The rise of the MWL Intrapreneur

idea-1019906_640I recently read a powerful blog post by Helen Blunden called Learning & Development need to get their groove back. Helen is the recipient of the inaugural Jay Cross Memorial Award, and has wide experience both of working within L&D and more recently as a external consultant. All of which has led her to the conclusion ..

“the more I’m working and talking with other businesses, professions, and industries outside L&D, it’s becoming painfully obvious that we are falling behind”

She writes too about how she is increasingly going to conferences and events outside L&D, because she is not learning anything new in L&D anymore …

“I’m still seeing and hearing .. the same old and tired discussion on courseware development and design; circular arguments around the validity of the 70-20-10 numbers (frankly, who really cares?!); general fear of the use of social media; a disdain for Enterprise Social Networks such as Yammer (even though they have never used it themselves) and this mistaken belief that the LMS implementation will solve the organisation’s woes as to why their people aren’t collaborating with each other.  (I hate to break it to you but just because your LMS has a discussion forum, it doesn’t necessarily mean your people will use it). 

Helen does, of course, rightly, recognize that there are some out there who are inspiring and leading new workplace learning skills and who are role models, influencers, connectors and who network extensively themselves. She refers to these people as L&D intrapreneurs.

This concept of an intrapreneur is interesting. Claudia Chan explains it, in The Rise of the Intraprenuer  ..

“This isn’t employees trying to do better at their existing jobs or move up the ladder; this is them wanting to create something new that doesn’t currently exist.”

Alexa Clay, a spokesperson for the League of Intrapreneurs, explains how the movement of intraprenuership has come a long way (my emboldening) …

“It started (seven years ago) almost as Alcoholics Anonymous,” she said. “We would create these safe spaces for intrapreneurs to come together and share their stories about working in the corporate world because they are going against the grain so often.

The article also makes the valid point (again my emboldening) …

“Obviously there have always been go-getters in companies who try to move the needle forward and push the status quo. But never before has there been such a push for employees to take ownership of their own corner of a company. This can mean creating a new division or launching a new initiative like an environmental or women’s leadership campaign.

So what does it mean to be a MWL (Modern Workplace Learning) intrapreneur?

It means breaking out of the box of doing things the way they have always been done where the only valid learning is considered to happen when L&D organise it – notably through some form of (e-)training initiative.

So it doesn’t mean building a little empire in a corporate academy or corporate university – since that simply perpetuates the approach that L&D organised (and managed) learning activities are the only things that are important. It also doesn’t mean tinkering with training – i.e. tarting it up with social media, gamification, or the latest buzzword – and thinking that this is innovative or transformative! And it certainly doesn’t mean acquiring yet another learning platform – in an attempt to capture, track and measure everything everyone learns!

Of course, there is a need to modernize (e-)training, but there is a much, much bigger picture to consider. For instance, how to help individuals get the most out of what they do (and learn) in their everyday working lives, and how to help them work (and learn) effectively alongside one another. And indeed how to empower individuals to take ownership of their professional self-learning –  so that both they and the company benefit from it.

In other words, being a MWL Intrapreneur means building a completely new vision and approach for workplace learning in the organisation and L&D’s role within it. One where the emphasis moves from DOING things to people (and making sure they do it) to SUPPORTING them as they do things for and by themselves.

Breaking out of the old L&D box is hard –  as it is all too easy to fall back into old ways. And there is also a lot of vested interest in maintaining the status quo! For this reason, the most successful MWL intrapreneurs often come from other areas of the business, as they are not hamstrung by traditional L&D notions about where and how learning happens, and the traditional learning technologies they have been told they need to have in place. But anyone with a broad and open mind – who believes there is a fundamental need to support learning and performance in more relevant ways in the modern workplace – can (and is doing) it.

Going against the grain takes strong will and determination to turn around old organisational ideas and thinking –  and there will of course be many companies who want to stay stuck in their comfortable old ways. But MWL intrapreneurs are able to articulate their ideas, and influence a change in attitudes and behaviour.

Being a MWL intrapreneur is therefore not for the faint-hearted. But anyone can take on the role – young or old – as the article (cited above) explains …

“The rise of the intrapreneur is driven in part by a restless, younger workforce eager to make a real impact with their careers … Older generations, perhaps inspired by their younger colleagues, are thinking more about their legacy and launching new projects in the companies they’ve worked for.”

Just like the League of Intrapreneurship, I create “safe spaces” to discuss MWL intrapreneurship, so if you want some help to become an MWL intrapreneur, if you want to consider new possibilities, and/or if you want to hear what others are doing or want to do, then join my MWL Challenge where I will also share my own experience of working with MWL intrapreneurs from around the world. If, however, you prefer some bespoke advice, then please do feel free to contact me personally.

10 Comments

  1. Miriam Speidel

    This is a great article, Jane. It does take perseverance, determination and curiosity to break out of the traditional L&D mold and start to enable and inspire rather than control and spoon-feed. I must say your MWL Challenge has given me a push in the right direction and every time I experience a confidence wobble whether or not I’m on the right track, I refer to what I’ve learnt through it.

    1. Shona

      Great article – and really interested to read your comment Miriam. About to embark on a MWL Challenge myself and really looking forward to challenging my thinking and broadening my understanding of the possible!

  2. Stephen Roberts

    Awesome – just be prepared to be upended again and again – especially with new but traditional managers and co-workers who want to make a mark. Let the inefficiencies of the old approaches eat them up, and aggressively market the new approaches and the value thereof. Keep the strategy front of mind and don’t get discouraged by being upended. There are lots of forward-thinking managers and leaders who agree – partner with them and it’ll happen.

  3. Frances Lawrence

    I’ve been reflecting on this insightful blog today, after having just done “screen-sharing & working out loud” to support a colleague with a bit of PD that solved the issue at hand. It turns out that the ‘screen-sharing & working out loud’ was the key to success. Only sorry I didn’t record the virtual meeting (Mental note to do that next time!) Before our meeting I had thought that my helpful cheat-sheet was more than enough to support anyone at their point of need. But no, I was favouring my own learning style preference – the written word! My colleagues a audio-social learner! Will now be adding a new ice-breaker for our team so we each know the learning preferences of our colleagues and can give help in the way it’s preferable to the receiver of that help, not in the way that’s favourable to me. Mauriora!

  4. Karen Ver

    Thanks for this article Jane. I do look forward to reading them.. The only thing I would say is that it dwouldn’t always have to be new technology but to make effective use of any existing technology too. Help people get curious without terrifying them..

  5. Lindy

    Thank you for your interesting blog. Reading your blog, as well as the 2 articles mentioned, has already got my mind ticking! I am looking forward to the MWL Challenge starting on Monday and what other interesting things this will expose and introduce me too!

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