How to Encourage an Intrapreneur Culture

by Jonathan Tarud
Blog Post

Intrapreneurship is much more than something you can just “implement” in your company, it’s an entire culture.

Consider this from a CLO article:

“…it’s vital that leaders make sure there is a platform where employees regardless of what department they work in have the opportunity to work on their creative ideas while executing daily assignments.”

You can’t just espouse intrapreneurship, you have to make room for it, and that means developing a culture that encourages it within your business. It means not only creating the space for employees to work on creative ideas, but encouraging them to do so.

What can you do to encourage an intrapreneur culture? Let’s take a look:

Lead by example

Intrapreneurs aren’t just innovative, they are empowered and take ownership within an organization. While you might get some employees who have the natural inclination, in an employer/employee environment, they’re going to need some encouragement.

Internal intrapreneurial culture begins with a leader who demonstrates it. For example, leaders might be more transparent than is traditional with their team members. They might let them in on decision-making and keep them involved with process formation. Importantly, they give anyone the opportunity, no matter what their role is.

Those leaders don’t micromanage and aren’t overly controlling of the details of what their team members do. A more “hands off” approach gives employees the room to step up, take charge and find new efficiencies. It can promote the feeling that employees are partners in the business.

Intrapreneur culture

Define processes

When an employee has an idea they’re interested in working on, what is their next step? Is there some kind of hierarchy to go through for approval, or, can they go straight to someone at or near the top?

It’s helpful to have a defined process and method for deciding which ideas get approved and which don’t. Without a clear process, employees might not know where to start and good ideas might be held back.

This is especially important where resources need to be assigned in order to move the project forward. Where is the budget coming from? How much say does the employee have over expenditure in order to complete the project?

Create a “solutions” focus

There are often things that employees would like to complain about within a company, this tends to be part of doing business. It’s important that employees are not only encouraged to voice their complaints or criticisms, but they’re ready to pitch solutions.

When problems or complaints are approached in this way, the employee will be thinking it over early, and may even devise the next important intrapreneurial project for the company.

To aid in this process, your company needs to have a culture where it is a safe space to share ideas and (respectfully) broach criticisms. New ideas need to be welcomed rather than shut down. Kill any tendency to say “yes, but…” and replace that with “yes, and…”

Assess like a VC

Speaking of those new ideas, how do you decide which go ahead and which don’t? One approach is to assess the risks and potential returns, much like a VC would ahead of any investment.

For example, Neil Sharma, CEO of digital marketing company DEG takes this approach within his own company, and it is part of the reason why they have a 92% retention rate. Consider this:

“When Web strategist Cara Olson returned to digital marketing company DEG following a four-month maternity leave, she had big news: She planned to resign and start her own company.

CEO Neal Sharma heard Olson out and made a counterproposal: Why not launch it within DEG? The division, he told Olson, would be hers to lead and direct.

Eight years later, Olson — now director of direct marketing and e-customer relationship marketing for DEG — heads a unit that employs more than 30 people and generates one of the company’s largest revenue streams.”

Neil has taken this approach multiple times and not only retained top employees but seen considerable return on investment for the business. Employees can pursue passions while meeting the company’s own business needs.

Weigh that up against potential risks; not only losing top talent but having them open up competing businesses. This approach tends to be a win/win.

Reward proactive behavior

Encouraging an intrapreneurial culture means rewarding the behaviors that add to it. Individuals who are prepared to take ownership, solve problems and potentially create new revenue for the company should be appropriately rewarded.

There has been a lot of discussion around what an appropriate reward looks like. Some commentators caution that stock options (like what the C-Suite members get), can actually prove to be an impediment to the company. Stock owners then start focusing on what improves the value of the stock first and foremost.

An overall consensus seems to be that it’s important to tie the reward to the desired behavior somehow. For example, Sales VPs might be rewarded annually based on sales numbers, while engineers may be rewarded upon project completions.

There is also a South African study, which looked into intrapreneurship among technology firms. They found that formal acknowledgment and social incentives worked well, but employees were also very motivated by having organizational freedom. This is not to say that you can avoid financially compensating team members, but that these things are part of rewarding that intrapreneurial behavior.

Be prepared for failure

Part of the risk of encouraging an intrapreneurial culture is that, just like any other entrepreneurial venture, there are bound to be some failures. How you prepare for and manage these is important for keeping your culture intact.

People are always fearful of making mistakes, which is why not everyone is an entrepreneur! Within your business, it has to be okay that sometimes there will be small failures in the pursuit of bigger dreams. Employees shouldn’t shy away from making suggestions for fear of failure.

If you were to react angrily to failure, this is not a constructive response. Employees would be more likely to shrink away from offering ideas or putting themselves forward for projects. Turn that around to something more positive. What did we learn from the experience? How can we apply what we learned moving forward?

Intrapreneur culture

Hire for entrepreneurial spirit

Aspiring entrepreneurs are often attracted to innovative environments – you’ll find many of them employed at startups, for example. These tend to be the sorts of people who are eager to learn and will jump at first-hand experience with having the autonomy to manage their own projects.

Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur, and you probably don’t want an entire workforce of the same type of person, but by deliberately hiring a few people who exemplify these qualities, you can help to pump up that intrapreneurial culture.

Final thoughts

Intrapreneurship is something that many organizations aspire to develop, but it isn’t as easy as simply telling people to go forth and innovate – it takes a culture that supports the right behaviors.

Intrapreneurs are those employees who have entrepreneurial tendencies and are prepared to develop their ideas within your company. They take ownership and enjoy the opportunity for some operational autonomy.

Your company can reap rewards through encouraging intrapreneurship, but it’s important that you’re doing it the right way. Expect to take on risk and potential failures, and don’t make employees feel that there is zero tolerance of failure. People tend to work better when they’re not fearful of making mistakes!

The intrapreneurial culture needs to be an integral part of your business. It may take some time to engrain, but the strategies above can help to promote it.

Koombea is an innovative company helping other innovators develop their dreams. Talk to us today about how we can help you.

by Jonathan Tarud
Blog Post