I inspired others to join by starting actions and showing a path, communicating a vision. (Click to Tweet this)
I also federated & structured a core team and acted as a program manager to initiate, coordinate our actions & maintain the dynamism.
Then together with the team, we created a brand identity, shared our vision and early successes toward the network and the company management. We leveraged the internal communication infrastructure (social network, webcast) to increase our reach and visibility. We developed a concept of franchise to help others to step up and act at their level.
What made it a success is that StrongHer really brought meaning for its members, and it’s the collective success of all the people who became actors of the initiative.
I have also started an initiative called Campus in the Cloud, where we offer to Alcatel-Lucent employees the possibility to share their knowledge with young adults in underserved areas, by postingeducational videos that we will share with the schools through the Alcatel-Lucent foundation. This is not a business per se, but through this initiative, the company can contribute to closing the digital divide by leveraging its ICT expertise.
For more info about StrongHer, check this blog & video: http://www2.alcatel-lucent.com/blogs/corporate/2013/09/strongher-has-enriched-my-life/
What do you think an intrapreneur needs to be (mindset) and do (skills) in order to succeed?
Intrapreneurs are a new race of leaders. They are natural leaders that are not necessarily already at the top of organizations, and with different skills from traditional managers, as they inspire and influence instead of using their hierarchical authority to get things done. (Click to Tweet this)
Intrapreneurs have to be passionate about their idea, able to inspire people to join them. Being resourceful and start-up minded really helps as you start in bootstrap mode. They have to be ready to invest personal time for their initiative as they will very likely not be allocated professional time until the value of their initiative gets recognized and they gain support from the highest levels of the organization. Intrapreneurs have to be positive & optimistic achievers, in order to persist in the face of obstacles.
Is having a great idea enough to start as an intrapreneur?
It’s not really about having a “great”idea. Some of the best ideas in business are actually often very simple. (Click to Tweet this)
To start as an intrapreneur, there are a few best practices that we have observed in growing StrongHer:
- Start small and fast, but not alone: if you wait until you have your ideacompletely well defined, or your precise plan for the next 3 years, or get a specific budget, you will never start. Start building a prototype, a pilot, to show that you are serious about it. This is also very important to refine your idea. Try to involve a few other colleagues, it’s much easier to keep the motivation and faith in your idea when you’re a group rather than alone.
- Inspire & enable actions: have an enthusiastic vision of what you want to accomplish and make it easy for others to join you
- Communicate & find sponsors: you need to be your best sales person, communication is not a lack of time. Sponsors are key to build your credibility, get your project going… and get funding!
There is a real opportunity for intrapreneurs to have a global impact, by leveraging the infrastructure, the reach and the brand of their companies. (Click to Tweet this)
What do you know now you wish you’d have known when you started?
There are 2 main facts that I did not know when I started that I find very important:
- You need to get executive buy-in and even sponsoring. Presenting your project to executives is not about boasting yourself, it is necessary if you want your project to succeed. It will help in removing barriers and getting credibility. And don’t hesitate to ask someone more senior some advice in how to present to executives before you actually do it, this is a skill intrapreneurs need to learn too! (Click to Tweet this)
- Don’t be afraid to think big, from the beginning. In our case, we had a wake-up call thanks to a discussion with an executive who strongly supported our project. She asked us what were our plans to expand worldwide. We had never thought about expanding out of France before! We did not have any such plan, but that question opened to us a whole range of new opportunities we did not even think about. I also remember a TED talk by an Indian artist who dreamed of having one of the most famous Indian actress visit his exhibition on his first galleryopening. He wrote to 2 of his favorite actresses, and one of them actually turned up! This gave him a new boost of energy and great visibility.
The point is: if you don’t think big, you will never take the actions that will open the opportunity for you to become big and make an impact. (Click to Tweet this)
Must any employee be intrapreneurial?
Not necessarily. We need many different profiles in a team and in a company to be successful.
Is Gen Y perfectly suited to be intrapreneurs, or not?
I am not convinced that there is a strong difference in intrapreneurial skills between generations, but there is probably a difference in motivation. For Gen X and Gen Y, the world of work has changed: we don’t dream anymore of making a career in 1 single company, or 1 single country, we don’t want to spend all our time working as we know that we could be fired at the next turn-around of our company. At the same time, women are working just as men and this implies a new definition of roles at home and in the workplace, and a new definition of success.
All of this means that we’re now looking for more than a pay-check, we’re looking for meaning, purpose.
Intrapreneurship is a way to unify something that matters to us in our work with our company’s interests. (Click to Tweet this)
It is also a unique opportunity to demonstrate leadership & managerial skills independently from our level in the organization. And a great benefit for companies because it increases employee engagement and talent retention.
I see however a possible key intrapreneurial skill that GenY may be more likely to have developed: it’s the ability to collaborate without boundaries and use the power of social media to increase their reach and impact.
Are companies embracing intrapreneurs – really?
I think companies are becoming more and more open to bottom-up initiatives and intrapreneurship and start to understand the importance of it. One of the most famous example is Google who leaves 20% of free time to employees to work on personal projects linked to their business, or Dreamworks teaching employees how to pitch their ideas to executives, or LinkedIn incubator program. However I don’t think they represent a majority yet, although I don’t have any statistics about that, so this is just my own perception. And even among companies who show interest for intrapreneurship, many still struggle to find a way to truly leverage this source of energy and ideas. (Click to Tweet this)
What’s your best piece of advice for aspiring intrapreneurs?
Go for it![av_hr class='short' height='50' shadow='no-shadow' position='center']
Are you full of ideas for change and innovation, but not sure how to turn them into actions and results?
Are you looking for ways to make your job more challenging, meaningful and fun?
Would you like to do work beyond your job description, but you don’t know where to find time for that?
The Intrapreneurs Challenge gets you started with executing your ideas for change or innovation within your company.