Participative innovation leads to intrapreneurship at Credit Agricole

Credits : Julien Lutt : Crédit Agricole S.A. / CAPA Pictures / Julien Lutt
Credits : Julien Lutt : Crédit Agricole S.A. / CAPA Pictures / Julien Lutt

A couple of weeks ago I came across a very interesting white paper on intrapreneurship issued by french bank Credit Agricole. I did not mention it on this blog since the content was only available in french but I rencently had the occasion to meet with them to know more about how they were trying to turn the concept into action. Claire Bussac, head of HR marketing and communication, the person leading this project, accepted to spend a little time with me to share more about this experience.

Here’s the interview.

You’ve decided to start an intrapreneurship initiative. What does intrapreneurship means to Credit Agricole ?

Claire Bussac : We reused definitions from the 80s so our definition of intranpreneurship has nothing new or specific. To make it easy to understand we often use an analogy and say that’s “it’s a business within the business”. It’s about putting employees in the right context so their ideas can become operational. We let employees create ecosystems. Different levels of autonomy are possible that range from participative innovation to organizational disruption.

Intrapreneurship : “a business within a business

We also created a new structure, the Innovation Village, in the center of Paris. The purpose is to host startups but also entities from our own group to favor exchanges between startups, between startups and us on new ways of working. Why not incubate the new startups from the bank there ? Or even startups from other companies ? We are experimenting and learning each and every day and we’ll se where it will lead us, what’s going to emerge from it.

What are the issues being addressed by this initiative ?

Innovation and being able to communicate about innovation are very important issues for Credit Agricole. At the HR level there’s a need to make innovation more participative and to go beyond the ideas box. Getting ideas is quite easy. But if nothing is done to turn them into something concrete, ideas are useess. Even worse : it’s demotivating for those who participated. That’s why we started this intrapreneurship initiative : identify employees interested in this approach as intrapreneurs or innovation ambassadors.

Intrapreneurship is the logical byproduct of participative innovation

Claire Bussac

That’s the reason why we wrote the white paper. To ask the right questions first then share our ambition, our will, with people inside and outside the organization.

What are the first results ?

CB : such initiatives requires humility. It’s an awareness process that takes time. That’s also why we organized a creative afterwork with our employees when we issued the white paper. This afterwork helped us to identify two projects carried by employees. No our job is not to be deceptive and sell the projects to the management.

The management…why do they expect from this intrapreneurship initiative ?

CB : first, the management expect us to push the weak signals of innovation in the HR field. As for intrapreneurship they dont necessary expect any specific outcome : by definition, no one can predict what’s going to come but we do our bet to have nice surprises. On the other hand there are strong expectations regarding to employees accountability and autonomy and intrapreneurship is a good way to work on these points. It also leads to engagement, which is another of our challenges. To have autonomous and engaged employees we need means, ideas and to put people in the right context.

How does it happen, from a practical standpoint ?

CB : First there’s the Innovation Village which is a first class lever we’ll try to use as much as possible.

We also have the two projects identified during the afterwork : we need to push them and find volunteers to implement them.

Digital is also a filed we’re going to explore with interest. We already have an experience with the CA Store which allows to propose innovative application to access one’s bank data. It’s been built with external “digifarmers” and customers sharing ideas. Why not taking the same way internally with HR data and applications that are at the center of people’s life ? We could make them more simple, accessible, easy to use.

For the leadership team it’s a part of a wider stream, aiming at improving our image, our employer brand and modernize the HR.

You must have faced many issues, didn’t you ?

CB : Yes of course. First we need our culture to accept such approaches. But, on the other hand, there’s the Y generation pushing the walls and willing to make the post of their creative potential.

Our first need was about  participative innovation and intrapreneurship came from the need to not frustrate people, to be in an implementation process from the very beginning. Having ideas is easy, then we need motivated people to implement them. We may not have entrepreneurs but we have lots of “intras” who need a secured framework and context to do things.

Making resources available ; a key issue for intrapreneurship

The key point, from the enterprise perspective, is to create the right environment : we need time, places (hence the Innovation Village) and resources. That raises a very important point : how to make managers make resources available. We’ll try to build on top of what already exists. We have an internal program to help employees who want to discover a new entity or country to be “set free” by their managers for a limited time. We could reuse the concept to make people available to make our projects successful.

What is sure is that we’re moving forward step by step and are learning at every single step. We also learn a lot by observing others and sharing with them.


A few words as a conclusion. First I would like to thank Claire Bussac for having taken the time to talk with me, as well as her staff and the  We Are Social french team for the introduction. Then, this interviews inspired me a couple of thoughts. • such initiatives requires both a sound vision and convictions and a lot of humility, what seems to be the case at Credit Agricole. As I often say “humans and creativity can’t be turned into equations” : we need to accept to make effort to make things possible without having any idea of what’s going to come out. Such approaches, even if they’re talked about a lot, are still in their infancy, most of all in a bank culture. So there’s no highly knowledgeable people or absolute trut : one needs to learn, accept failure, accept not to be perfect and improve over time.
•intrapreneurshipis considered ina interesting way. It’s not a goal by itself but it carries many other initiative. Here it’s about making innovationoperational, make employees more accountable and autonomous, improve the enterprise image and employer brand, make the HR function move forward.Intrapreneurship is a means to make all these thinks concrete, make them happen through a tangible initiative they canparticipate in. More, the initiative may have its own benefits, which will be kind of “cherry on the cake”. I also think that de byproducts of the initiativecan be so significant that no pressure will ne needed about the results ofintrapreneurship itself. It’s easier to say “we’ll see, we’re learning” when it’s sure that indirect benefits will come.• The idea of anincabutor seemsto be trendy. I’ll write more about the Innovation Village this autumn.

• We can see lots of deceptive intrapreneurship or participative innovation programs because of a lack of execution, ending in wishful thinking. Here – and even if everything is still to be built – this problem has been anticipated. First by intrapreneurship to make sure ideas have chance to become concrete, then by raising the question of resources availability . Every time we consider participative activities, the most overlooked point is that days are 24 hrs long and managers are accountable for what their staff deliver…

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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