The 4 things I learned setting up the intrapreneur program

The past 1,5 years I have set up the ‘Intrapreneur Program’ for ABN AMRO. This program allows entrepreneurial colleagues to build a venture for the bank. During this time they work at Group Innovation, the department where key capabilities are centralised to create ventures that offer new propositions to the market. These entrepreneurial colleagues are therefore called Intrapreneurs. Intra stands for ‘inside of the organisation. As program manager I deliver on our innovation ambition by attracting and developing intrapreneurs that create new propositions to benefit future generations.

Recruitment session for intrapreneurs

Looking back I realised that I have learned so much on the topic of Intrapreneurship and Learning and Development in Corporate Innovation. This could be interesting for you as well. Or if you’re just interested in what I am doing on a daily basis 😉. I have wrapped them into 4 topics.

1. Mandate from management makes it possible

Without the support of management, we could not have achieved these successes. The choice for this Intrapreneur Program was made by our Executive Committee as part of the design of our centralised innovation department Group Innovation.

With the hiring managers and HR, we made a recruitment process and started a roadshow to involve management and attract our first intrapreneurs. From the start this has been great fun to me. I am completely convinced that this program is a great opportunity for colleagues to further develop their skills and knowledge. Knowledge that is relevant now and also for the future. It was easy to talk to the more than 300 interested candidates.

2. Non-committal introduction talk part of the application process

Every internal colleague can apply for the program. From the start we noticed that these colleagues have a need for an ‘informal, non-committal talk’ about the program before they apply. We used this insight to iterate the recruitment process, and embedded the non-committal talk with colleagues at Group Innovation in our standard process.

3. Guiding principles are very powerful when developing the program

When intrapreneurs join our program, their main job is to fully focus on their venture. 100% of their time goes into discovering opportunities for innovative propositions, and build their venture into the most promising one. Our training program prepares them for this job, so they can work customer centric, make data-driven decisions, apply new technologies and work Agile. These are all skills relevant for now and the future. That is one of the things I love about this program, we invest in our people.

To create the training program, we first established guiding principles for learning. During the year I noticed that having these principles are very powerful. They give focus to all stakeholders involved, and they helped to further improve the program.

1. The 70–20–10 rule combines ‘learning-on-the-job’ (70% of your time) with ‘personal development’ (20%) and ‘training’ (10%). It felt like a really simple principle, but we really noticed its effect. One intrapreneur told me; “I am applying Artificial Intelligence in my venture, so the training on this came right in time. But I am also planning some one-on-ones with my developers to get a better understanding of how this works”. An iteration we made after better understanding this is having them trained in topics they are working on. We customized the program for the needs of the intrapreneur and ventures to set them up for success.

2. With the hiring managers and innovation coaches, we’ve designed a list of skills that an intrapreneur should be able to know and do during and at the end of this program, e.g. customer research, applying technology and soft skills such as analytical thinking, flexibility, risk management. From this we derived a ‘learning path’ to develop intrapreneurs in these skills. This list was created based on our experience and vision on the innovation portfolio. These skills are connected to two principles:

a. T-shape model; Every colleague has their main expertise skills (the bottom of the T). The power lies into knowing enough of other domains to easily and effectively collaborate with people with different expertise. All these innovation domains combined make the top of the T. This is an often used principle with multidisciplinary teams. This principle has helped us to further improve our one week onboarding training. Feedback after the training made us understand that the power lies in onboarding all parties of the innovation team. So, we tailored the program to also more accommodate for the technical developers. A response from one of them about the onboarding was; “I really like it that I already got to know so many people, and it was educational to understand how the business side of innovation works”.

T-shape to support multidisciplinary teams. *DARE is our innovation approach

b. Innovation stages; The ventures follow the DARE methodology. This is an innovation method based on Lean Startup, Design Thinking and Agile. To minimize risks, the DARE method contains four stages, each stages ending with an ‘stage gate’; an assessment to see whether the innovation initiative is mature enough and if the investment board decides to invest the next phase. Ventures go through different stages from idea towards becoming full grown scale-up. Every stage requires different skills, I will not go into detail here.

4. Feedback loops constantly improve the program to the users’ needs

We do not only want customer centric ventures, we also develop the Intrapreneur Program customer centric! That’s why I’ve created 3 feedback loops to understand users’ needs:

1. Survey; We collect feedback after every training from the trainers and participants. We measure happiness and learning effect by matching the participants main learnings to the training goals.

2. Interview; Every quarter I interview the intrapreneurs and their stakeholders together with an external party. He is doing his PhD research on intrapreneurships. This helped in constantly understanding the needs of the intrapreneur and tweaking the program. Some of the main insights where: the different motivations and types of intrapreneurs, that gave input to recruiting profiles; their experience of the application and onboarding time, that led to more updating and involving the business line managers of the intrapreneurs; and experiences fastening their learning curve, e.g. giving the right training at the right time.

3. Assessments; During one of those interviews an intrapreneur said: “For me it is very important to get my idea onto the market during the time that I am in this program. I come from sales and that’s the way to show that I am successful”. This shows great entrepreneurial spirit. At the same time we know that this might not happen for all intrapreneurs, due to various reasons. So it was important to make tangible that intrapreneurs learn many new skills, relevant for themselves and our organization. We made this learning effect tangible by measuring it regularly. So I developed a ‘skill tracking tool’. After doing research and lots of user testing, we have now implemented this. It is an assessment filled out by three colleagues several times during the program. Intrapreneurs responded very positive on this. It gave them clear expectations and one even said “the feedback felt like a present”.

Intrapreneurs and colleagues working together

And this way we created a feedback loop for program and management level to improve recruitment and training. For example, we noticed that we had not yet integrated a training on teamplay in the program, but we know it was a very important skill. After that we started organising team kick-offs to discuss the teams personality profiles and collaboration style.

There is also much to tell on how we are turning our training program into an online blended learning approach and our experiences with re-skilling and up-skilling. But I will leave that for next time!

I am very much looking forward to creating and learning more in 2021! Happy to connect to you and share insights on the topics of Learning and Development or Intrapreneurships.