When it comes to supporting innovation in your company, one trait that can be incredibly powerful is having employees who think like entrepreneurs.
The concept of “intrapreneurship” is being adopted more and more, including informal programs within large companies such as Deloitte and Barclays. There’s even a global community, “The League of Intrapreneurs” to help foster intrapreneurship and “create change from within.”
It sounds a bit like a society of superheroes, doesn’t it? You could liken what they do to bringing superpowers to an organization, particularly in terms of supporting innovation. How does this work for companies? Let’s take a look:
What is “intrapreneurship?”
At its heart, the concept of intrapreneurship is about leveraging and empowering employees of a company so that they are encouraged to create and innovate. This might involve working on a new product or technology, much like a startup would, only with the stability and structure that working for a company brings.
Employees get placed in charge of new projects within a firm. They may have even conceptualized those projects themselves, and they have a large amount of autonomy to pursue them.
This definition from Investopedia sums it up well:
“An intrapreneur is an inside entrepreneur, or an entrepreneur within a large firm, who uses entrepreneurial skills without incurring the risks associated with those activities. Intrapreneurs are usually employees within a company who are assigned to work on a special idea or project, and they are instructed to develop the project like an entrepreneur would. Intrapreneurs usually have the resources and capabilities of the firm at their disposal.”
Who makes a good intrapreneur?
You can’t just choose any employee and bestow on them the title of intrapreneur, it’s something which people tend to have some character traits to support. These might include:
- Being highly self-motivated
- Demonstrating high levels of proactivity
- Being action-oriented
- Works well with self-autonomy
- Being seen as a leader.
Many people have tendencies toward entrepreneurship, but never pursue them for a variety of reasons. One of those is often the level of risk involved. With something like 10% of businesses surviving for the long-term, some people are not in the position to risk their finances. These same people may actually like the company that they work for and have a vested interest in seeing it thrive.
Employees may not immediately come forward and say “hey, I’m an intrapreneur,” but you can create an environment to encourage them. For example, you might provide the opportunity for them to work on their creative ideas even while executing their regular daily duties. Some development companies allow one day of the week for their engineers to work on other projects, for example.
Supporting the intrapreneurial spirit in those employees can help to keep them fueled and make them feel more connected to their employer. Of course, there are plenty of benefits for the employer too…
Why support intrapreneurship?
There are some great reasons why so many larger companies are implementing programs to foster intrapreneurship. Here are some examples:
Leverage internal resources
There has been a popular notion of looking outside the organization for “open innovation,” where ideas are crowdsourced, sought from partners or from other external sources. This is based on an assumption that the smartest people, or those with the best ideas, will always be found somewhere else.
This can be a faulty assumption for several reasons. To begin with, you’re suggesting your own hiring process may not be up-to-scratch (which is another issue altogether!) Why wouldn’t you have some of the best minds within your own team?
Leveraging resources you already have internally just made sense, especially if those people already have a vested interest in the success of the company.
Retain good people
For team members who have that self-motivated and entrepreneurial spirit, supporting that tendency can lead to them feeling more fulfilled at work. This can help your company to retain good people.
There are studies to suggest that this might be particularly important for millennial employees. A Deloitte report speaks of the “loyalty challenge”, where many simply don’t feel loyal to their current employer. Underpinning this is the view that:
“Millennials feel underutilized and believe they’re not being developed as leaders.”
Intrapreneurship gives employees the opportunity to work to their potential and to develop their positioning as leaders. Feeling like they’re contributing something “real” to a company can make a big difference.
Keep the company current
Intrapreneurship encourages exploration and innovation. This helps to keep the company relevant and improve its prospects of long-term health.
Companies that fail to innovate end up obsolete, often wondering how they lost their position in the market too much younger, more nimble brands. It’s important to remember that those key ideas don’t necessarily originate with C-Suite members either. Talent may come from employees at any level.
You could look at it like this; if it’s not your company leveraging that talent, it’s bound to be one of your competitors sooner or later.
Through fostering intrapreneurship, your company can develop new products and services and deliver them with agility, much like a startup can. You can increase sales, and therefore boost your bottom line.
Attracting top talent
We’ve talked about how you can retain good talent, but another bright spot of encouraging intrapreneurship is that you can also attract the best talent.
It’s not hard to learn about companies, their practices, and their overall culture. In fact, there are websites set up for that very purpose so that job hunters can be assisted with making a decision about a company. Imagine what “encourages intrapreneurship,” or “we get to work on our own rewarding projects” might do for your company?
Your current employees will also talk about what it’s like to work for you and can be good advocates for your brand. Having autonomy and the freedom to work on interesting projects can be a great drawcard.
Save on R & D
A more traditional approach to developing new products or services involves a review and approval process, multiple stakeholders and a lot of money spent on hiring and developing research and development staff.
With an intrapreneurship model, you skip all of that in favor of a much more lean mode of operation. Intrapreneurship often involves a few enthusiastic employees who are keen to work additional hours on an interesting project.
Encourage market research
Market research is another thing that companies often spend millions of dollars on. Within an intrapreneurship culture, intrapreneurs do most, if not all of the research before presenting it to company leaders.
The organization gets to spend very little, in return for getting the advantages of good market research.
Intrapreneurship is a great way for larger companies to attain some form of agility in a world of innovative business. These “internal entrepreneurs” can work on projects which help to advance innovation in the company and keep it relevant.
There are more benefits for companies than just the potential impact on revenue. Companies that are willing to foster intrapreneurship can find themselves not only retaining their best people but attracting top talent who wish to apply.
Where you encourage intrapreneurship, you not only get the benefit of innovations, but you get the engagement of your people too. For many big companies implementing intrapreneurship, it’s a win/win.
Koombea helps innovative companies to develop new technologies. Talk to us about how we can help you today.