Through the Business Fights Poverty Challenge on Corporate Social Innovation we are focusing on how companies can develop systems that drive commercial innovation with social impact. That is, how they can help “intrapreneurs” – those pioneering people within companies – survive and thrive, and more broadly how they can embed an intrapreneurial culture. As part of this, Katie Hyson, Director of Thought Leadership at Business Fights Poverty, recently caught up with Gib Bulloch to talk to him about his new book “The Intrapreneur” and his move from Accenture Development Partners founder to intrapreneur at large.
BFP: Why did you choose to write this book?
Gib: Three years ago I had a significant wake up call, health wise. I am a strong believer that you can’t always chose what happens to you, but you can chose how to respond. I’ve never been one to let a good crisis go to waste – this book is part of the outcome of this experience.
I want to stand up and be counted around the taboo subject of mental health in the workplace. Particularly, as leading up to my personal bump I would have always considered myself happy, so it came as a bit of a surprise. Having been through this experience I realise that mental health is where LGBT was 10 years ago: hidden, unspoken and holding people and business back.
But this book is 20% about my personal mental health experience and 80% focused on the mental health of the corporate system.
I want this book to open the conversation around the craziness of today’s de- facto short termism ‘at the expense of everything else’ within business – shareholder demands, quarterly reporting, revenue based performance.
However, I’m an optimist, I believe strongly that there is a real opportunity to re-imagine business. What if business were to focus on creating innovative solutions to social and environmental challenges and became truly purpose and values led?
BFP: Why can intrapreneurism help business?
Gib: Firstly, I think there are three key drivers, which are demanding the shift in today’s business operating models:
- Society’s perception of why business exists and an increasing scepticism as to whether organisations have permission to do business if their sole function is to profit shareholders;
- The huge business opportunities and untapped markets available if businesses refocus their efforts on trying to solve big societal problems;
- The war on talent: no self-respecting business will be able to attract and retain top talent unless it can tell an authentic and integrated story on ‘purpose’.
A solution: unleashing the power of values based people within business. Intrapreneurs.
A term coined in 1970s by Gifford Pinchot III, which has evolved into describing someone who works inside business innovating practical solutions to social or environmental challenges whilst simultaneously delivering value to the business – I am a believer that intrapreneurs can not only be part of the solution to addressing society’s big challenges; they can also help business fully engage with their purpose, their people and consumers.
BFP: Is intrapreneurship at scale yet?
Gib: No, if you asked the average CEO what an intrapreneur was – they wouldn’t be able to give you an answer. At the moment, this is a movement-growing bottom up, which is building momentum, with a growing awareness and excitement around the topic.
BFP: What is holding intrapreneurism back?
Gib: What concerns me is the evidence, and my personal experience of driven, innovative and talented people with intrapreneurial spirit lining up to leave business.
Businesses are haemorrhaging their intrapreneurs because they don’t necessarily know how to spot them and how to then nurture them. It’s the businesses that are missing out, they are loosing not just great talent, but real business opportunities and the diversity in thought needed to stay agile.
Worse, the intrinsic ‘corporate immune systems’: short-term reward systems, annual appraisals, corporate policy implemented by well meaning mid-management following the rules are all perpetuating the norm and group thinking. If an intrapreneur attempts to change the system, a set of anti-bodies are typically unleashed by the parent organisation to try to attack anything that doesn’t look like it’s maximising short term profit in the next quarter.
BFP: How can we encourage business to understand the benefits of their intrapreneurs?
Gib: It’s one of the reasons for writing this book. This book isn’t a business book, with takeaways, pretty charts and graphs; instead it tells a story about opportunities, to inspire action of what could be and the power of purposeful people within business.
And its also the reason why I am supporting the League of Intrapreneurs, DFID and Business Fights Poverty collaborative research: The Intrapreneur Systems Challenge, to help create strong stable systems within business which understand and better support their intrapreneurs.
Not everyone needs to be an intrapreneur – with an idea, but we can all work together, collaborate, to bring our strengths to help make this systemic shift.
BFP: What next for you Gib?
Gib: I know that the rest of my career will be spent challenging the role of business in society.
My next big project involves redeveloping a derelict farm on the Isle of Bute in Scotland where I grew up. I’m trying to create a space for entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs to really connect with social impact and business purpose, in a peaceful and beautiful rural setting. Watch this space to find out more!
If purpose was a drug, then I am an addict-turned-drug-dealer. Yep, I am on a mission to get others hooked too.
|Having spent 25 years in the business world at three of the world’s largest companies – BP, Mars and most recently, Accenture – Gib has a unique perspective on the role of business in society. During his time at Accenture, he set up the award-winning Accenture Development Partnerships, a corporate social enterprise that provided development sector organisations access to Accenture’s top people, knowledge and assets on a not-for-profit basis, and which delivered quarter of a billion dollars worth of services across 70 countries in its first decade.
Gib is a co-founder of The League of Intrapreneurs; Visiting Fellow at the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility at Cranfield University; Business Fights Poverty’s very own Intrapreneur in Residence; Actively supporting The Intrapreneur Systems Challenge.