The idea of intrapreneurship, or ‘dreamers who do’ as coined in the 70s by Gifford Pinchot III, can feel intangible at times, a lofty ideal saved for the likes of Meta or Sony. In reality, intrapreneurs are just employees who help their organisations to innovate in the same way an entrepreneur drives change in their start-up. They take risks and make a step change towards better impact for their customers – they are in the business of rapid evolution, not continuous improvement.
It has many of the same elements as the entrepreneurship model, combining desirability, feasibility and viability to make a successful business or venture, but with a few key differences.
Intraprenuership is traditionally seen as separate to the day job, but I passionately believe that intrapreneurship should be viewed by leaders as more tightly connected to the effectiveness of their organisation.
We are all aware that the world has changed and continues to change at an ever-increasing pace; customers have more choice than ever before and their buying decisions now include considerations like sustainability, convenience and even ethics. All of this means that intrapreneurship has become intrinsic to the success of large organisations. Having teams or departments that run like small businesses with customer centric, creative, playful, motivated, collaborative and curious problem solvers can spread a positive impact across the whole business, and help to drive it forward.
So do your leaders need to consider if they are really going to empower their teams to embrace intrapreneurship?
Intrapreneurs are not always rewarded financially or otherwise for their enterprising successes in the same way that entrepreneurs would be.
How would you measure and reward the impact of intrapreneurship?When it comes to commerciality intrapreneurs can feel disconnected to the overall bottom line of a large business. Having a purpose and vision that links to each team and individual is key to ensure they feel involved and aware of their impact, and it has to be made clear that it is values and behaviours, rather than tasks, that will be rewarded.
Do you have a performance management structure that empowers or blocks intraprenuership? Performance management driven only by financial reward can often drive rather than collaboration. You must remove all duplication and wasted effort by ensuring the teams’ work is visible across the organisation and the right people in teams are involved from the start. Importantly there should be no negative repercussion for trying regardless of the outcome, and the more visible this work is, the higher the likelihood that you will be able to catch any failure before it's too big to fail.
Culture and people
Entrepreneurs have the freedom to create their culture, find the right tools and partners to work with at the right time and can hire the right people that fit their purpose or vision. Intrapreneurs are bound by the organisational culture and existing resources of their business - whether that’s people, systems, procedures or processes.
· How might your business culture be creating bureaucracy or barriers to intrapreneurship?
· What impact does your structure of authority and hierarchy have on decision making?
· Does your supply chain allow for new partnerships, or does it block them with insufficient or difficult supplier contracts and onboarding?
Regulation is necessary but shouldn’t be an excuse not to innovate - if strong tramlines are in place and the risk is fully understood it shouldn’t be a problem to incorporate new ways of doing things.
· What role does L&D play in your culture - is it a tick box exercise or are your teams increasing the chances of success through exploring and activating tried and tested methodologies tools and techniques?
· Recruitment - are you getting the process right?
Impactful learning interventions can change behaviours and mindset, however it’s just as important to bring in new people to role model and move the business forward. Diversity will breed a wider idea pool and better solutions and innovations. Most university courses have Entrepreneurship modules – it’s the way the next generation want to work.
Leaders’ mindset & courage
How do you enable your teams to be brave and think commercially with your business purpose in mind?
If the C-Suite is talking the talk, employees are empowered and motivated then all that remains is to ensure your leaders are ready to activate and drive intraprenuership and innovation. Middle to senior leaders can often be a blocker to intrapreneurship as it’s a change to how they succeeded in the past and what got them to where they are today – they don’t want to risk it.
Our goal is to get that layer of leadership to change their mindset and measurement of success. Its about holding space, rewarding courage and encouraging people to put their effort into finding new solutions. The funds aren’t always readily available, but everyone understands that investment and funding must be made in the right areas once concepts like MVP’s are proven. It takes bravery to pull the plug if those new ideas aren’t right. There are ways such as internal challenges or hackathons that can get started on little to no budget – the important thing is just to drive creative thinking in any way you can.
Your internal intrapreneurs are somewhat protected from the personal financial risk experienced by the average entrepreneur, but this can also result in a lessened sense of accountability for the financial side of things. Any entrepreneur worth their salt has a great understanding of the viability of things, and so too should a successful intrapreneur. A true understanding of the overall business model is key, so their ideas should be able to fit into these models, and the intrapreneur should be the one with the sense of accountability to ensure they pay off.
In summary, your organisation needs to:
- Hire the right people, with the right skills and behaviour
- Tackle the risk appetite and fixed mindsets of leaders
- Change the culture surrounding business bureaucracy and regulation
- Reward behaviours rather than outcomes, especially around innovation
- Prepare to step away from continuous improvement and into rapid evolution!
If you think one (or all!) of the points above might be the key reason your organisation isn’t reaping the benefits of intrapreneurship – get in touch, we’d love to help. Empowering your employees to think innovatively, take accountability and drive change is a win-win situation, and we’d love to help you get the ball rolling.