Can Intrapreneurship actually happen.

Recently someone shared a link on twitter to this post on Medium by Jeff Gothelf > Intrapreneurship is a lie. So I became a consultant.   Initially, I was in two minds about whether to click on it and read it but I was intrigued enough that I did.
After reading I started to reflect about whether I shared the same views that were expressed in the post and I realised that about 12 months ago I did. This time last year I would have said this post resonated with EXACTLY how I felt…But I understand that now I think differently and believe that there are some interesting lessons that I have learnt, some of them were very painful to accept.
I used to think of myself as an intrapreneur and thought that I was a pretty good one too, I mean I even won an award and was also nominated in the LGC most influential list. So the feedback loops around me were saying that I was pretty good, but I have continued to struggle to make sense of how all of this could happen and yet I was failing to create a lasting sustainable change in my council…so much so I wrote a post about that disconnect in relation to the difference between internal influence and external influence.
So revisiting the post on Medium – it is a 6-minute read and worth it, so suggest you take a moment if you haven’t already. There was so much in the post that did and didn’t resonate that I wanted to share my reflections.
In some ways, Jeff’s post for me makes an assumption that entrepreneurial spirit is and will likely sit with a few people and that in itself creates some challenges and problems when trying to replicate as an internal person as Jeff points out “big org realities kick in”. For me and this is something that I think I have made many mistakes around in the past, is that being entrepreneurial isn’t necessarily something that a person can do in isolation, it is more about the conditions and the system you operate within that allows the innovation and creativity to flourish.
In the past, I have assumed that I have the power to change things but am only really limited to change on the edges of the organisation, this has made me feel better inside in the past that small things happen but the failures to reach the core of the organisation for lasting change is something I simply tolerated and perhaps ignored as I didn’t want to face up to what the real issues were that were stopping that. What I have learnt over the last 6 months in order to be successful you have to ensure you have the right conditions and the wider system alignment to ensure lasting and sustainable change actually happens.
So the question I started asking myself more was – why is there a difference in the perceived impact between external and internal people and what are the causes of this variation?
Moving on for a moment What I’ve also learnt is that until new organisational models exist, ownership and power lies within the formal hierarchy.  There may be some people who disagree but from someone who is on the inside this is very much the case and is one of the lessons I’ve learnt which I will share more on in this post.
Incentives to change or improve the work people do doesn’t sit within the teams who do the work but with managers or change teams who sit outside of that work. So at what point can someone take real ownership of any change as the majority is imposed upon them.   So where is the incentive for those people who actually understand what is happening, who see the consequences (intended or otherwise) and yet are blind to the assumptions and thinking that led to the design of the work?
In the section of the post which talks about integration with the rest of the organisation, the question I have in my head is – Why is the responsibility for ideas disconnected from the people who implement them or even do the work, what creates this separation and what assumptions drive the design of that flow of work?
The challenge here and the underlying assumptions I believe sit beneath this are that you need to have people who have particular skills and traits that do “their bit” and then you can successfully move that along a pipeline to someone else and they do their bit and so on, until the change you anticipated or something like it pops out the other end.  The issue I have with this is that this is flawed in its design as to why you would not help the people who do the work develop the skills, knowledge and understanding to respond to the problems they have and allow them to do it. Or even allow them to pull expertise into their work at the time they need it!
The element of the post that resonated the most with me is the section about external influence always trumping internal opinion.  This was the bit that has aligned to my own personal experiences the most and has been the cause of most of my own struggles. However, I’ve started to realise where I went wrong and how in pushing and pushing and pushing to do the things I thought were right but never saw come to fruition is because I was trying to push and push and push. The irony is that I’ve learned to now operate and work in an on-demand model where I and the team are pulled to work with people because they want and value our input. This shift is a fundamental and yet profound change in how you can be successful as an intrapreneur – this will be at the heart of how intrapreneurs can design themselves to be successful.
The biggest irony in all of this is that we have on in the past pulled external people in to say exactly the same thing as the internal people do?
Finally, there is a fascinating comment towards the end of the post that states “there will never be a way for the kind of results both seek to be achieved unless large companies can make the cultural shift to spread innovative thinking throughout the company while finding ways to reward this work in a way that retains top talent.”
My only comment on this is that any size and shape company essentially needs to do one key thing – Understand and make visible the thinking and assumptions that create and lead to the design of everything in it. Knowing this allows you to better understand how to move forward…

I think we are missing the point

I have written quite a few posts recently about not focusing on the technology or the tools when speaking about social media and that is what I believe (I could be wrong), but we really have to take people on a journey in order that they can see the real impact of all of this stuff and that is the “behaviour change” and “expectation” this all creates in individuals (staff and citizens), mostly everyone recognises this but we rarely focus on this when speaking to folk.

Ok so twitter, Facebook, WordPress, Flickr, YouTube and many others are all the tools that people use to share stuff with friends, family and pretty much anyone interested in their stuff.  But the key point to focus on is the behaviour change all these tools are driving and the expectations they are creating in everyone we meet.

