340: Intrapreneurship in Large Complex Organizations, with Dr. Chitra Anand

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What if organizations can emulate intrapreneurship within their walls? What would that mean in terms of growth for the employee and the organization itself?

We welcome Dr. Chitra Anand, an advisor to high growth companies, she has recently received her doctorate of business in intrapreneurship. No, that isn’t a typo—What is an intrapreneur? An intrapreneur is an entrepreneur within a large, complex organization: a startup within a company. Dr. Anand explains how organizations need to embrace intrapreneurship in employees to stay agile and to promote drive within. This includes risk-taking, running experiments and micro experiments, looking for constant opportunities, and allowing the ability to have the time to try and fail. Dr. Anand is also an author and published her book in 2019, the Green House Approach, which is now a required read for the Forbes School of Business MBA program.

Chitra Anand is an award-winning communications & marketing executive. With over 20 years in the technology industry, she has spent time as the head of Communications for Microsoft Canada, Director of Marketing at TELUS Corporation, and Director of Operations at Open Text. Projects she guided at Microsoft and TELUS have been awarded IABC Gold Quill Awards, Canadian Public Relations Society Awards of Excellence, the Corporate IT Hero award by the Information Technology Association of Canada, and the Business for the Arts Awards. Anand is at the forefront of an important new movement in the workplace: intrapreneurship. Intrapreneurs are the people within your organization who possess an entrepreneurial spirit, driving innovation, creative thinking, and new ideas. She is a doctoral researcher, innovation & culture change keynote speaker, professor, author, and advisor to high growth companies.

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George: It’s another edition of the Conquer Local Podcast. And we’re excited to bring you one of the speakers that was postponed when we were not able to have Conquer Local in the beautiful city of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Dr. Chitra Anand is our guest today on the podcast. Recently defended her thesis and officially has her doctorate. She has over 20 years of experience in the technology industry. Her discipline, sales and marketing. We’re gonna love it. She’s spent time as the head of communications for Microsoft Canada, reported directly to the CEO of TELUS. And also was the Director of Operations at Open Text. Her writing has been featured in the Globe and Mail and Huffington Post, and she teaches several courses at Humber and Sheridan College. She’s the author of “The Greenhouse Approach: How To Cultivate Deliberate Innovation In Organizations.” We’re gonna learn a lot about that book. “The Greenhouse Approach” is now required reading for the Forbes School of Business MBA program. So Dr. Chitra Anand will be coming up next on the Conquer Local Podcast.

George: Joining us on the line all the way from beautiful Ontario, Dr. Chitra Anand and welcome to the Conquer Local Podcast. We’re excited to have you here.

Chitra: Well, I’m excited to be here, thank you for having me.

George: You know, Chitra was going to be one of our keynote speakers at this year’s Conquer Local Conference. And of course, that is not happening, as most events have been shut down due to COVID-19. So thank you very much for joining us on the podcast to give listeners a glimpse of what they may have seen live if we had that beautiful, I was so excited to have that event in Montreal. Anyways, maybe next year. So thank you for joining us.

Chitra: You’re welcome.

George: And congratulations on becoming a doctor and getting your doctorate, that’s a very exciting progression of your career. Tell us a little bit about your background doctor Anand, and then we’ll get into the topic of the podcast today.

Chitra: Absolutely, well, thank you for that spirited congratulations. So I have spent my career primarily in the technology industry. The companies that I’ve worked with include Open Text, which is a software company out here in the tech triangle. I spent 10 years at TELUS, and then five years at Microsoft, so most of my career has been spent in these tech-related firms. My discipline, per se, has been primarily in sales, marketing, communications, branding. My last post at TELUS was working directly with the CEO there in his office, Joe Natale, who’s now the CEO at Rogers, working on strategic projects, etc. And then I went over to Microsoft as their Chief Communications Officer, helping lead the transformation of the brand when they were transitioning from software to what we know today is mobile and cloud. So that’s my professional life and then I have an academic life. I’ve just completed my dissertation in my defense on a concept called intrapreneurship. Intrapreneurship is, from my perspective, the gateway for sustainable growth in large, complex organizations. And part of my journey in coming upon this idea and concept was sort of this labor of love on, I’ve grown up in these large companies, but in my time there, I really operated like an entrepreneur inside of these companies. And operating like an entrepreneur inside these large companies presents challenges simply because of their structure, just their constructs on how they operate. And then when you bring in entrepreneurialism, which requires a lot of risk-taking, experimentation, micro experiments, some level of agility, and rapid decision-making, it presents challenges simply because of their structure. So, it’s been a deeply, sort of professional contribution that I’ve wanted to make in this space to help organizations reimagine their constructs and how they operate. As you can see, in today’s market, we are being challenged with all sorts of macro trends. And right now is this global pandemic that we know. And it’s really forcing organizations to become agile to become nimble, to conduct micro experiments on how to reimagine themselves in highly volatile times. And I believe that entrepreneurialism in that way of thinking is really an opportunity for these organizations to reimagine how they operate.


