Lessons From the Field: How Changemakers Get Things Done

Maria David-Evans: Part II

This is a continuation of yesterday’s post, in which Maria David-Evans laid out her five operating principles for intrapreneurship.

Prerequisites for Intrapreneuship to Thrive
According to Maria, it is very difficult for intrapreneurial activities to survive, let alone thrive, without three key prerequisites. If these factors are not present, it will be extra challenging to garner the support necessary to trigger and sustain any big change.

1.    The organization has to be open to innovation and calculated risk-taking.

2.    Political leaders must have a trust-based relationship with the public service – they have to believe in a partnership with the public service and in the talents of public servants.

3.     The public sector must have the political support and endorsement for the big outcomes – i.e. reducing poverty, reducing family violence, building safer communities, etc.

Critical Success Factors for Intrapreneurs
According to Maria, the part of the process that is essential for success is to speak truth to power. She shared that she has always taken this approach and 95 percent of the time, this has served her well. The one time it didn’t, she accepted it and moved on with integrity.

This has to be right through from the front line, to the Deputy Minister, to the Minister – it must be embraced throughout the organization to get the information you need to make an informed decision. It always serves you well.

You can’t just say you think something is a good thing and we should do it, you need evidence-based influence. You need to back up your idea with research and if it is reasonable, and makes sense, then ask to move it forward.

Maria then shared one of the most interesting insights I have heard in my five years of studying government intrapreneurs:

I always put my job on the line when trying to bring about breakthrough thinking. I would say to my minister (or whoever was my boss): “I am fully committed and accountable for this initiative and if this doesn’t work, or doesn’t produce the results I expect, you will have my resignation.” This offer always engendered support and trust from my bosses and my team.

I always believed that by putting my reputation on the line, people would see my passionate commitment and stand by me. If we’re going to move the dial and bring about necessary change, we need to demonstrate our commitment. And we absolutely have to take full accountability for the outcomes.

Now, remember, the prerequisites had to be there for me to earn such trust from my bosses, but by putting everything on the line to back up my commitment, it often led to me getting the latitude I needed to work my way through the calculated risks and the ups and downs of the change effort.

Lessons from the Field
Maria shared some of her creative strategies and tactics when working through the challenges of collaborative engagement – some of which are legendary in the Alberta government.

In the Partners for Youth initiative, the team couldn’t come to a resolution on how and where they were going to address everyone’s need. We were going in circles and I knew I had to do something different to shift us forward. So I asked each of the partners to come to the next meeting with the five communities they were most concerned about. At the next meeting I gave everyone a crayon and asked them to colour on a big map their top five communities.

Two areas were pretty much blacked out, which gave us a starting point to resolve individual needs. Their common interest was colourfully illustrated, which meant that they didn’t need to debate the issues as to whose goal should be addressed first, because they all wanted to work within the same communities. Together, the synergy of their common effort would bring huge improvements to the children and families of these two communities.

When it comes to sustainability, Maria shared these key thoughts on how to get there:

1.    You need a mutually defined and well-articulated vision and goals, and these need to be continually reinforced. They can’t be said once or twice; they need to be articulated all the time.

2.    Everyone MUST see the benefits or they are not going to stand behind the change. You must be able to demonstrate the real benefits for the people they care about. And if the benefits are not mutually realized, all they will see is potential harm, paperwork and little value.

3.    Common information and data gathering must be quickly shared among partners to tell the story of success. Partners need to know that they are making a big difference by working together, and they have to see that the success would not be possible if they were working alone.

4.    You need to be on top of analyzing data, measuring outcomes and holding people accountable both as a group and as individuals.

5.    Celebrate and share the success because people take great pride in reaching their targets.

6.    You need to have backbone support, an ongoing coordinating body that continues to support the collaborative efforts of a multi-sector table. If this element is missing, the collective impact wavers over time and things fall apart. The legacy of benefits is important to circulate among partners on an ongoing basis in order to keep collective accomplishments top of mind, share data and continue to hold the different partners accountable for their commitments.

7.    Continuous improvement and adjustment is critical – you need to continue to listen to the frontline rather than only rely on what is being fed through the system. Both sources of information are important, but the frontline is where core knowledge lies. I have always gone directly to the source to hear their thoughts, ideas and challenges before moving ahead with my thinking of what the problem or solutions might be. Firsthand information is key. You can’t get the emotion and feeling of the problem any other way – you need to go right into the problem.


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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