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Miele Pioneers Camp: Intrapreneurship for New Growth

Dr. Ina Nordsiek, Director Intrapreneurship

"Intrapreneurship should, above all, help encourage people to try new things by both, motivating people and providing a platform for them to do so."

Today we welcome Dr. Ina Nordsiek, Director Intrapreneurship at the German domestic appliance manufacturer Miele. When she joined the company in 2020, Ina's mission was to develop an intrapreneurship program from the scratch. The result: the Miele Pioneers Camp that empowers people to transform their ideas into new business. Ina shares with us her experience in setting up such a program in a traditional family business like Miele. She provides insights into dealing with challenges such as resistance to change, identifying the most promising ideas, or selecting the right projects to further pursue. Tune in and make sure to not miss the three recommendations Ina has for building a successful intrapreneurship program!

Below you will find the full transcript for the episode.

Miele Pioneers Camp: Intrapreneurship for new growth

Chris: Hi and welcome back to Innovation Rockstars. My name is Chris Mühlroth and in this episode I'm very happy to welcome Dr. Ina Nordsiek from Miele. So in her role as Director of Entrepreneurship, it's her job to, let's say, encourage pioneers at Miele to enter new business areas, to conquer new business areas in order to drive growth for the business. So it's great to have you on the show. Thanks for being here.

Ina: Hi Chris. Thanks for having me.

Chris: All right. So as always, we start with a short 60 seconds introduction sprint. So the introduction sprint is all about you, your career and your role at Miele. So I'd say the stage is yours. Let's go.

Ina: Okay. Hi, my name is Ina. I'm 40, married, two kids. I live in Detmond. My career, well, I studied business administration economics, holding a PhD in knowledge management, and my professional career started in 2007 when I joined a management consultancy focused on innovation organizations and innovation strategy. And after 10 years, then I switched to UnternehmerTUM, one of the largest entrepreneurship centers in Europe, and I had the pleasure to shape the cooperation between startups and corporates in forms of incubators, accelerators and corporate ventures. Then in 2020, Miele was looking for someone who installs intrapreneurship from scratch for the traditional company. And since then, I can unpack my backpack of learnings in strategy, innovation organization, knowledge management, change management, and aligning culture of startup and corporate life. And I have to say it's a ton of fun.

Chris: And it sounds like it's the perfect fit for the role. So great. Okay, so next one, we have three sentence starters and three sentence endings, and I'm eager to hear what you say. So let's start with the first one. The first one is: The most surprising thing about joining Miele for me was…

Ina: …that it really is a family business. Although we have over 20,000 employees spread worldwide, all the people actually help each other and feel very committed to this brand.

Chris: Yeah, that's great and certainly makes up a great part of the spirit, also maybe for the intrapreneurship program, but let's see. So number two: I am best known for…

Ina: …promoting intrapreneurship everywhere and every time. Got it.

Chris: Okay, that makes perfect sense. And finally, number three: The following quote would best describe me...

Ina: Get it done!

Chris: "Get it done!", short and concise. All right, got it. So let's turn to Miele for a while. Sure. I mean, as we all know, right, innovation is crucial for the future of organizations and so on. We all know that. And this is something that should be well known by everyone right now. Right. But, you know, so now we get Miele. And I guess right now it's in the fourth generation of the family. So in other words, a company with a very long tradition and thus also a particularly exciting case for the topic of intrapreneurship. So let's start with some of the fundamentals. Can you describe the intrapreneurship program at Miele and what the goals actually are?

Ina: Sure. Well, to put it in one sentence, intrapreneurship is the startup program of Miele. And our purpose is to build new business for Miele, either as a spin-off or as a new department. And we want to achieve this by increasing the entrepreneurial behavior and thinking of all our people and by empowering them to transform their own ideas into new business. And thus intrapreneurship is not a department, not a program. It's more like initiative or movement. That is a combination of an HR program, a cultural development program and a business development program.