Intrapreneurship Defined

George: It’s interesting, I have empathy towards people working in organizations that have that entrepreneurial spirit. And, the way that you phrased this really speaks to me. I was recently in a meeting with a large organization, about $38 billion in revenue, we’re working with one of their divisions, and it was interesting to see them talk about the anticipated roadblocks of moving forward with a particular initiative and how they had to navigate cross-functionally, and be careful that, we can’t go down to finance, that’s the Department of No, we have to do it this way. And they were coming up with ways to craft the initiative so that it would work within, inside a large organization. I could see where this is a very valuable path that you’re going down because I think that in these large organizations, are you finding that that entrepreneurial spirit is kind of stifled maybe a little bit?

Chitra: I think that because of the various ways organizations are set up, it certainly does stifle innovation. I mean, it’s probably one of the biggest problems that organizations face today. And, we’re seeing lots of examples of companies that are filing for bankruptcy and having to shut down, and the rise and fall of many great companies. And we’re seeing it now in this global pandemic even more. So I think it is probably the biggest problems and challenges that companies are facing today. And it’s really around, this innovation. Innovation, right? It’s an overused term, but when you break it down to the very fundamental core, it’s quite simple. And it’s about doing things differently, which is a simple idea, but organizations have a hard time getting their heads around it, in terms of, execution, and for all the reasons that you just said because they are matrixed in how they are set up. Therefore, you need all sorts of different teams involved in order to execute ideas. But there’s opportunity in recognizing that if you don’t, there’s going to be risk, and that risk is going to be becoming obsolete. And we’re seeing that industry to industry, and through organizations all over the globe. So it is one of the hardest, yet most pragmatic things that organizations need to think about.


The Greenhouse Approach – Where Innovation Meets Outcome-Based Thinking 

George: Your discipline has been in sales and marketing throughout your career. And I’m sure we could talk for hours about the transformation of those two practices. I wanted to dig a little bit into your incredible book, “The Greenhouse Approach: How To Cultivate Deliberate Innovation In Organizations.” I think it’s important that we know that “The Greenhouse Approach” is now required reading for the Forbes School of Business MBA program. How long ago did you author the book and maybe you could just give our listeners a brief synopsis of this incredible resource that you’ve created.

Chitra: Thank you, that’s so kind of you to say. So the book is about a year old, it came out last year. And typically what happened is you do a doctorate and the book comes after. But because intrapreneurship is such a timely topic. I had a publisher approach me and say, “Can you write a book in six months?” And I had so much content, and a deep desire to have this resource available to organizations, but also available to the academic world and for students that are studying entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship. So The Greenhouse Approach really is about, what if organizations can emulate a greenhouse, with the right thinking, with the right talent, with the right governance, with the right guidelines. And it’s written sort of in three parts. And part one is really, reimagining and challenging the constructs in how we think. And that’s probably the most important piece of this is, I talk about why do we think and behave the way that we do? And it’s quite simple. We’re a product of our social construct. If you think about, how we are as children, we are risk-takers. I’ve got two children, and they are very, very much risk-takers. They’re highly curious, they like to do experiments, they are constantly asking questions, but then somewhere down the line, and it’s by the age of 12, these types of things start to diminish. So the question, and then they start to diminish, and then we start to take them through into our professional lives, where we stop asking questions, and we go into these organizations and we stopped re-engineering ideas, we stopped thinking critically, and the whole first part is really about taking some fundamental shifts in how we think and go back to basics. So for example, I talk about this whole notion of minority rules. And if you go into a boardroom, for example, and I spent many times in this boardroom, I was always fascinated and perturbed at the fact that you need majority rule to make decisions happen. Now, we all understand and know that when you have majority, there is very little possibility of innovation happening. Innovation happens when you present diverse perspectives, when there is dissent in the room, when there is a debate. It’s the fundamental laws of nature and fundamental laws of physics, is you need a spark in order to produce something interesting. And so the whole chapter talks about, why minority thinking? And I’m not talking about minority in terms of how we might define it, but it’s minority of thought, that somebody has a different perspective or challenges with conventional thinking. And we need to identify those ideas in order to yield the right output.

