The importance of coaching intrapreneurs

Evan Burton is a UX Designer, Usability Engineer, Data Science Enthusiast, finishing a master’s degree in Usability Engineering.

He’s currently writing his masters thesis on corporate intrapreneurship and innovation, with a focus on corporate acceleration and incubation, and how to best support intrapreneurs in the process of defining and developing their ideas into products or services for their company.

Evan

Evan claims that ‘one of his core research findings was that the role of coaching in these programs is very impactful. Research shows that coaches serve not only as an experienced guide, helping intrapreneurs to embrace a new way of working, but also as a crucial link to a network of experienced professionals both inside and outside the corporation. ‘

Evan will be publishing his thesis as an advanced journal paper in Creativity and Innovation Management within the next few months. In the mean time, I share here the conversation we had about the importance of coaching along the Orange Intrapreneurs Studio program.

Evan: How does the Intrapreneurs Studio work?

Nicolas: The Intrapreneurs Studio is an incubation entity for Orange intrapreneurs, where we handle basically a three-stage process:

  1. First is the Online Application: Orange employees (all 150,000 employees are welcomed) apply with their innovative ideas for Orange business. We receive around 100-150 applications online, and we pre-coach during the application process around 30 projects.
  2. With the second stage called Qualification,  we select 10 to 15 projects and we accelerate them for ten days:  immerging them in innovation methodology directly applied to the project so that it enrich tremensdously their project; there is a leadership part as well to make them think of what is the involvement required by intrapreneurship specifically at Orange, and there is a pitch part: at the end of the ten days, they pitch in front of a jury and a 250 people audience; the jury , among the 10 or 15 projects, selects 3 to 4 projects, and those go to the third stage;
  3. The third stage Incubation, which can last from 12 to 24 months, and whose focus is to bring the idea to the market.

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Evan: What are your coaching responsibilities?

Nicolas: My responsibilities are split between incubation coaching, supporting the one who are selected for incubation, and application coaching, the ones applying for the next season. We pre-coach them to be qualified for the the second stage, the ten days qualification stage.

During the application stage, the intrapreneur fulfills 10 questions from an online file, and based on this file, we select some of them for what we call pre-coaching, where we help them to enrich their application. Basically we work with them on two aspects:

  • One is to help them to move from the solution to the user problem: identify who is their target, and how painful is the problem for the target;
  • And second element, we connect them with other entities within Orange. Orange is a huge company (150,000 employees over 30 countries), and very often there are people working on a similar aspect of the intrapreneur project or people who could be interested in commercializing, distributing the intrapreneurs idea. So we connect people and sometimes it’s a match, sometimes it doesn’t match, but it’s another way to make the application progress;

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  • We start very often with online coaching where we connect by phone, and we exchange on the project: we share with them some contacts, and they make the appointments, meet the people, and enrich the project. For us it’s a very important way to test if the intrapreneur is able to be self-starter, to take initiative, and to iterate on his project . Iteration is really a key skill for the intrapreneur;
  • Besides, each intrapreneur has to find out a business unit sponsor for his project: this networking is a fine way to meet this sponsoring demand;
  • When the project goes to Qualification, and then to Incubation, he usually keeps the same coach.

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Then there is a ten days qualification stage where we provide face to face coaching to 10 to 15 projects, it’s quite a preview of what will be the incubation coaching.

  • For these projects, we present them some innovation tools like the value proposition canvas, the business model canvas, and the minimum viable product concept, and during this 10 days we apply these concepts to the project;

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  • It’s very much concrete training: we explain them in one hour the new concept, for example the BMC, and during the rest of the day, they go on, and they fulfill their business model canvas. Or they write down what kind of MVP they want to do, and they do that with the help of coach who challenge their ideas;
  • There are about 4 to 5 coachs for the 15 projects, but the intrapreneurs progress also with the help of their colleagues. It’s very much teamwork. So one intrapreneur is helping another intrapreneur and create this way a kind of classmate and graduating class, which they give a name to. The first intake was named David Bowie, the second one Gabrielle Chanel!

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Evan: Can I ask you how involved the coaches are in this phase? Are they actually working directly on the products or are they just kind of overseeing what kind of role?

  • Nicolas: They do both, they facilitate efficient workshop, keeping explaining the innovation methodology, explaining the theory. But once the intrapreneur starts fulfilling, they go from one group to another, and they challenge the in-depth, the value proposition, the customer target, the synergies with Orange, the resources required, or the appropriateness of the MVP that the intrapreneur has in mind.

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  • And we have also a good exchange during one day among these 10 days on leadership. We take the intrapreneur and let them think over what it is to be an intrapreneur at Orange? What responsibility does it involve to conduct an internal startup, a small innovation team, budget monitoring, team spirit development, building a common vision. What are the rules that can be hacked at Orange, and what are the rules that you should not: because most of the intrapreneur candidates have no experience in managing an annovation project, this is very important;

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  • And last, we coach them on the pitch that they will deliver at the end.