Chris: Okay, right. So now obviously Miele is a very successful company, right? And has been and surely is today still a very innovative company. So what made you actually launch the intrapreneurship program and how does it fit to, you know, maybe the Miele overall strategy?

Ina: Counter question. When you think of Miele, what's the first thing you think about?

Chris: Yeah, right. So that basically I have lots of Miele things at home, for example, washing machines, dishwasher and stuff. And I think this is deeply rooted in the Miele brand and the perception of the public.

Ina: Correct. Well, in the next 10 years, our new corporate strategy reaches for significant growth. Growth not only in this core business, but growth by expanding into four new business areas that complement these core businesses. And these areas are that we are taking on the challenge, how we can help people at home to eat healthier and more sustainable. B, to help people enjoy bottle free beverages. C, help people to enjoy outdoor cooking. And intrapreneurship is one element to achieve this growth while ensuring that we have a certain Miele DNA in these growth areas. In addition to this growth part of the strategy, our strategy calls also for more pioneering spirit in general. And as we are coming out of a multi-year efficiency program, now all employees must, well, let's say, first regain confidence that they can and should try out new things. And intrapreneurship makes or should make a valuable contribution to that by both motivating the people and providing a platform for trying things out.

Installing an intrapreneurship at Miele - The why, what and how

Chris: Yes, actually, it sounds as if it is really all encompassing, right? The entire organization, basically. And I think we'll get to that in a few minutes. But first, can you tell me a bit more about how and with whom you actually build the program? So you said you build it from scratch, right? So you started basically with a Greenfield approach. So what were the steps? How did you build it? Did you have some partners involved? I'd be interested to hear something about that.

"I started actually with a bullet point on a chart saying: 'Install intrapreneurship’. That's all. Not more, not less. And then, well, I did it like the way I learned it. I started with a why. I asked a lot of people, why do we need intrapreneurship?"

Ina: Well, yeah, let's take a short glimpse into my own journey. Well, I started with Miele in September 2020, and I started actually with a bullet point on a chart that says’ install intrapreneurship’. That's all. Not more, not less. And then, well, I did it like the way I learned it. I started with a why. I asked a lot of people, why do we need intrapreneurship? I asked almost all ofthe first line in the management board and the line below. And I received answers ranging from, well, ‘yeah, we need that because we need to grow’, ‘we need that because we need new ideas’, ‘we need that because we need to develop people’, or ‘we need a better employer branding’. And I collected all this, and then I figured out, well, whatever concept you came up with, you can't make it right the first time to address all these needs and all these goals. And then I decided to establish or install intrapreneurship the lean startup way. So I put down a rough concept on a few slides, designed the process, aligned it with the board. And then I didn't develop a thought through process, skate plan, whatever. But instead, I found myself a pilot team that was willing to join me on this roller coaster of doing things, the lean startup way in a traditional corporate. And we tried out how it works to go along in this process, in this intrapreneurship rough concept I developed for Miele. And we learned a lot on our way. And after we figured out the grinches in the organization or the cracks, the natural cracks that need to break. I redesigned the program, and then I started to recruit a team because now I know which kind of people I need to do that within Miele. This program would have looked totally different for each and other company or situation I would have designed it for. So this was my biggest learning or biggest advice for everybody. When you do that, try to understand why you do it and how your organization, in German you say ticks. In order to collect the right people around you and to design a process and an organization that fits to your company. And regarding your partner question, well, when I started staffing my own team, I also started to staff external coaches for the teams because I learned if I am too close to the teams, I can't take my role as jury member. And therefore, I asked our partner, WhatAVenture, that's a company builder, to coach our teams in design thinking and startup to guide them through the process so that at the gates I can take the role of the jury. And I'm not so much involved into the team dynamics. So WhatAVenture is the partner, and we work closely together with the University of Paderborn, in particular Professor Rüdiger Kabst, because we wanted to know what effect does this intrapreneurship program have on our culture and on the people development. And therefore, we set up an efficiency measurement, how these learnings evolve over time. And that's for us as the ones who designed the program and develop it through a valuable source of input for the next pivot, let's say so.