I’ve been to two events in the last week where this issue has popped up – last week I attended the Guardian ICT Leadership Forum in London and yesterday I attended a lecture at the Met Office (for Met Office staff primarily) by @AnnHolman on the impacts of social technology on business.

The thing that kept coming up was that people get fixated on the current tools and make comments like “I’m not in Facebook, or on twitter so I can’t see the value” or “surely Facebook and twitter will go away of be bought by someone and we’ll need to get on the next big thing”.  The answer to both of these comments is “your missing the point”….

The point is (for me anyway) and I made this at the Leadership forum as well as the Met Office meeting (although Ann had already said exactly the same thing at the beginning of her talk – it is about behaviour) is that these tools are not the things we should be primarily concerned about, it is the impact on people and the expectations and behaviour changes they foster in people…

  • the fact that friends and family can instantly communicate via any device to each other from anywhere in the world.
  • the fact that I can share precious moments with people via video or photo as soon as something happens or even broadcast it live over the internet
  • the fact that i can learn new topics and subjects and watch videos on how to play the guitar or learn how to use a software package by simply searching google
  • the fact that i can access a huge amount of information about what my friends like and what they are doing, thinking, watching, listening to, who they are with all from my mobile phone
  • the fact that email seems like it takes too long to get a response and I might as well instant message someone instead
  • the fact that i can touch a screen and it responds instantly to my gestures and I can explore information in new ways
  • the fact that when i work on something i expect friends and people I’ve never met to help and assist me with my tasks.
I’ve not mentioned any particular tool here, but I could…but what value would that add to the conversation?
These are simply some of the basic changes people expect to see, I’ve not mentioned or referred to location based services, mapping, workflow, task management, i could go on and when you take these expectations into a local government context you can see the challenge we are facing. Challenges we *must* overcome or we will become irrelevant to pretty much everyone.  The issue is we expect these kinds of solutions in an organisational experience.
The challenge/question for ICT leaders and managers is can consumer grade products provide 80% of the functionality to reduce costs across the sector…or do we spend lots of cash on enterprise grade products that can’t change as quickly and force uniformity on everyone – the web allows individuality?
The impact of social media isn’t whether or not you have a twitter account, Facebook profile, YouTube channel, Flickr stream – It is whether your organisation wants to be relevant and able to communicate with people how they communicate with each other.
This all means we need to rethink everything about our organisations and keep the stuff that is relevant and change the rest that isn’t…for some (if not most) that will mean everything.  We do need to face some potential obstacles though and we can not ignore them.
  • Security – we need to think about security in a pragmatic way that allows us to stay in touch and relevant whilst maintaining our legal duty.
  • Risk – we need to think about our approach to risk, we need to manage and mitigate, not avoid.
  • Thinking – we need to change our thinking, we *must* focus on opportunities presented to us by new thinking
  • People – we need to accept that all of this is about people and changing people’s behaviours.
  • Culture – we need to challenge existing cultures by empowering people to adopt new thinking, to take risks.
But saying all of this, sometimes it helps to start with twitter and work out very quickly to the wider issues, but we need to make sure we don’t stay focused on the tool, it is the behaviour change we need to champion.




Organisations as Culture Filters – Social Media and Culture Change Series Part 1

This is the first of a series of posts about Social Media and Culture Change. My aim is to share my thoughts and learning around social media and how it can help transform organisations as well as connecting organisations (well the people in them) with the ever increasing communities that are developing in these new social spaces.  I also hope that others will want to contribute, validate or challenge what i post.

This first post will look at Organisations as culture filters.

What i find interesting about this is the contrast to how people interact with their friends, peers and social networks in their personal lives and how they conduct the same kind of functions within the work place. This contrast is essentially why i have titled this organisations as culture filters, however we do have to accept at this point in time there are logical reasons why this is happening, but that doesn’t mean that it should continue.

The following i hope provides a helpful comparison and is a broad view, which i feel applies across the public sector and perhaps the private and voluntary sectors as well. but i can’t comment on those.

Personal Life

  • we pretty much all have mobile and flexible lifestyles
  • personal devices are multifunctional – mobile phones are also music devices, personal calendars, email clients, GPS devices and internet browsers
  • our interaction with technology is shifting from traditional methods of using keyboards and a mouse to speech and movement recognition, the nintendo Wii is a great example of how this technology is transforming and creating new opportunities for engagement with technology and networks on a global scale
  • We have greater freedom to choose what we want in terms of what technology choices fit within or broader lifestyle – apple mac or PC, windows or linux, nokia or iphone, broadband or wifi, digital tv or satellite/cable, the choice is pretty much ours in all cases, depending on affordability and practicality.
  • ease of upgrade – we all “secretly” want the latest gadget or at least strive to have the best fit gadgets for our lifestyle and it can all be achieved easily generally via an upgrade or a download or even swapping with friends and colleagues.

This personal life has also evolved a culture behind it which is fundamentally different to organisations and this difference can not continue, something has to give.

