Intrapreneurship in Action

I’m a big fan of promoting an intrapreneurial culture in the public service as a means to redefine the role of the 21st century public servant, so I have decided to use my blog as an opportunity to interview leading thinkers in government who demonstrate intrapreneurship in action. This month’s blog will feature an interview with Peter Walters, ADM of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, who shares his thoughts on how to move ideas through government.

Could you share a little about your experiences in government?

I’ve been an Assistant Deputy Minister in a few ministries now, responsible for a pretty wide range of topics, including tourism, arts, resort development, heritage protection, Crown land development, and, now, aboriginal relations. To me, being an assistant deputy minister isn’t about being a subject matter expert. It’s about leadership, innovation, and helping build that in others.

What does “thinking like an intrapreneur” in government mean to you?

Well, it’s relatively easy to think like an intrapreneur. It’s far harder to act as an intrapreneur in government. Far harder to find people who will listen to you, and collaborate, and take the risks necessary to change the way that government works.

There are some things in government that would, no question, be difficult to change.  How the legislature functions, for example.  How budgets are approved, and legislation is passed.

But there’s a world of processes and programs that, with good will and a great business plan, can be improved. The trouble is, there’s an apparent assumption in the bureaucracy that there’s very little that can be changed without great risk.

Things can be changed. Big things. But there has to be a safe space for creative thinking, and the means for the results of that thinking to be brought forward, tested, and implemented.

Key to that is having a culture of leadership that embraces change.

What advice would you give to people interested in changing government for the better with their bold ideas?

Definitely, be clear in identifying the problem to be solved, or the opportunity to be capitalized upon. Do your homework; even brilliant ideas need to be presented as a business plan. Budgets are going to continue to shrink, as intrapreneurs know all so well, and that’s got to be acknowledged and addressed. But don’t be afraid to identify scenarios that don’t show profits or savings in the short term.

Recognize that great ideas may still need to be presented in traditional ways. That means know your audience. Know how they prefer to receive information.

Do the groundwork to build support for your ideas. Find the people who will be the champions. Those champions should be across ministries, and include stakeholders.

Support initiatives that feed into existing decision-making machinery. If you have employee advisory forums, join them. If there are policy committees, join them. Find ways to have your voice heard, and establish your credibility.

Take some cues from other jurisdictions. There are great, simple examples of intrapreneurship that have gained important credibility around the world. Lewis Shepherd, former chief of Requirements and Research at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), spurred intelligence innovation and reform with a strategy called “Management by Walking Around” – a simple approach that encourages leaders to meet and talk with line employees frequently to get to know them and tap their ideas.

Above all, don’t give up if your first ideas aren’t accepted.


Colleen McCormickColleen McCormick is Director of Strategic Issues with the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training and former Director, Innovative Partnerships where she managed the social innovation file in the Ministry of Social Development. Colleen is also the founder of Social Innovators Network Foundation. Previously, she was a TEDxMileZero organizer and National Chair of the New Professionals for the Institute of Public Administration of Canada. She has an MBA from RRU and a Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation from the University of Waterloo. You can contact her on Twitter @SInnovatorsNet.

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