Secrets of Successful Social Intrapreneurs: Advice From Three Major Brands

Sustainability careers are in high demand, judging from the record-breaking attendance at the 2009 Net Impact Conference this past weekend (2,400 participants, 60% of which were MBA students).  Problem is, there just aren’t that many full-time positions with “sustainability” or “corporate social responsibility” in the title.  But, it is possible to create a full-time sustainability position where none exists, report three successful social intrapraneurs.

logo-accentureDo what you love.   A self-described “soft-techy guy,” Accenture’s Mike Nicholus had a reputation of being able to deliver results in a global setting.  He was also known as a tree-hugging guy who spouted phrases like “peak oil” and kept preying mantises around his home.  After filling a variety of roles at Accenture and working closely with the CEO, Nicholus was tapped when the company decided to implement a work-at-home initiative.

Like most sustainability efforts, it paid off in several ways – substantial cost-savings for the firm, a reduced carbon footprint and workplace flexibility that employees crave.  Now as director, global environment programs, Nicholus promotes programs to measure and manage Accenture’s environmental impact across operations in 49 countries.  His strategy for selling “green” initiatives:  “You need the ability to identify your key ‘buyers’ and make a sound business case for your proposal.”

Nicholus’ advice:  Figure out how to do your day job in four days and spend the fifth day doing what you love. Then flavor the other four days with that.

logo-dellLaunch rogue missions.  Industrial engineer Sara Cooke morphed her position as a facilities manager and space planner for Dell into her current spot as strategist, global workplace, environment & facilities through “rogue missions.”   Through a combination of tenacity and charisma, she kept pushing employee engagement initiatives in new ways.  Today she’s coordinating the engagement component of Dell’s emerging countries initiatives, such as its Brazil-based effort to develop curriculum standards for teachers.

Cooke’s advice:   Become a high performer and then leverage your reputation for quality.  Withhold judgment. Embrace your company where it is and then pull it forward.

logo-bestbuyBuild credibility.  Hamlin Metzger left his “dream job” with Adidas because it wasn’t fulfilling to become a buyer at Best Buy 11 years ago. His first step toward sustainability came when he bid to spend 10% of his time on a CSR project and talked a group of other employees into joining him.  When that went well, he bid to spend 30% of his time on CSR.  With a colleague, Hamlin co-founded the Best Buy Social Responsibility Employee Network, a grassroots group that promotes the adoption of responsible business practices. Within two years, he had worked himself into a full-time CSR role, transforming a volunteer-led activity in an official program with a dedicated staff.  “Working as a buyer first helped me understand the organization inside out,” explains Hamlin, who is now senior manager of corporate responsibility for Best Buy.  “It gave me credibility.  I knew how to approach the organization and which players could move a project forward.  I understood their concerns and could show them how sustainability could add momentum to that.”

Metzger’s advice:  Learn how to navigate the organization.  Create your message.  Find sponsors.  Create a network. Finally, collaborate.

Cindy Mehallow is principal of CRM Communications, a woman-owned sustainability communications consulting practice specializing in corporate social responsibility reporting and stakeholder communications. GRI-Certified in sustainability reporting, Cindy has produced award-winning sustainability reports for Fortune 500 clients in a variety of industries.

3 responses

  1. Pingback: Secrets of Successful Social Intrapreneurs: Advice From Three … | Green Company Report
  2. Cindy,

    What seems critical here is that companies create environment conducive for intrapreneurs to emerge as internal change agents.

    As you know, many retail companies with a presence in communities across the country encourage employees to take time each month “on the clock” to volunteer in their local communities.

    While these programs represent a great starting point, real impact requires scale. Opportunities exist to scale these employee program by creating incentives for “consumers” to team-up with change agents within the ranks of the company to tackle change in their communities.

    By creating values marketing competitions that reward consumers for rallying behind a company’s internal change agents, companies not only achieve scale but generate an evolving pipeline of stories that can be seeded across the Web.

    … just a thought.

    Deron Triff

    1. Devon,

      That’s a great point. Values competitions can be extremely successful. A case in point is the Green Smackdown conducted by Kelly Holmes at National Instruments this past summer. She conceived a one-week competition between two internal change agents who vied to see who could reduce their carbon footprint the most. They each recruited teams to join them, and fanned the flames of competition through Twitter, email, blogs, videos and snacks. A very creative, successful endeavor!

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