Aspects of the Culture

  • we now tend to have an “us” culture and not a “me” culture
  • communication is one to many or many to many and not one to one
  • we prefer digital not analogue
  • we prefer flexibility and mobility over fixed and stable
  • we have a consumer control environment and not an organisational control environment

Organisation/business life

  • there is a move toward flexible and mobile working but the technology has not yet caught up to effectively support that approach for all, so it still feels exclusive to a lot of people.
  • you may not even get additional work devices to perform your job, a PC of some kind or maybe a laptop, mobile phones are meant for mobile calling and are not meant for mobile working and multifunctional purposes, even if they are capable, they can often be disabled of their core functions.
  • we still very much interact with a keyboard and mouse (unless of course for accessibility reasons you are already using alternatives)
  • there is corporate control over the desktop and over applications which may or may not be supportive to an individual.
  • new products and applications are often blocked and often access to web based services is blocked.
  • there is still very much a corporate police role in the public sector as a whole which is more about risk aversion then risk management. Managers often talk about new tools being socially based and a waste of time, they only have a negative impact on teams. This distracts from the view that managers don’t manage people they manage time, which in my view is counter productive and often encourages misuse.  The reality is that the web/internet as a whole began as a “toy” and was for some considerable time seen as something for tourism information and academics and not online business and interaction. If we could only learn from the last 15 years we would be embracing the new wave now.

aspects of Culture

  • Command and control culture, top down and everything in order
  • communications has elements of one to many, however the feedback loop is often closed and doesn’t effectively feed into improvement but rarely provides many to many.
  • strong support for digital, but there are barriers, sometimes outside of public sector control over usage and take-up
  • we encourage flexibility but often lack the skills and knowledge to manage this new way of working effectively. How often do you hear, there are some jobs that simply can not be flexible. That may be accurate due to current business processes and technology, but unless you ask the questions, what does someone need to perform this task from home or on the go, you will never truly have a flexible workforce
  • Organisations still want and demand control, there is a political aspect which often conflicts with some of the changes required. But strong leadership will always be effective when massive change is inevitable.

The role of social media/web 2.0…

Social media for me and from personal experience has proved very useful. i can find tools that connect me to others with similar interests, i can connect with others who can help me, i can also help other people i am connected with. All of this has essentially been done outside of a “corporate framework” and has been achievable because all of the tools i have started to use are web based and are easy and simple to use.

Social media or even web 2.0 depending on whether you look at tools or outputs, has shifted culture towards a new way of thinking. For me the world seems much smaller, flatter and collaborative then previously thought and witnessed.

New generations (so called digital natives) are working in groups to solve problems and are seeking and discovering new ways to connect with each other. Now whilst i believe the future will be very different, most of us now seem to be split between personal life and work (the old don’t mix business with pleasure scenario). New tools are increasingly blurring that line and new business models are emerging.

In terms of change and rapid growth and adoption of new technologies, we have all been here before, the era, showed that. Whilst the majority of businesses failed during this time and lots of people got their fingers burnt, some great innovative companies succeeded and have continued to grow and dominate their field.

The reality of these new approaches is the fact that the cost of failure is small or non existent, the risk to participate and try new things has reduced significantly that anyone in there bedroom can become the next big thing and try many versions of something without needing huge capital funds to get off the ground.

I have recently started to believe that social media and web 2.0 is more than just technology it is a statement about you, a direction of travel for most people, if you participate, it actually says a lot about you –  for example:

  • you want to be part of a community and many communities regardless of geography or religion or race or ability.
  • you want to share what you create and are happy for that to be passed around the globe and reproduced without making any money from it, only recognition.
  • you are happy to tell everyone what you are doing at any given time, from “making a cup of tea” to “just seen something hilarious”
  • you want to explore and evolve your identify (avatars, second life, WoW, online gaming etc)
  • you are happy to share information (often not normally shared) about yourself with friends and friends of friends and even networks and communities
  • you don’t see organisational barriers to learning and sharing knowledge, information is power and we all seem happy to share
  • you want to be part of practical communities who can make a difference, who can influence and enable large scale change.

This is a new way of thinking and one which challenges most of what people hold dear to them now. The reality is everyone still has a choice and that is what makes it so appealing. I can participate if i want to, and it doesn’t have to cost me anything to do that.

The new thinking is very altruistic in its nature as it ensures that the wider network succeeds even if some individuals loose the ability to gain relative to what they contribute. That does depend on what you want to get from it. It seems to be a global exchange system, where you can do someone a favour today and in return they will help others on the basis that when you need help you will get it. Very new world and radical, but it seems to work and it is growing rapidly. I for one, support this as when you are actually part of it, you don’t feel alone, you feel connected with everyone and that is a powerful thought to hold on to.

So as this post comes to a close, it is worth exploring, why these tools seem so popular and how they have rapidly integrated themselves into our daily lives and are on the verge of transforming organisations and to some degree countries themselves. My next post will focus on this topic – “What is driving the culture”