building a culture of intrapreneurship

The echoes of this great marble hall always bring me back to college. I’m sitting in the Philadelphia 30th Street Station, awaiting my Amtrak train to take me home, circled by ornate pillars and homeward-bound revelries on a Friday afternoon.

I was here to speak to a room full of “customer experience officers” from places like Comcast/NBC and GE. But it is this morning’s breakfast with Campbell Soup’s head of talent & learning that was most compelling.

What she laid out for me was a multi-dimensional formula for unlocking intrapreneurship in your organization.

Iris Nafshi left Microsoft (where she headed up leadership development for a114,000-person company) to lead Campbell Soup’s talent & learning, in part because the company is at a promising point of inflection. Like many forward-thinking organizations, Campbell Soup is opening up, shifting from a hierarchy of operators toward a community of innovators.

Iris saw that their approach to leadership development focused on teaching general leadership topics like building trust that, while important, were not aligned to the company’s future. They were asking for intrapreneurial behavior but were offering general management skills that did not explicitly reinforce the values and behaviors that would enable intrapreneurship.

She helped the company think through their core values. Like so many organizations, Campbell Soup had admirable but undifferentiated values. You know the ones: character, competence, courage & teamwork. Such values are important but are not much different from those your competition aspires to. They are like building a car with four wheels and a windshield. Yes, we want those things, but they are just table stakes.

So Campbell Soup rethought their core values and settled on four, which illustrate brilliantly what I think core values should be:

  • Do right and be real
  • Seek the power of different
  • Dare to disrupt
  • Own it like a founder

The first value speaks to a growing awareness of companies, which I pointed out in my last book, that there is strategic power in pursuing an approach that benefits society. As Campbell Soup starts living this value we will see more and more fresh, sustainable ingredients in their products and practices. The second speaks to being strategic (think “different is better than better”). The third reinforces the challenge to come up with disruptive – “4th Option” – ideas. And the fourth value directly addresses the mindset of successful intrapreneurs, that they feel and act like owners of the company. This mindset helps them spot opportunities to improve the company and gives them the motivation to push for those opportunities even if the system puts roadblocks in front of them.

These values directly address most of the cultural attributes that research shows correlate with innovative organizations.

But here’s the thing: focusing only on culture rarely changes culture. You need to simultaneously work on two other factors: structures and people. Put the innovative people under organizational structures that encourage innovation and wrap them in a culture that reinforces innovation and guess what you get? Innovation!

But leave out just one of these three ingredients – people, structure, culture – and you risk reverting back to the boring, uninspired behavior you are seeking to leave behind.

So Iris attacked the structure and people dimensions. As for structure, she decided to completely halt their training program. This naturally triggered some discontent, but Iris had a plan.

She started reconstructing the curriculum, with an eye to using the new structure to create the right kinds of behaviors. She made sure that every course that was offered supported one of Campbell Soup’s new core values. “Dare to disrupt” could be reinforced by programs on innovative thinking. “Own it like a founder” might be supported by strategy. If a course didn’t fit a value, it would not be offered.

By implementing a structure that focuses on building people with skills who support the culture, you put the trinity of forces together: structure, people, and culture. THAT is how you achieve lasting change.

  • What do you want your organization to be?
  • Are your people, structure, and culture aligned to that future?
  • If not, what must you change?
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