Many of the greatest innovations realized begin with regular people like you and I, believing that a better way exists. These practical day dreamers are inspired by two simple words: "Why not?" This is among my favorite phrases, and part of the philosophy embraced by Social Intrapreneurs - individuals working from the inside to innovate for social impact and profit.
Walmart may not strike you as fertile ground for social intrapreneurs, but there are many… and it all started back with Walmart’s founder, Sam Walton. His goal was simple, and yet radical: He wanted to help people living in small towns and rural America enjoy a similar quality of life as those who lived in the big cities. While retailers were rushing to the suburbs, Sam Walton built a business serving these overlooked and under-appreciated customers living in small town America.
Sam Walton’s dream to serve the under-served, changed the world. His method was to go where other businesses feared to go. The other retailers of that time were convinced they wouldn’t make money in small town America. Today, we’re the largest retailer in the world. People expect a lot of us, and they have a right to. Due to our size and scale, we are uniquely positioned to have great success and impact in the world, perhaps like no company before us.
Through my experience as a social intrapreneur at Walmart, and engagement with many other inspiring Walmart associates, I would like to share some thoughts on how social intrapreneurs successfully navigate to realize impact.
1. Seek out sleeplessness. Social intrapreneurs invest a great deal of time engaging their leadership to understand the issues that keep them up at night. Understanding these pain points helps us hone in on issues that are meaningful and clarify who they are meaningful to. Too often people find solutions to problems that don't matter and are unclear who they matter to. Start with what matters, know who they matter to, and solve it for them.
From waste to fuel. Sam's Club was trying to identify cost reduction opportunities and found a way to recycle the grease drippings from its rotisserie chickens into usable products such as biodiesel and animal feed. In the past, these drippings ended up in grease traps and drains, which had to be cleaned out regularly (at a cost to the club). Sam’s Club now makes money by selling their grease drippings to manufacture biodiesel and saves money by reducing the number of times the grease traps are cleaned. As a result:
• 195,000 gallons of yellow grease have been recycled this fiscal year through September
• 73,000 gallons recycled into biodiesel.
• 116,000 gallons recycled into animal feed
• 1,443,000 tons of waste diverted (195,000 gallons x 7.4 lbs/gal)
2. Define the problem. There is a famous Einstein quote: “If I had an hour to save the world, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding solutions.” Problem framing, and in some cases, reframing, is critical to the pursuits of an intrapreneur attempting to illustrate the potential social and economic upside. Once the general problem is understood, you must hone in on a specific framing.
Avocado lifecycle. One meaningful challenge we uncovered to improve the sustainability of avocados was to help minimize consumer food waste, and the key driver to do so was to help consumers gauge how ripe it is. Well, one of our associates at Asda in the UK has piloted a new avocado packaging concept that aims to bring transparency to this challenge. ASDA is using color-coded trays, that allow customers to select whether they want avocados that are 1.) “Ripe and Ready” to use now, 2.) “Nearly Ripe” 2-5 days or 3.) “Ripen at Home” 5-8 days.
3. Tackle with culture. What is your organization known for? What values does your brand authentically stand for? In our case, our value proposition is extremely clear – we help people "Save Money so they can Live Better." As such, innovations that deliver on cost reductions that improve people's quality of life, are particularly meaningful.
Trading up. The recession has increased the financial strain on our customers, but many of them are richer than they think. Many Americans have at least one used cell phone collecting dust at home. The same is true for our customers. At Walmart.com, we're offering them a chance to increase their spending power on our site and in our stores, by trading-in their used electronics for market value. By facilitating the trade-in of these devices, we are getting them into the hands of people who want them, and keeping them out of landfill, in a way that reinforces our Save Money. Live Better. value proposition.