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Intrapreneurship: thinking outside the box at Safran

Safran launched its first intrapreneurship program at the end of 2018. The goal was to stimulate innovation by encouraging employees to develop ideas that could be pursued by companies within the Safran group. It’s also a way to help the organization reinvent itself.

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Olivier Leclerc

Innovation catalyst and intrapreneurship activist at Safran, (2019)
A graduate of the Institut National des Télécommunications, Leclerc also has
a PhD in electronics from Nice Sophia Antipolis University. He spent 19 years at Alcatel Lucent, where he was the group’s director of innovation and intrapreneurship, before joining Safran in 2015. Leclerc is also co-founder and president of Les Hacktivateurs, an association that promotes intrapreneurship, corporate hacking, and collective intelligence.

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Safran’s intrapreneurship program, which was given the go-ahead last November, started with a call for projects that was open to the group’s entire workforce. All of the group’s 50,000 European employees were asked to submit their ideas for new activities that might meet the needs of their customers. The nine-month program was designed to identify projects that would join the group’s accelerator program for possible implementation. “Unlike with other large companies, it’s not about encouraging our employees to create their start-ups with the aim of devising a spin-off,” explains Olivier Leclerc. “It’s about spurring them to develop innovations that we hope to use internally.”

Creating value and detecting “artists”

This new intrapreneurship program has three main objectives, explains Leclerc: generating new sources of revenue; getting the group used to new ways of doing things; and detecting, attracting, and retaining talented individuals who can suggest and deliver innovations. “Individuals with this intrapreneur-style profile don’t always fit into the frames of reference traditionally used to evaluate an employee’s skillset,” says Leclerc, “since these guidelines don’t include the ability to think outside the box.” Major corporations, by contrast, know how to recruit first-rate “soldiers,” as Safi Bahcall describes them in Loonshots, but they’re
not as skilled at identifying “artists.” “It’s better to learn how to spot and promote creative innovators within a company than to go looking for them outside, because ‘transplants’ generally don’t go very well,” adds Leclerc.

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Excerpt from Business Digest N°296, Mai 2019

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Françoise Tollet
Published by Françoise Tollet
She spent 12 years in industry, working for Bolloré Technologies, among others. She co-founded Business Digest in 1992 and has been running the company since 1998. And she took the Internet plunge in 1996, even before coming on board as part of the BD team.