Chris: That's super interesting. And I, you know, 100% agree if you say, well, of course, there are some blueprints, right, for setting up such intrapreneurship programs. But obviously, just taking the blueprint, throw it at an organization and, you know, hope that it sticks ultimately will lead you nowhere. Right. So I mean, I think it would be a good idea to talk about that in a bit more detail. But before we do that, actually, I want to play a quick game. The game is called either or and it's a really simple game. But it's very interesting to hear some of your answers. And it's very simple. It just works like this. So I'll give you an option or two options, basically, either one option, one or option two. You choose one of the options and then just briefly say something why you chose that answer. And the trick is to be fast, right? Nothing too much, but ready to actually be fast in answering that. So let's see. Let's see what happens. OK. 
So the number one is if you had to choose: Either early shift or late shifts.

Ina: Early shift.

Chris: Why?

Ina: Because I have a chance to have not so much noise in my house. I have two small cats and whenever I can work before seven, I take that.

Chris: Very good answer. All right. So number two - and this is a tricky one: Would you either give up your PhD, your doctorate or completely change the business area you're working in, for example, becoming a pilot or something?

Ina: Why is it either or? I don't know. I don't know, actually. Yeah, I think it would give up my PhD.

Chris: OK, that's locked in. Give up PhD, become maybe a pilot or something. OK, cool. And finally, the last one, number three: Would you rather live four weeks without a smartphone or four weeks without a notebook or laptop?

Ina: Without a notebook, because that's an easy one. I do almost everything about all with my smartphone.

Bridging traditional and start-up cultures

Chris: Yeah, OK. That was an easy one. OK, perfect. Well, thanks. Interesting answers, especially number two. And now let's get back to the entrepreneurship program at Miele. So as I said before, right, there are some blueprints for setting up entrepreneurship programs. But of course, ultimately, the success is highly depending on how you actually execute, right? How you tailor it to the organization, to the culture, to the history, to the strategy and so on. So and I think it's really interesting because at Miele, you have really two worlds not clashing, but meeting. Right. So you have a traditional family business that meets design thinking, lean startup and actually a desirable startup culture and a lot more. So and I think a lot is actually, and you said it before, a lot is actually on the people. So and you started with that rogue unit, if you will, the team, the pioneers actually to build all this. But how do you find the right people to start building all this?

Ina: My experience in the last two years has shown me that's no contradictory task - finding people that are entrepreneurs in a family orientated business in the context of the business. And that's not the same thing as in a family orientated business. In the contrary, because we are led by our founder families and because long term planning and entrepreneurial thinking is in our everyday business. The acceptance of this topic, entrepreneurship, wasn't so big and people felt, well, that's natural. Yeah, that belongs to us, of course. However, it is hard too to find the right people because it's a side becoming out of this efficiency program. And people need to learn to widen their thinking again, not to focus only on the tasks. They need to perform an excellence, but to think outside the box and to come up with new ideas. However, my task or the task of my team, how we find people is to ignite and to excite the people, to excite them for the problems in these new growth area, to motivate them to dig deep in their personal purpose, what they want to do. And this is how we attract people to the program. And this is how we find people that want to become entrepreneurs.

Chris: And did you along the way, you know, building this also have to deal with the classic resistance to change in some parts? Or was that actually not too much a part of your discussions and your first steps, maybe with the board, the management team or maybe the levels below? How was your experience with that?

