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 a variety of different articles that I’ve written over the last four years as well as consultancy and speaking engagements. This is an introduction to the concept of intrapreneurship (corporate entrepreneurs) for organizations interested in developing new ways of working.

“Is your CEO in love with the concept or the reality?”
I’ve met with national, federal and local governments to explore the concept of intrapreneurship – discussions covering the length and breadth of the topic including its validity.

What I tend to see are some pretty clear demarcations ranging from dismissal of intrapreneurship as a fad (a valid point) through to a raging desire to ‘be intrapreneurial’. And this is the rub: a desire to being intrapreneurial suggests that the CEO has read the latest business journals, picked up a few buzzwords and feels that it can be down with little or no impact on the organization.

I would rather engage with the CEO dismissing the idea than the CEO that has skimmed the press for the latest ‘thing’.

Let’s be honest: intrapreneurs can be tricky to handle: there are definite benefits to employing intrapreneurs but it can be a little bit like having a tiger by the tail – if they are badly handled, they can cause a mess. This is why I am a fan of the sanctioned intrapreneur who works with support and guidance rather than the covert intrapreneur hiding in the shadows of badly designed organizational structures, ambiguous processes and corporate fiefdoms / domains.

Intrapreneurs can help generate new income, boost profits, engender innovation – and all within a team culture that dismantles silos and removes negative office politicians. From an employer branding perspective, being intrapreneurial attracts motivated and empowered collaborators with a focus on customer delight as opposed to self-interest.

There is little denying that the life of the intrapreneur is more complex than that of the entrepreneur – so how do we handle such people?

In the article, ‘Do You Really Need An Intrapreneur?‘, I set out the following traits for leaders to bear in mind when looking at their intrapreneurs:

  • One of the main drivers of the intrapreneur is freedom: the freedom to think, reflect, explore and develop. Yes, this is within a corporate structure and managers may say that they can’t afford to give these people the time to ‘do nothing’ but it is crucial to the success of your business to give these people the power or right to act, speak, or think as is required in order to achieve the wider corporate objectives;
  • Intrapreneurs inform corporate strategy but aren’t wholly-bound by it. They will go with the current strategic direction and, protected by stakeholders with authority & influence, head down different paths. Consider Apple as it moved from a computer company to a consumer electronics one;
  • Intrapreneurs are always asking, “what-if?” and “why? – pushing the boundaries almost (often!) to the point of annoying colleagues who are either getting used to a new status quo or are defending a domain at risk from any change. In one session in 2014, the question was asked in an Idea Lab, “what if we got rid of HR?” – rather than allowing people to explore the pros and cons of such an initiative, it was stifled by managers with vested interests;
  • The first idea for the intrapreneur is the foundation – not the solution. Ideas germinate with the intrapreneur and it is rare that the first solution that occurs to them is the one that is deployed – ideas grow with intrapreneurs;
  • Intrapreneurs walk the floor – they network, they meet people, they seek out constructive conversations (intrapreneurs will attend fewer meetings than their colleagues but will attend better meetings). It’s an easy measure of how much trouble an organization is facing by seeing how many internal meetings they hold;
  • Intrapreneurs make promises and keep them. There is little ambiguity with the intrapreneur – if you ask them for something, it is a yes or no – they don’t have the time to play games;
  • Intrapreneurs are visual – they will tend to articulate problems and develop solutions using such tools as mindmaps and design thinking – they will prototype quickly so that people can touch-and-feel the idea;
  • Intrapreneurs break the rules – this doesn’t mean that they are willful lawbreakers but does mean that they are more inclined to question the norm – they will de-bunk myths, challenge traditions and be willing to do what hasn’t been done before;
  • The solution is the motivator – this means that the intrapreneur is agnostic about the success of a particular idea (they pivot – using the lessons learned from one intrapreneurial adventure in order to guide the development of the next one) and is also fairly relaxed about financial reward – intrapreneurs are completely ‘company people’ that understand the need for social / financial ROI;
  • Intrapreneurs collaborate – they do not work ‘below the radar’ or in isolation – they understand the need to innovate, incubate and accelerate their ideas through the power of the collective

To draw such people together, you will be building a team based on shared values – people with a commitment to be constructively destructive as they challenge perceived wisdom and create a new way (aligned to leadership vision). This is where culture becomes extremely important!

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

Intrapreneurship – a state of readiness?