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Then we have the coaching for the those who are selected for incubation:

  • So it’s only 3 or 4 projects, the intrapreneur is fully allocated to his project, and each project has a dedicated coach: so you can go for more in depth coaching, and for a longer period of time (12 to 18 months);

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  • Compared to the first stage coaching, while it’s online interaction during application stage, it changes during the incubation: the selected people come to our premises at Orange Gardens or are based in premises dedicated to innovation. And so we can work with them in real life, and we can work on personalized coaching on innovation methodologies that go from customer insights, product development, to team construction, and business development within Orange;

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  • Thus, a second aspect is the networking again. We help them to connect with other Orange people to develop their network to attract external sources to the project, and especially in this stage we help them to staff project;
  • Third element, we help them to keep a good dynamic. So we listen to their problem, we try to suggest solution, to put things in perspective, to inspire them: the objective is to let them develop their project in an environment of trust. This is the human relationship part and last element;
  • Finally, we really try also to coach on test and learn approach, very much about the iteration of their concept, and getting things done, and being rather a doer and not only a thinker.

Evan: Okay great. Can you tell me a little bit about the qualities that you look for in coaches, what you think makes a good coach and what, their qualities are well?

Nicolas: The 4 dimensions that we have in mind for an intrapreneurs’ coach profile correspond to the 4 activities previsously descrive: innovation skills, networking within Orange, human relationship abilities, and the being ready to work.

Intrapreneurs’ coachs have to leverage innovation skills: background in the innovation division can be appropriate. They have to develop the network of the intrapreneur: a good knowledge of Orange local entity or miscellenous entities is something that is valuable, so we look for some people who have experience in the company. Visibility within the company, and also some experience in leading an innovation project, is a nice match.

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Evan: how important do you think the coachs are for the intrapreneurs?

We had a first experience for the incubation during season 1. We had some kind of light coaching, and after six months, we realized that intrapreneurs were really lacking coaching. Insufficient coaching leads to fuzzy result.

They were lacking the coaching in terms of methodology, they had some trouble identifying what was the MVP, and how to have user testing MVP. You know, it’s not enough to build the minimum viable product, you have to get the users to validate it! It’s more a marketing approach to on-board people on your MVP: targeting the user and recruiting, onboarding the users to interact with the MVP turn to be tricky. Another difficulty  was to really sort out a minimum product, as intrapreneurs have a tendency to add always more features. It’s a kind of reinssurance.

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So for season 2, we have decided to implement more tight, and intense coaching. We see the intrapreneur face to face much more often on their project, on a weekly basis.

We also have once a month an kind of replication of the work that we do during the qualification stage. I mentioned that we work in groups, in teams, intrapreneurs working on their project and also on the project of all the other intrapreneurs, was a very fruitful configuration. We extended this with cross-projects meeting: in incubation for season 2, we have set up this kind of meeting to prolongate the spirit of the qualification, and to let intrapreneurs enrich the work of one another. We have regular cross project meeting on a monthly basis. It’s a one-day or half-day meeting on the canvas, on how to onboard on the MVP, and the how to structure a business plan, that kind of things, and we call to this meeting all the older projects that are being currently incubated, to share experience.  It’s been key for us to maintain the spirit of the graduating class.

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Innovation is a disciplineand it requires the help of coach for intrapreneur to become innovators.

Evan: Maybe just a few more words about linking to the company. Could you dig into that a little deeper like how you actually connect people to the to the company to other employees.

Nicolas: It’s connecting the project to Orange business entities, and investigate synergies: what kind of opportunities is creating the intrapreneur’s project for his business partner?

Basically the intrapreneur comes up with an idea and you will have to work on 2 main aspects:

  • One aspect is turning the idea into a product service (and an elegant user experience) and for this they will require resources from mainly Orange Innovation division (a large entity of about 3,500 people), and guiding principles from their coach. We help the intrapreneur staff project with Ux designer, CTO, developer, product marketing, business developer, that’s one kind of connection about staffing or getting full-time associates and part-time contributors on your project; the role of the intrapreneur (with the help of his staffing coach) is to go to  those resources, and attract some of them to work on a slightly different innovation project, which is his intrapreneur project;

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  • The other aspect is helping the intrapreneur to get support to commercialize his project to the end users or  B2B market. From the beginning the intrapreneur has to have a business unit to sponsor his project. Often the business unit entity involve several people several people to meet, and build a collaborative relationship with them. Various entities can help in the commercialization of the project so you have to explore;
  • That is the networking part, on one side aggregating associates, on the other side identifying channel of commercialization, dedicated salesforce, point of sales, marketing support, and so on.

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