Ina: No, on the contrary. First, we had many, many people who were excited that we have such a chance installed at Miele. And many people join us with their ideas they have in their shelves. However, my formula to success there was make it less new and make the barriers lower and the entry very easy. And I would like to make that more clear how we did that. Well, in addition to this pure incubation process, most of the companies have installed, we have installed a talent path that is called Talent Path Entrepreneur. Most of the companies I know have installed talent paths for upper management careers, for project management careers, something like that. Yeah. You're familiar with that? So I thought, well, to make it less new, this whole entrepreneurship thing, why not talk to HR and install a Talent Path Entrepreneur? Because that's the structure people know, and they trust in that. And so we have the topic entrepreneur on the same level of career opportunities than the traditional management career or an expert career. And so this is the “make it less new” thing. And the one or one element we added to this whole program and initiative is the community, the entrepreneurship community. It's an international community around the global Miele world where everybody who says, well, I'm not the entrepreneur, I don't dare to do that step yet, perhaps. I can join, and I can participate in this pioneering spirit by showing my personal expertise in whatever I do and helping the teams on an occasional basis. So if they have legal questions, engineering questions, name it, they can call an expert and have all the expertise Miele has on their fingertips. And through this community, the people can register whoever wants. We lower the barriers to get in touch with entrepreneurship for everybody, not only for the people that want to become entrepreneurs, but also for everybody in the company.

"My formula to success there was: Make it less new and make the barriers lower and the entry very easy."

Chris: That's actually I think this is really brilliant. So you reduce the fear of something new by design, right? Because you say, OK, well, there's a community to lower the entry barriers. And then there is also obviously the HR talent path to becoming an entrepreneur, which neatly integrates this into HR operations and all the typical things you have at Miele. So that's actually two brilliant hacks, I'd say, to make this more convenient for everybody. So and then what would you say? Why do employees participate in that? So, you know, what gets them motivated? And maybe are there even additional incentives that actually motivate them even more?

Ina: Well, of course, this is one question we always ask when we talk to people who want to engage in this program. And of course, we ask that again when people leave the program and the spread of motives is very wide. Some people say, well, I just want to learn what lean startup and design thinking is. Some people are motivated by expanding their Miele network because this community has over 170 people by now and people that don't meet each other in regular business. And that's one major motive. Others are really on fire for their idea, and they want to do that without any doubts. These are the entrepreneurs everybody would expect. On the other hand, we have people that say, well, yeah, I work for Miele 15 years, 20 years, and I'm very specialized in my field. But I only manage. I want to do something again and get my hands dirty. That's the motive too.

Chris: Cool. All right. So, yeah, a very broad variety of different motives and then also motivations actually to join the program. And do you have any additional marketing activities like, you know, raising awareness inside Miele, having some, I don't know, events online, offline? So how do you make people aware of the actual entrepreneurship program aside from the fact that it's maybe already an established career track in HR?

Ina: Yes. If there's one thing I've learned, then you can't communicate enough because, it's a global spread company. And we started, of course, with internal emails, with posts in the intranet, in some newsletter of the different locations, all that stuff. But we recognized after a year that we really don't actually reach the people in the subsidiaries. And therefore we started to produce testimonials with formal participants. We started to do little videos that explain the program, and we prepared the communication people in the subsidiaries with those materials, and they spread it in their regions. So we have multipliers installed by now that do some of the communication for us. However, it's a hard job to make it present at any time. And this is the reason why we went external with communication just a few weeks ago. Because the might of LinkedIn and social media when you share something there has an impact on internal acceptance and awareness of the program too.

Miele Pioneers Camp: Empowering entrepreneurial talents

Chris: Yeah, totally agreed. And actually, this is also how I found basically the program right through your external communication. I was like, "Jeez, I need to talk to them. Sounds brilliant!". So, okay, well, that's interesting. Okay, so now let's say I'm an employee at Miele and I heard of your program maybe by internal or external communication. Doesn't really matter. But now I know, hey, there is something. And I say, well, this is really cool. What do I need to do to participate? So how could I get in touch with you? And how could I start?