George: It’s interesting that you bring this up because I find that in a boardroom setting or an executive setting, it’s hard to have that debate because now I’m gonna have to argue with so and so, now I’m gonna have

Chitra: Of course.

George: to defend my position, I’m gonna have to go and do a bunch of research, to defend my position, maybe it’d be better if I just kind of float along. And do you see a lot of that happening inside boardrooms, where it’s easier just not to make a decision, or to push an agenda, because of the amount of work on the other side, to get to that debate point?

Chitra:  Well, of course, I mean, you know, I mean it’s always easier to go with the flow, so to speak, and to go with the majority, and I mean, we as humans don’t want to have debates. There’s fear in disagreeing with leadership, there’s fear in the room. But what we need to recognize as leaders is that, in order to really become innovative by definition, and in order to really breakthrough, you need to invite the debate, and we’re not really conditioned, and we’re not set up in these environments to have healthy, constructive debates. So the question is why, you know, why is that? So, it’s really looking at that paradigm shift on how we duke it out in the boardroom. And one of the guiding principles that I talk about is about the end state, what is it that we’re trying to achieve? Put politics, put ego, put fear all aside, and when your North Star is about a particular outcome, and I talk a lot about that, outcome-based thinking when you’re thinking about the best interest of the organization, you yield the right kinds of behaviors.

George: I’d like to call up, Clayton Christensen’s “Innovator’s Dilemma” and it’s used a number of times as this book, that is, one of his seminal works, it talks about the disruptive technologies. And when I was reading through your book, I was noticing that you were talking about this, we need to have this level of innovation, we need to have this greenhouse, where we get back to being a student and learning. Are you calling out that if you don’t have this approach you could fall? We all know the story that Kodak had a digital camera long before any of the phone manufacturers we deal with today had them. But they didn’t know what they had at the time. And they didn’t want to invest in it because it might upset the core business. So I’m using this parallel, I hope that I’m going along the same path that you were hoping for in your book.

Chitra: Well, I will say that there is risk, 100%. And, there’s always going to be that dilemma, particularly with large companies, to not deviate from their core, which might be the revenue generator, yet you need to explore other paths in order to diversify your risk. And, we are seeing it time and time again. We see Sears, you see Thomas Cook, you see J. C. Penney, you’ve just seen J.Crew, all of these organizations. And the question really becomes it’s easier to go in hindsight on what went wrong. But it’s really about having foresight in order to predict the future and not be afraid to test these ideas. And if you don’t, you certainly are presenting multiple risks for your organization. One of the things that I’ve talked about a lot in my book too, is around this whole idea of adaptability, and I talk about Charles Darwin and I look at Darwinianism and I bring it back to business. It’s a very, very simple ideology. And it’s not about the smartest of the species, but it’s really the ones that are adaptable to change. And it’s a simple idea. But we as humans, and then take it and multiply that by 25 in terms of size and complexity of operations, just find it difficult to adapt. But it’s really around this notion of adaptability and bringing outside-in perspective to your organization. We see so many organizations that suffer from insularity, that are so stuck on how they’re operating that they cannot get outside the paradigm. And so what I’m suggesting is really taking things like micro experiments, like hypothesis testing, and weave that into your business models. And how you actually operate as an organization to thrive.


