Let’s get something clear right from the onset – Intrapreneurship is nothing new. It’s been around for a fair few years, but for the most part it’s been lurking around behind the scenes, going relatively unnoticed by those in the positions of power.
Even if leaders were aware of the goings-on of intrapreneurs, they would simply have labelled it as innovation – not Intrapreneurship. The two terms have become almost indistinguishable from one another, by many. And while the two do go hand in hand with one another, it’s important to understand the difference between the two, albeit if it is only slight.
In the simplest sense, Intrapreneurship provides the platform on which innovation can be built and developed – achieved through the idea of employees acting like entrepreneurs INSIDE of a large organisation.
More specifically, intrapreneurs:
- Are not solely focussed on doing better at their existing jobs, or interested in moving up the corporate ladder, but instead want to create something new – often to solve a problem – that doesn’t currently exist.
- Love to be independent, and question the ‘normal’ way of doing things
- Tend not to be in positions of management
While entrepreneurs create and start businesses, intrapreneurs build, grow and sustain businesses.
Why organisations need to focus on Intrapreneurship
I see there being two main reasons as to why businesses need to give attention to Intrapreneurship:
Innovation is now the most important factor for business growth and success. Innovation helps to improve productivity and accelerate change, to ensure a business remains competitive in the ever-changing world. As I mentioned above, intrapreneurs are those within an organisation who will drive and shape innovation.
I used to work in a big corporate organisation. However, after a number of years working there, I became increasingly frustrated with the corporate way of doing things. I felt my entrepreneurial spirit was being stifled, and slowly being zapped from me. So, I left and started my own business.
I’ve noticed more and more top talent sharing my view. In fact, we’re witnessing a generational shift in attitudes towards work. Today’s workforce wants to have a greater impact and a stronger sense of purpose in what they do. Well, at least they’re the answers I always hear from applicants when I ask them why they want to come and work for my startup (Skim.it).
What the above point alludes to is how innovative, entrepreneurial employees are not engaged when at work in corporate environments, and so are seeking change.
Employee engagement has been one of the hottest buzzwords in more recent times, and rightly so. As it is now widely acknowledged that an engaged workforce has a direct link with an organisations bottom line. Organisations therefore need to be clear on the factors that drive employee engagement. Impact, autonomy and meaning/purpose being such factors – factors that can be satisfied through Intrapreneurship programs.
Large organisations, by not taking into account intrapreneurs, consequently face the real and very dangerous risk of losing their top talent. Not only will current employees leave, but also an organisation will fail to attract the top talent in order to replace them.
By focussing on Intrapreneurship, organisations can not only retain their innovative, entrepreneurial, visionary, and ambitious talent, but attract it too.
How organisations can build an intrapreneurial culture
Clearly it’s very much about trying to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset amongst employees. But it is important to remember that while employees should be looking to innovate to grow the business, they should also continue to stay aligned with the businesses core offerings.
When it comes to building an intrapreneurial culture, the following are some of the things that organisations can do:
1. Create some form of structure
Many companies now give employees dedicated time – and resources – to work on projects outside of their day to day responsibilities. This shows the importance and value that an organisation places on employee innovation. Projects should be followed up by the organisation, with organisations also placing great emphasis on the need for employees to share their endeavours with their peers – to allow collaboration to help improve the work.
2. Ideas factory
An organisation needs to create a culture that promotes and encourages the sharing of ideas. Ideas need to be championed, with everyone in an organisation responsible for not only the generation of ideas, but also the development and build of them.
3. Reward and recognise even the smallest progress
Something I’ve learn’t to do during my time in the start-up world is to celebrate the ‘small wins’. By doing this you can keep momentum going, as the team can stay consistently motivated. Too often teams try to achieve ‘BIG perfect wins’, only celebrating when they get them. These types of ‘wins’ are very rare, and trying to attain them can cause frustration and disappointment. The smaller wins are the building blocks of success, and I’m a big believer of:
Done is better than perfect
4. Sense of belonging and ownership
Earlier on I touched upon the generational shift in attitudes towards work. One such attitude is that of employees no longer wanting to merely ‘work’ somewhere, but instead to feel like they ‘belong’ somewhere. Organisations therefore need to help individuals identify their passions and the purpose that they want to pursue. It of course must align with business goals, and the organisations own bigger purpose. But when employees can work with a true sense of meaningful purpose, within a culture that they feel they belong to, they will be immersed in their role and perform at a much higher level.
No one said it’s going to be easy…
After all, intrapreneurship is all about changing the set ways large organisations do things. No one is particularly comfortable with change, especially large organisations who have been doing the same thing for many years and who may fear any change could lead to failure.
It should be noted that not all employees are cut out for Intrapreneurship, either. You have to be somewhat aggressive in order to get passed all of the inevitable corporate obstacles that you will face. You may also have to work longer hours, often with little credit or recognition for the extra effort you show.
Large organisations need to embed Intrapreneurship into their corporate culture, so that the new generation of employees realise that they might be better off driving change and innovation from a corporate job, as they have everything in place (funding, structure) to do so.
I won’t lie, I fear for the organisations that don’t make Intrapreneurship a priority in 2016…