Ina: Well, that depends on if you have an idea or not. Because if you don't have an idea and just want to take a glimpse of what it is all about, then you register as an entrepreneur talent. Everybody can do that. You write us an email and then you're in. Then you have access to motivation, leadership, business modeling, name it, classes where you can find out what entrepreneurship is about. And you meet all the other people who have the same ambition. And we offer a lot of formats like ideation workshops, problem analysis, team building workshops where you can meet each other and where you can find each other as a team and find an idea. And as soon as you have an idea and at least one teammate, you can apply for the incubation program, the so-called Miele Pioneers Camp. And this is very easy, too. You just have to take a one-minute video where you explain your business idea and like to say in a lean canvas way. And we will watch all that videos twice a year. And then we select the teams that can participate in the next batch. And each batch starts with a three days boot camp. And there we test team and idea in a quick way and show everybody what it means to work the lean start up way. And after these three days, there's the first pitch of the teams, the first actual pitch. And when they pass that pitch, they are in the program. And then they will receive for the whole program is eight months. It's a part-time program. And the people receive increasing time off the further they are in the program. And they will also get increasing budget, the far they are in the program. But at least they have 30,000 euros they can spend on their idea in order to convince a jury that this idea is valuable for Miele to create new business.

Chris: And from the experience, how large are the teams typically? Do you also have one person teams or is it, you know, two people or is it, you know, like, like large teams? What's the typical what's the typical team sizes that you typically expect?

Ina: Well, one of our precondition is that you have to be at least two people because that makes the team. So two people is the minimum and the maximum we had five people.

Chris: OK, five people - that’s interesting. Now here is a thought. So the ideas that actually might be highly interesting, highly relevant and maybe also highly impactful for your entrepreneurship program are, I assume, precisely those ideas that are not found in the core business or in existing business areas today. Right? So, you know, how can you ensure that you do not eliminate good ideas too early because they actually do not fit Miele strategy?

Ina: Well, that's a hard question because as we have set up this new strategy going into four new business fields, not in the core doesn't mean doesn't fit to our strategy. That's very special because we have set the boundaries for the program that are already out of the core business. And no idea can apply to the thing that is too close to the core business. That's more my problem. But in addition to this,’is it core/ Is it non-core?’ I have to say sometimes I want things to be close to the core or at least that people have an idea what the unfair advantage is. They want to play with this idea because why should a corporate invest in a startup when there is nothing they bring to the table that is close to the core business? For example, if the team says, well, I can use our sales processes or sales channels. Or I can use production capacities, then it is somehow using the core, but that's not a bug, but a feature.

Chris: OK, interesting. Can you talk about some of the assessment criteria, the rating criteria that you actually apply? So obviously, sure fit to strategy is, you know, to a certain extent important, as you just said before. But what are some others having an unfair advantage, maybe exploiting some modes that Miele basically have? So what are some of the criteria that are very important for you that those ideas should actually meet?

Ina: The criteria change depending on the stage where you are in the process. Yeah. To get into the whole thing, it's most important that I see a motivated team that burns for their idea and that this idea fits to our four new business areas. So that's all. Then you are in. By the way, along the way, you have to prove that there is a customer problem, and you have to prove it not by asking only two people, but it needs to be fundamentally proved. And you have to prove that we are able to produce a solution to this customer problem. And then you have to say, well, there is a potential that's interesting for us as a corporate. And this is there has to be a business about 50 million euros a year. Otherwise, this is too small, or we would invest in too many small things that wouldn't be efficient.

"You have to prove that there is a customer problem you want to solve with your idea, and you have to prove it not by asking only two people, but it needs to be fundamentally proved."

Chris: Yeah, which makes perfect sense. And by the way, how do you deal with the idea of disruption? Would you be OK with there is maybe a new entry or entrepreneurial initiative that could actually cannibalize some existing business? Would that be OK to your program as well?

Ina: Yeah, definitely. That's better. We disrupt ourselves and someone else does.

Chris: Yeah, 100%. That's why I'm asking this. OK, interesting. And as you said before, you came from a cost-cutting background, right? From a cost-cutting phase. And I think probably the program is funded by cash flow out of the business. So, of course, when the main business is doing well, that works. But what if not so? When do you actually decide whether the projects are deemed to be successful and will be continued? You said before you had the meat of funding approach. But at some point in time, there needs to be a go/ no-go decision. Well, do we really invest in maybe start scaling this? So is there any any hard cut where basically say go or no go before you actually do large investments into those initiatives?