New Opportunities and Innovation

George: Over my career as a salesperson, I’m a proud salesperson for over 30 years. I remember being taught early by a mentor that 14% of your business is gonna go away every year. And they’ll either move their organization where they don’t need your solution anymore, or they’ll move period, or you’ll upset them and they won’t wanna do business with you. So, it was ingrained me early that I needed to be looking for new opportunities to continue to meet numbers or exceed numbers. And I think that what I’m, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m reading into your career path when you were at TELUS reporting directly to the CEO, it was almost like that moonshots thing that we’ve heard a lot that Google has done, where you were testing new opportunities. I think that it’s even more important today with what we were facing now coming out of post COVID. Do you agree to be looking for new opportunities and ready to make that move?

Chitra: I wouldn’t say constantly looking for new opportunities. I would say this. My time at TELUS was really around working on projects that needed to get done that were tied to sort of their strategic imperative. So it was really about execution, it’s very hard to make things happen in these big companies. And we know that. So they were highly visible, highly critical projects that needed to be implemented. So there was a high degree of focus and accountability. Now, when I talk about adaptation, and when I talk about survival of the fittest, it’s quite simple, is I believe that culture dictates business. I mean, there are macro trends that are happening from a world view, and world view meaning economic, social, political, cultural, all of those things that happen outside of our world will dictate how our business will operate. Now, it is the responsibility of the company to be able to look at these trends and map them back into their organization in order to maintain its relevance in the market. And that’s what organizations are failing to do. And then they fall down on execution on top of that. So it’s a complex, yet simple problem, it’s a bit of a catch-22. So what I’m suggesting is having an outside-in perspective, where you’re constantly scanning the market, and able to make small iterations along the way, so there are small changes, there are little experiments. You’re never going to see a company that comes out of the gateway with this massive breakthrough innovation, they are successful as a result of these micro experiments that they do along the way, where they find things that work inside their organization.



George: Oh, thank you, I really appreciate that. That is the quote. I’m looking at producer Colleen, we’re gonna put that on the social media post. Because I believe that as a society, I found a lot of people are looking for the silver bullet. And it just doesn’t exist. It is that constant iteration like, does Facebook arrive to be the organization that is today if it found some magic? No, there was constant

Chitra: No.

George: Iteration on that solution.

Chitra: Yes.

George: And we could look at all sorts of different organizations that have done that. And then also to your point, we can look at organizations that haven’t done that. They stopped and look at what happened to those.

Chitra: Exactly.

George: The book, once again, the title is “The Greenhouse Approach: Cultivating Deliberate Innovation In Organizations.” We’ll make sure that we put the link in the content of this podcast. Dr. Anand is our guest. It’s really great to have you, I wish that we could have seen you present live. I’ve watched some YouTube videos, your presentations are quite riveting. And I really appreciate you making some time today to join us here in the Conquer Local Podcast some great takeaways, and we look forward to speaking to you again someday.

Chitra: It’s been my pleasure and thank you so much for having me.

George: I learned a lot from Dr. Anand in just a very short period of time on the podcast today. It was great to hear some of her learnings when it came to working with large organizations and what it takes to get innovation to grow inside the corporate culture. The first takeaway that I have is that. that entrepreneurial spirit, and I like to sometimes refer to myself as a serial entrepreneur, and I have a lot of respect for entrepreneurs. Dr. Anand talks about how that entrepreneurial spirit is actually intrapreneurial. And it’s missing in a lot of the larger organizations that are out there. And hence, her book and her work around this greenhouse effect. And then the second takeaway was that talk about how the majority rules in the boardroom. And the minority thought is then stifled. And we need that minority thought. And we need that healthy debate to get that constant innovation. And that’s what’s missing from a lot of organizations. We talked about some analogs, we use, you know the Kodak thing where they had digital camera way early. We talked about some brands that have disappeared off the face of the earth because they weren’t innovating. I think there’s always a takeaway from some of these lessons that are learned. Failure is only failure if you don’t learn from it. And there are some great takeaways inside this podcast and I can’t wait for you to read that book. It is something that you really need to consume from Dr. Anand. There are some great approaches to how to cultivate deliberate innovation in your organization inside that book, “The Greenhouse Approach”. Hope you enjoyed it as much as we did in bringing Dr. Chitra Anand to the Conquer Local Podcast. My name is George Leith. I’ll see you when I see you.

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