The Software 2014 conference took place in Oslo last month, and together with my brilliant colleague Ismar Slomic (@islomic) I held a talk on the ‘Intrapreneurship’ track. We talked about some things we have done internally at Accenture Norway over the past year to try to create something new and exciting. Let me try to explain what ‘Intrapreneurship in practice’ means to us, and how it has helped us as a large organization to create new momentum for innovation and learning.
What we’ve done
- Organized Hackfests - company sponsored internal hackathons ran over weekends where the goal is to learn and play with new technology. Full freedom for attendees to choose approach (i.e. technology stack) and only partly predefined deliverables, often none at all
- Held internal workshops to help bring colleagues up to speed on new tech and “spread the word”
- Arranged open meetups where we share project experiences with both internal and industry colleagues (see ACN Fagkveld)
- Held presentations at conferences, for example JavaZone
- Ran workshops and presentations at schools across the country on new & cool tech that we know the students want to learn more about
- Shared everything we’ve done of this sort on social media under the hashtag #acntech, for our colleagues and friends to stay up to date on what’s going on in the company’s tech scene
The “we” in this context represents any employee(s) who has been eager to learn, try, or collaborate on something technology-related, and wanted to share their passion.
Accenture is a large organization. The world’s largest consulting firm, in fact. We offer a wide spectrum of services to an even wider range of industries, but in my department, Architecture, Delivery & Integration, we care most about technology. We care about delivering solid technical solutions to our customers. To do that, we need inspired, motivated colleagues who have a passion for the technologies that drive our products, and who engage to improve on earlier experiences. This engagement requires more than what you get out of the hours helping the client between 9 and 5.
So how do we do that? Many factors affect employee satisfaction, but disregarding the given ones (like market competitive compensation and benefits, for instance), something we’ve been really focusing on lately is motivation through arenas for innovation and creativity. And we’ve done so by facilitating intrapreneurship. That is what this article is about; why seek intrapreneurship and how we’ve created these arenas.
Our challenge as a large corporation
Our customers are typically large organizations in the public and private sectors and industries like health, banking, insurance, telecom, and oil. The engagements we have with these clients are time- and cost-critical, and often longer running. These project settings do not allow for risk taking, for trial and error, for experimenting and testing. They are not, in other words, ideal arenas for innovation. Innovation requires risk.
But we have to stay relevant. We have to be on point, stay ahead of the curve, adapt to and foresee the trends in the technological landscape. We have to deliver modern solutions, and we have to stay competitive to remain in business. We have to find great ways to let all the talent and passion we have in-house flow freely, and be able to leverage it outside of the standard workday.
We need to create arenas. Arenas for development, innovation and creativity. That way we help our colleagues stay up to date in their fields, outside of the 9 to 5. How you ask? It is all about facilitation - facilitating intrapreneurship - the arenas take care of the rest. The only requirement is a little passion, which we’ve got plenty of.
Passion & Context
Passion is the primary driver here - it’s essential to do work-like stuff after a full day at work. The great news is that this passion is there - our brilliant colleagues spent years studying to become technologists, and decided on this career before they came to us. They want to learn, they want to try & fail, to create, innovate, and succeed. All we need is to provide a context - an arena for expression.
Mastery is an incredibly powerful human motivator. Just check out this excellent video by RSA Animate (if you can spare 10 minutes):
Knowledge sharing & Skill building
Getting a bunch of engineers, colleagues, and/or friends together who share a passion for technology immediately creates a great platform for knowledge sharing and skill building. With an informal atmosphere, where the purpose is TBD and the goals aren’t pre-defined (or at least highly moldable) motivation rises. The participants want to GSD. Add some further incentives like for instance pay, pizza & beer, gadgets or whatever is feasible, and some very powerful synergies come into play.
I call this an arena for innovation and creativity. It is a context that facilitates intrapreneurship. We create arenas like these to build skill and share knowledge. This is extremely valuable to us when trying to stay up to date in an increasingly competitive business.
In this arena, creativity and innovation can flow freely without the burden of deadlines, the hindrances of project specifications, or the pressure that comes with customer engagements. This stimulates talent. It makes our colleagues happy.
This helps us keep our talented colleagues, who at any time are the target of hungry recruiters for our many competitors.
Branding & networking
We open up our collaborative sessions. We put stuff on GitHub, we share our project experiences, hold guest lectures about cool tech at schools, and we arrange open meetups. People see us. This way we attract new talent, so it’s a great recruiting tool.
Moreover, this lays the groundwork for easy networking with like-minded individuals. There are a lot of tech-heads here in Oslo (not to mention on the ol' Internet) that share our passion for the possibilities offered by cutting-edge technology. We learn a lot from them, and now they learn a bit from us. We make friends in the process, and the synergies are awesome. It is the open-source mentality that we’ve seen so much great come out of.
Innovation involves risk, but when doing innovative stuff in controlled environments backed by your employer, the risk is mitigated. Here we can try out whatever we want in the software paradigm, if the application doesn’t ship no-one gets angry. The goal is to create something we can show off of course, but if the new framework we chose simply wasn’t mature enough (or too hard to understand), so what? We still learned a ton.
This gives us confidence when talking to clients. It lets us claim experience with solutions that we haven’t sold before. It makes it more feasible for us to leverage the latest of todays and tomorrows technology, and enables our clients to stay technologically aggressive and provide their customers modern products - which they always want. Lastly, our colleagues get to work with cutting-edge technology. Its a triple win.
The slides we created for the talk are hosted on GitHub. They are meant to raise curiosity and generate questions, not answers directly, so I warn you that looking at them won’t make much sense without this article (or the talk).