Ina: Yeah, it depends on what you consider large. Well, when we talk about hardware, it's very fast, very huge amount of money you have to invest to come up with a prototype. And therefore, well, I would say the first five months of this program, we go very easy on the teams and give them room to explore and find out if there really is some gold nugget they have found. And then we look at the teams' case by case and decide what do we believe is the nugget we are going for. Of course, as I said, we can't do 50 small things. We also have to place our bets. And this depends on how much business is behind this idea. How good does it fit to our middle values and how intro it is a team. So as every other investor, we buy the idea.

Chris: Right. Well, that's really insightful. So, OK, we are kind of close already to the end of this episode, but maybe, you know, to wrap this all up. Maybe you can quickly summarize for us if you would have, you know, three recommendations for building an intrapreneurship program. What would those three recommendations be?

Ina: Perhaps I repeat two I mentioned earlier. First is start with why understand why you are doing this for your organization and shape your program the way it fits to your organization and not to any blueprint recommendation. Second, communicate, communicate, communicate. You can't over communicate to reach all the people you need. And third, it's about the people. In case of any doubt, I would buy a team, not an idea.

"In case of any doubt, I would buy a team, not an idea.

Chris: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Very good. And maybe looking forward, you know, a couple of months, maybe one or two years. Are there any plans to develop the Pyrenees camp even further? So is this something on the roadmap that you'd like to share for even expanding, enhancing the program?

Ina: Well, my vision for entrepreneurship is that in 10 years, this these habits, this understanding of pioneering new things is somehow anchored in our culture and our processes in our leadership. Then that I don't have to excite and ignite so much anymore, but that it's a self-fulfilling or self-empowering network where all these things happen naturally. So I don't know how it will look like then and what is up or in front of me until then. But what I know is that I will learn year by year how I have to adapt to the program and I have to shape it that it fits to the current situation of our Miele employees.

Chris: Yeah, and I think this is an awesome vision to go after. Right. So, OK, that's the future. Now, let's look at the past. If you look at your time at Miele so far, what would you say, what was your greatest Innovation Rockstar moment so far?

Ina: Well, Miele is a premium brand, as you know. Yeah. And we are very proud of our brand. And when I started designing the Pionees Camp,  want to have a brand and the brand thing. And I want to have my own logo. And very many people said to me, this will never happen. Well, and then starting of the year, it happened. That was my Rockstar Moment when I said, but yeah, you can do that. You can change things in a traditional organization. And if you have a movement supported by strategy, supported by people, supported by culture, and everybody is pulling on the same angle, it is very valid to communicate in an own way and to establish the Miele Pioneers Camp in its own logo.

Chris: Yeah, that's an outstanding rock star moment. So do you have your own merchandising already?

Ina: Of course. Of course. Do you see my T-shirt?

Chris: Oh, yeah. Okay. Yes, you do have your merchandising. Brilliant. All right. Well, that's what I call a Rockstar Moment. Thank you very much. And with that moment in mind, we wrap up this episode. Ina, it was a pleasure talking to you. Thank you for sharing the experiences and the insights. This was very insightful. Thanks much.

Ina: Thank you very much, Chris, for having me. It was my pleasure.

Chris: All right. And to everybody listening or watching, if you like the show, then leave us a rating or a review and share the podcast with your colleagues. And if you want to get in touch, simply shoot us a message at Now that's it. Thanks for your time. See you in the next episode. Take care and bye bye.

About the authors

Dr. Christian Mühlroth is the host of the Innovation Rockstars podcast and CEO of ITONICS. Dr. Ina Nordsiek is Director Intrapreneurship at the German domestic appliance manufacturer Miele.

The Innovation Rockstars podcast is a production of ITONICS, provider of the world’s leading Operating System for Innovation. Do you also have an eduspiring story to tell about innovation, foresight, strategy or growth? Then shoot us a note!



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