FB15As part of 2015’s Global Entrepreneurship Week, I am revisiting some of my older articles and applying lessons learned / new thinking that has been gained over the last 6-9 months. This article grabs text from “Flavors of intrapreneurship” (February 2014) and “Sanctioned intrapreneurship” (February 2014) that had followed on from a series of speeches given in 2013 in Turkey, Puerto Rico and Spain. This is an introduction to the concept of intrapreneurship (corporate entrepreneurs) for organizations interested in developing new ways of working.

“Make sure your intrapreneurs work for you, not against you”
The original articles were both written bearing in mind ‘covert’ or ‘sanctioned’ intrapreneurs: disruptors either working below management radar or those benefiting from the support of their leaders.

My personal view, as someone who has owned businesses (and been an intrapreneur as well as entrepreneur), is that ‘working below the radar’ is fundamentally wrong and is anathema to the concepts of collaborative working and organizational healthiness.

Accepting that, for every testament to sanctioned intrapreneurship (e.g. 3M’s Post-It Note or Apple’s iPhone), there will be a counter-balance where a maverick went and created something disruptive on their own. However, more intrapreneurial ventures fail than succeed.

The reality is this: for big ideas to succeed, you need the support of the entire organization – ‘moving the needle’ on your own is time-consuming and difficult… and if you don’t know what the corporate strategy is, you may actually be replicating something being done somewhere else (or even be going against the corporate strategy).

In public and private sector organizations, things are rarely black & white – and intrapreneurs embrace ambiguity as this is the wriggle room that is needed to get thing done – and this is the responsibility of leadership to provide the environment and the support for this to succeed.

But consider this: even with a strong leader and a supportive framework… covert intrapreneurs are everywhere.

As explained in ‘Flavors of intrapreneurship’, the covert intrapreneur is one of those people that causes a quiet exasperation as ‘normal’ employees focus on delivering their KPIs and no more than that – in their reviews, covert intrapreneurs achieve the minimum but then seem distracted, work off-plan, over-step their boundaries. Sometimes, the covert intrapreneur has a success but, in the majority of cases, the covert intrapreneur does not have the ability to galvanise colleagues into action, and so their grand idea falters.

The issue is that intrapreneurs are meant to fail – if they are pushing boundaries then it is inevitable. The leadership should give this person permission to do this as a full-time engagement rather than ‘in their spare time’. The rationale is simple: if it’s in their spare time and they enjoy it… then it will creep into their day job and they become ‘covert’.

Yes, covert intrapreneurs are the product of bad leadership.

A good leader will spot the intrapreneurial potential, encourage it and support it. The leader’s authorisation and endorsement moves the intrapreneur out of the shadows: away from being covert to being ‘sanctioned’.

Some of the traits of the covert intrapreneur are relevant and important – and should be nurtured as part of any corporate commitment to being organisationally healthy: strong collaborative intelligence, a focus on emotional intelligence (including the use of such resources as talking therapy, performance coaching, mentoring and mindfulness), a culture that rewards great behavior and actively penalises inappropriate behaviors, etc.

The point is simple: seek out the lazy employees and the covert intrapreneurs… replicate their good habits (search for simplicity, strong team worker, enthusiasm for a cause…) – and build on this resource as you construct a sanctioned environment.

So tell me about your enterprise – do you know who the intrapreneurs are? Do they have senior endorsement? Are there success stories?

Contact Neil for an informal chat about intrapreneurship and your organization.

Coveting the covert intrapreneur