Editor’s note: Orange is one of the largest operators of mobile and internet services in Europe and Africa and a global leader in corporate telecommunication services.
The idea of starting a programme for intrapreneurs popped up one year ago, in Spring 2016, during a workshop about the future of our entity, Orange Vallée. We had experienced over time the launch of out-of-the-tracks innovative projects, leading us to forge methodologies for fast product development, and to develop efficient networking to attract resources boosting our projects, and get buy-in from stakeholders: wouldn’t it be an insightful idea to share this know-how with Orange employees willing to turn their outside-the-box idea into an innovative project?
Tweaking our Value Proposition
The value proposition of the Intrapreneurs Studio lies then in Orange Valley roots: we would address employees who have a powerful creative idea, and incubate them to transform their idea into an offering, enriching Orange’s portfolio. This would be our definition of an intrapreneur, someone willing to make a dream become reality, a resilient doer, a positive rebel, acting at the benefit of his company.
We would not target the innovation front-end. Other programs at Orange actually focus on supporting employees in the ideation process. We would attract employees who have an idea related to business (in a broad sense: product, service, distribution, marketing or business model), and who want to bring it to market.
These employees are keen on achieving their product with passion and undefectible will, but are sometimes missing 3 levers:
- legitimacy: they are not in the appropriate department to develop the idea;
- methodologies: business model canvas and lean startup are still fuzzy for them;
- and networking: they don’t have connections all over the company, and sometimes they don’t feel alllowed to develop them.
The Intrapreneurs Studio is an intrapreneur project in–itself: it started from the bottom. In this context, you often need to complement your value proposition with a network of allies. In a timely manner, Orange HR was initiating a comprehensive program fostering employees’ innovation. We liaised with Orange HR, and the Intrapreneurs Studio became one of the streams of the HR program: this official joint would facilitate a lot to further adapt HR processes to the intrapreneur journey.
Aligning Autonomy & Coordination
Becoming part of a larger program is a necessary strength but this coordination should not slow you down. We had to preserve our speed, based on liberty of action.
We were soon going to assess the sometimes paradoxal correlation between coordination, and autonomy. In November, we were ready to open the doors of the Studio, and welcome the first intrapreneurs, but the overall program was not: should we wait for all the streams to be ready, or would we be entitled to test something in phase-advance? We did not want to force the decision, and we wanted to keep a trustful relationship, so we had an open discussion about it. Ans we managed to deal the freedom to test the program in pilot phase in January!
Defining the Intrapreneur Program
We were convinced that the successful intrapreneur is a couple composed of an attractive idea, and of a committed character. Therefore, we wanted to have the time to know better the intrapreneurs applying to the program, before they got finally selected. We split the program into 2 stages:
- Qualification: this 3 weeks stage should be dedicated to learning innovation practices, and moreover to put them to work on the intrapreneurs’ projects. It should be also a time to step back, and take a moment to define what role it is to be an intrapreneur at Orange, what engagement it requires, what it means to lead an innovation team: all these would question the motivation and intent of the intrapreneur, and help him make up his mind for the next stage; at the end of the Qualification phase, intrapreneurs would pitch their project in front of a cross-functional jury (innovation department, business units, open innovation teams working with startups, external representatives from startups ecosystem); the jury would then allocate 3 tickets for the next incubation phase; last but not least, each intrapreneur should have earned the sponsorship of a business unit for his project;
- Incubation: the intrapreneur would be fully allocated to his project at this time, he would receive resources (part-time CTO, coder, graphical designer, marketing expert), and coaching from the Orange Valley team; he would be hosted in the Innovation Center at Orange Gardens; he would then develop a series of MVPs to test the assumptions of his Business Model, and learn how to improve his Value Proposition, keeping in line with the Business Unit sponsorship; this period could last 6 to 18 months, and the intrapreneur would suggest his own milestones depending on the project specifics.
Testing our MVP
We conducted a series of benchmark meetings with other intrapreneur program managers to test, and enrich our this preliminary agenda. Concurrently, we identified the experts that would help us facilitate the Qualification phase: external experts in Alex Osterwalder, David Ries and Ash Maurya writings, internal practitioners of design thinking and agile, as well as Orange colleagues who had a testimonial about intrapreneurship to share.
