Stéphane Rinkin, Tax Partner and PwC Exponential Leader, explains why organisations should incentivise new ideas from their own people, and onboard startups in innovation projects. That, for their own benefit and, ultimately, for their clients’.
What is PwC Exponential and what’s the goal behind it?
Exponential is a lab for ideas within PwC. Its mission is to help our company to continue creating value for our clients, through the implementation of new services, solutions and products.
Concretely, we ask our people to contribute any ideas or projects that could be relevant to our firm. For instance, what they think the services and products of the future should be, and what PwC should bring in that perspective to the client.
Then, the PwC engine plays a key role. We support our people’s ideas by offering them the support of our internal innovation team and our experts so they can turn them into success stories for our company and for our clients.
The PwC Exponential team works on projects of different nature, bringing together the best of what exists within PwC and from the outside so these projects can be deployed faster and with more chances to succeed.
Our firm operates as a service provider; hence, client experience is very important to us. We focus on customer centricity in order to ensure that our clients are happy and get the maximum value.
Therefore, Exponential is an ecosystem and a booster: Our team is purposely small, so that it can remain flexible.
How would you define intrapreneurship?
Intrapreneurship is a mindset after all. It consists, simply put, in considering that the company you work for is your own. In other words, while coming every day to work, you ask yourself what you can do and how you would operate if the organisation were yours: “As an entrepreneur, would I take the same risks, would I treat my clients the same way?”.
To me, intrapreneurship is really like working for PwC, but augmented. To the working life and career development associated with it, one has the chance to bring ideas and solutions as if you were your own entrepreneur.
However, there is more: An intrapreneur does not only boost business innovation with new ideas; he or she must make them happen, therefore, putting together a feasible business plan based on a good understanding of the market’s needs and competition is also part of the game.
How did PwC come to this initiative? How relevant is it for its business?
“Exponential” is the result of countless enriching discussions we had with our people. Today’s young generations want to contribute and bring new ideas and concepts to the organisation they work for; the idea came therefore very naturally.
The initiative is of ultra-relevance for PwC, as we constantly focus on accelerating our business and improving our innovation capacity as well as integrating the expectations and ideas of the young generation who joins us.
Furthermore, our clients face more and more complex challenges and we are committed to help them to go through them with the best knowledge and tools possible. That is when intrapreneurship and solutions resulted from it can provide us with better support sources for them.
“Depending on the projects we want to develop and implement each year, we look at the startups we can team up with.”
“Exponential” also collaborates with startups on this programme. How does such cooperation work?
On the one hand, startups usually face some resources constraints. For instance, the diversity and volume of skills or the scale-up capacity. On the other hand, however, they are very good at operating nimbly and bringing new ideas.
One of their main challenges is how to develop further these innovations and solutions – especially in terms of growth, market focus and scalability – and how to take the leap to the next stage.
Our programme includes a scouting process that selects promising startups which solutions fit our projects.
Concretely, depending on the projects we want to develop and implement each year, we look at the startups we can team up with. More precisely, we focus on their value propositions and on the solutions, they are bringing to the market.
In return, we partner with them to accelerate their development and to scale them up, may this collaboration be a short-term partnership, a project on the longer term, or even an acquisition. We remain very open.
More generally, what makes a company more suitable to run an intrapreneurship programme and succeed?
First, the company implementing intrapreneurship initiatives needs to clearly define what it is good at, where it brings the best value, and how it can onboard the best talent in the chosen fields.
Materialising innovation and intrapreneurship require a lot of flexibility but it also call for a structured approach and a well-outlined framework. Otherwise these won’t succeed.
Organisations embracing intrapreneurship must, therefore, be highly committed and should allow their people to come up with, test and implement new ideas. Creators’ appreciation, acknowledgement of efforts and time invested and a culture where the right to fail is seen as a booster rather than a fact to be punished are fundamental as well.
Behind, supporting any intrapreneurial project, there is training and education. A business should train their professionals so they develop the skills and the mindset needed to turn them into intrapreneurs.
Our job at Exponential is to provide this whole framework to our people.
What challenges make intrapreneurship programmes hard to realize?
Time is the first factor to think of, as everybody, because of the nature and size of our organisation, tend to be fully booked. The limited time is, undoubtedly, a hurdle for us.
Another challenge is having the best resources and skills available at the right time and at the right place.
Besides time and skills, discipline is also very important, especially when it comes to innovation. One needs a mindset change, and to adapt the way you work and operate on a daily basis. Also, humility is very important.
“To be the next disruptor, one needs a nice idea, but as important as the idea, a great team to push the wheel, even when walking uphill.”
Are these issues different, or more complex to tackle in financial services?
It’s no secret that the financial industry is very regulated. While pursuing or implementing any changes, you must know and keep the regulator’s requirements and points of view in mind.
That’s what it takes to be an intrapreneur in the financial industry: You have to know what you can do and what you cannot do within the regulatory framework.
On top of this, PwC is an auditing firm, i.e. a very regulated activity and profession, which also operates in a highly regulated sector. The bet on innovation seems challenging, but we work and cope with it. Finance is not the only industry that’s highly regulated; take, for instance, the pharma industry.
What are the lessons learnt at this point of PwC’s intrapreneurial journey?
If you want both the innovation mindset (in a broad sense) and intrapreneurship (more particularly) to work, you need a very solid structure to support it. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to deliver solutions, products and services.
We need both a clear framework and an ecosystem that supports our people who come-up with innovative ideas or solutions. In exchange, you should help them to grow and develop them.
If you just think that having an innovative mindset translates into success and full freedom without discipline, then, to me, you have only solved one fifth of the equation. Mind that succeeding requires a lot of work and effort! And that’s part of the magic of being an intrapreneur or an entrepreneur.
But, while creating something new and taking part in innovation initiatives isn’t a piece of cake, what it brings is an almost indescribable sense of meaningfulness and satisfaction…and you can have lots of fun as well!
To be the next disruptor, one needs a nice idea, but as important as the idea, a great team to push the wheel, even when walking uphill. That is, to me, the main key lesson.
This article is brought to you by PwC Luxembourg and reflects only the opinion of the author.