The U.S. cable industry is fighting what it considers the misconception that it has no room for entrepreneurial spirit. The Cable Center, a not-for-profit education organisation serving the media and telecoms sector, has developed an innovation leadership programme called the Intrapreneurship Academy that is already making its mark after just two years. Charter Communications, America’s second largest cable operator with 28 million residential and business customers, has made especially good use of the academy and reckons it will be easier to retain bright, early-career employees as a result.
Of the 25 Charter employees who have been through the programme since 2017, one-third have since been promoted. Twelve participants were women and these account for five of the eight promotions. Only three of the Intrapreneurship Academy (IA) graduates have left the company. “These are very talented people so that is pretty incredible,” Cynthia Carpenter, VP of Human Resources at Charter, says of the post-IA talent loss rate.
She justifies her support for the programme to bosses on the grounds of promotion rates and churn among what amounts to a next generation of cable leadership. There has been a very positive impact on all staff, not just the ones who go through the IA.
“It says that Charter cares about innovation. The common theme in feed-back from participants is that it increases their confidence that Charter is looking to innovate,” says Carpenter. “It shows that we care about them. They know the company leadership wants to hear what they think, and they feel a part of the innovation – they are not just waiting for the leadership to drive change.”
The Intrapreneurship Academy does what the name implies – it looks to develop entrepreneurs within an established corporate setting. It is cross-functional. Innovation is defined as any change that adds value to an organisation, according to Janice Silver, Vice President of Programs and Marketing at the Cable Center. The process is people-driven: you develop the person first and wait for the projects and ideas to come later.
Creative thinking is a key part of the programme. As Silver explains, “We provide the framework for people to confront problems and ‘ideate’, create a business case around their ideas to pitch to the management and then start the process of making things happen. It is about finding resources and bringing all the pieces of a project together.”
Carpenter adds: “Entrepreneurs can get very emotional about new ideas or products and this programme helps them to attach logic. When participants come back, they are proving out assumptions – that is a big part of what they gain.”
Carpenter believes the cable industry can offer an outlet for entrepreneurial spirit while soaking up some of the risk that technology and process pioneers would shoulder if they went to a start-up. “This is an attempt – and one that is working quite well – to position cable as a place where someone with entrepreneurial aspirations will be happy. It is a way to keep recruiting bright talent.”
At Charter Communications, the employees being sent to the Intrapreneurship Academy have typically been working in the cable industry for 2-6 years and are considered early-career stage, below director level. In partnership with the Cable Center, the HR department communicates with senior leaders across the technology side of the Charter business, which amounts to product development, software engineering, advanced engineering and network operations.
“We ask for their nominees. We have been very successful at getting their interest,” Carpenter says of the technology leaders. “Everyone who comes off this programme says they would recommend it to others.”
Carpenter admits that the cable industry has a negative reputation when it comes to innovation, but argues it is not warranted. In fact, not even the cable industry gives itself enough credit for its achievements over the years [subscription cable channels completely disrupted the content industry, cable pioneered on-demand television and turned the broadband market on its head with the advanced DOCSIS specs].
Seventy-five people have been through the Intrapreneurship Academy from the U.S. cable industry as a whole, and the programme is supported by multiple operators and cable organisations. It is open to content providers and vendors, as well as the service providers themselves. The Cable Center used to focus on preserving the history of cable and this initiative is designed to ensure the story keeps unfolding.