But as Ash Maurya claims: entrepreneur should not fall in love with their solution, but with the user’s problem. Consequently we organized in September a barcamp about intrapreneurship to test our MVP, that is to say the principles of our program and draft agenda. The barcamp gathered 100 Orange employees, working in small groups to shape an ideal intrapreneurship program, and summarizing their expectations. These feedbacks were meaningful, and delivered powerful energy for us to continue on our track. Here are some quotes on what was shared:
- Intrapreneurship is the individual right to innovate for any employee;
- Intrapreneurship is an ecosystem that supplies the intrapreneur with energy;
- Intrapreneurs Studio is a tunnel of goodness which protects the intrapreneur.
The high number of participants was a clear validation of employees’ interest for an intrapreneurship program.
Go Live with David Bowie Class
And so we started our first season, the Intrapreneurs Studio pilot, in January, opening the program to all employees working in France: Orange France, Orange Business Serices, Orange Innovation, Orange Headquarters. Applications could be completed online, answering simple questions to describe your innovation, the market targeted, the synergies with Orange, the business unit sponsoring you, why you would be the best candidate to accomplish this mission, and what you were expecting from the program.
We received 50 files, out of which we selected 11 intrapreneurs, who followed the 3 weeks Qualification stage, and end up pitching their project on February 1st. The Jury’s event was amazing:
- The jury was really representative with 11 members, it was sharp and constructive toward the intrapreneurs;
- A large audience of 100 people was supporting warmly the intrapreneurs;
- The intrapreneurs pitchs were dizzying: they looked like Ted speeches, far away from traditional power points presentations.
Every employee could see his colleague on stage, and measure the transformation, and the opportunity: ‘I could also go there if I want to implement my idea’.
Three intrapreneurs were selected to develop their idea in the Incubation phase: a next-gen video communication service, a 4G connected sensor to locate daily objects, and a new distribution channel between Orange salesforce and small-business IT suppliers. Since March, they have started to staff their team, and work on their next MVPs.
A great satisfaction was to have created a team-spirit across this first range of 11 intrapreneurs during the Qualification phase: as we told them, every one who follows the Qualification phase has won. David Bowie is the name of this first class of intrapreneurs. They summarized what is an intraprenur at Orange: an intrapeneur is someone who sometimes hacks the rules, but in the spirit of the rules.
Lessons Learned and Next steps
While the program is still in ongoing deployment, 3 lessons appear clearly already:
- Intrapreneurship is both about innovation techniques, and a human development program: it requires the involvement of human resources to tweak the processes, and a time for the intrapreneurs to consider their commitment, balance the advantages with the risks;
- Intrapreneurship has a very specific transformative impact on employees: it’s not someone from outside who’s pitching his venture on stage, it’s my colleague that I take coffee with everyday; intrapreneurship unfolds opportunities for every employee, that he can realize within his department, or by applying to the Intrapreneurs Studio;
- Hands-on sessions, where intrapreneurs directly apply the concepts of Business Model Canvas and Lean Startup on their projects, had the most profitable impact during the Qualification phase: we will focus on them for the next Qualification season in November; we will also give the intrapreneurs some time to build their MVPs during the 3 weeks timeline (assuming a MVP is not necessarily a prototype, but can be much simpler, i.e a homepage with a call to action).
The next season of the Intrapreneurs Studio in Autum is setting the bar high as the program will go international with 2 pilot countries from Europe and Africa:
- We will welcome intrapreneurs in Paris for the Qualification phase; it will be shortened to 2 weeks to limit the time way from their country;
- For the Incubation phase, the countries will have the choice between sending their intrapreneur to Paris Orange Garden, or coaching their intrapreneur locally, with a dedicated structure (intrapreneur coach + innovation space), that will be set-up with the help of Orange Vallée.
No doubt that these next steps will bring additional fruitful and surprising learnings!
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Nicolas Bry is a senior VP at Orange Innovation Group and Chief Innovation Officer for Orange Valley. Serial innovator, he set-up creative BU with an international challenge, and a focus on new TV experiences. Forward thinker, he completed a thesis on “Rapid Innovation”, implemented successfully at Orange, further developed in his writings. He tweets @nicobry