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Employees gather in one of the collaborative work spaces on the 28th floor of the Telus Tower in Toronto.JENNIFER ROBERTS

Who is an intrapreneur? Usually highly self-motivated, proactive and action-oriented people who are comfortable with taking the initiative, even within the boundaries of an organization, in pursuit of an innovative product or service. This series examines eight companies that encourage an intrapreneurial culture. Read other stories about  Hootsuite, Canadian TireLoblaw, Metrolinx, Duha Group, Oil Country Engineering Services and Absolute Software.

To keep its large telecommunications firm fresh and creative, Telus Corp. encourages its employees to treat the company like it's their own, believing that intraprenuership can offer up great results.

In 2013, Shawn Mandel, vice-president of the company's digital team, led the redesign of the company's website,

"We believe the only way a large organization can tackle projects of this magnitude is to act like a small startup," Mr. Mandel says.

While the Vancouver-based company employs 24,000 people in Canada, in contrast the redesign project involved just 20 people. Over an 80-day period, the group analyzed and redesigned the website from the ground up with the aim of delivering a best-in-class online customer experience in both consumer and business segments.

The site was built on an open beta platform which meant the public could access it, test the environment and provide feedback on what they liked or what they thought needed to change. The sharing and transparency brought the team closer to Telus customers and made it a success, Mr. Mandel says, allowing the team to try and test activities in a digital sandbox.

"This makes a lot of sense, you need be set up where you can try things out, think about ideas and test them with your customers," says William Mitchell, the Anthony S. Fell chair in new technologies and commercialization at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

Dr. Mitchell explains that while entrepreneurship is the experiment of creating value, intrapreneurship is doing the same thing – but in the context of an existing firm. Too often firms fall into the trap of believing that breakthroughs happen only in new firms, he says. Innovation can take place within established firms, but Dr. Mitchell says it needs to be visible.

At Telus, the culture of intrapreneurship is fostered by creating a physical environment that is conducive to it.

"I believe in leading by example" Mr. Mandel says. "I got rid of my office and now sit with my team in an open space." The environment is full of visuals such as customer journey maps and process maps. Most employees have abandoned traditional desks and now have open work spaces.

"This drives transparency which drives creativity. The cross team awareness and collaboration is all about the culture," he says.

Mr. Mandel further explains that the physical space also allows project teams to co-create, fail and learn which then can be applied to other projects. "We have something called standups," he says describing a team ritual where failures are dissected and even celebrated.

During one of the standup sessions, the customer experience of was discussed. "Team members thought performance and reliability were someone else's problem," Mr. Mandel explains. Through the standup process Telus quickly started driving the right changes to create a performance culture so that everyone was maniacally focused on things like reliability and performance. This led to more stabilized and well-performing website.

Jim Senko, senior vice-president of small business and emerging markets at Telus, and his team are responsible for product development and management. This includes technologies such as mobile payments, mobile wallets, mobile commerce, consumer health and consumer identity solutions.

"I boil intrapreneurship down to passion and innovation that is outcome driven, and by bringing an entrepreneurial spirit to this environment," Mr. Senko says. He believes agility in a large organization is extremely important for innovation.

He employs a fail-fast, recover-fast mindset within his team – in other words, a culture where it is okay to fail.

"Learn from failures and move on," Mr. Senko says. To support the notion of agility, Telus has emulated a FedEx Corp. model that inspires innovation from within.

On "Telus Improvement Days," employees are given a 24-hour opportunity to present ideas to the senior leadership team. The challenge is to create working teams and develop ideas or initiatives that will drive incremental revenue, reduce costs or enhance the customer experience.

These events happen three to four times a year. They began as an initiative within the marketing team, but because of their success will be expanded to new teams such as finance and human resources in 2015. Some of the ideas that were implemented this year include more environmentally friendly packaging for SIM cards and introducing a customer-to-customer referral program.

Previously SIM cards were packaged in a booklet with instructions and terms. Telus now provides new SIM cards in a single punch-out card and has moved the booklet's content online.

For the mobility referral program, Telus customers can go online and refer their friends and family with an offer for $25 off any smartphone on a two-year term. For every successful referral, the customer receives a $25 credit toward his device balance, giving the opportunity to upgrade to the latest smartphone before a two-year term is up.

These top ideas are rewarded with a small monetary prize as well as a mentoring session with a vice-president of the winner's choice.

According to Dr. Mitchell, "During the process of experimentation, failure may happen, but you cannot penalize people for that. The minute you do, you kill innovation."

Mr. Senko says that Telus aims to inspire a culture of ownership.

"We encourage people to feel like this is their own company and personalize work and projects like a true startup – from getting startup funding to making things happen."

Chitra Anand is head of public relations and Communications for Microsoft Canada. She is a graduate of the Kellogg-Schulich Executive MBA program and is currently pursuing a part-time PhD on the topic of intrapreneurship at the University of Bradford in Britain.

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