As we start to see the decline of the ‘modern entrepreneur’ (based on two simple facts: too many ‘entrepreneurs’are NOT entrepreneurs – they are ideas people who want to use other people’s money to do something with it; reports produced on ROI for financiers shows that, on average, people LOSE money on entrepreneurial ventures), we are seeing the rise of the intrapreneur.
The latest variant of the entrepreneurial spirit lies within corporations as they seek to engage with employees, build collaborative communities and encourage innovation.
The concept of ‘enabling intrapreneurs’ comes from a quote by the CEO of Virgin Group, Sir Richard Branson as he talked about encouraging his colleagues to be entrepreneurial as this culture serves to reinvigorate the organization.
“Perhaps the greatest thing about this form of enabled intrapreneurship is that often everyone becomes so immersed in what they’re doing that they feel like they own their companies. They don’t feel like employees working for someone else.” (Sir Richard Branson, 2011)
Accepting that ‘enabling intrapreneurs’ is reflected by the principles of sanctioned intrapreneurship – we need to articulate the support mechanism so that everyone in the organization understands roles & responsibilities with regards to innovation and intrapreneurship.
This is referred to as the ‘intrapreneur ecosystem‘ and it serves to give the intrapreneur the freedom and financial support to create new products, services and systems: working cross-boundaries, disrupting current corporate thinking and creating financial and social impact.
Virgin enabled its intrapreneurs by doing away with formal organizational structures, internal (formal) roadblocks and bureaucracy. If the intrapreneur has the right stakeholders with influence and authority, the ecosystem can take shape.
Here are six values of the ecosystem:
- Commitment to Learning & Development
Innovation is a learned skill – many people ask themselves “what if-?” but rarely move it through any kind of process to bring it to the world. Spot-training, bootcamps, mentoring… it is the organization’s responsibility to equip the intrapreneur.
Commitment to headspace
3M has bootlegging; WL Gore has dabble time; Google has its 20% time – innovative organizations allow their people the headspace to think through their ideas.
Invest to innovate
Much like an entrepreneurial startup seeks initial seed investment to get an idea moving, the intrapreneur needs access to a ring-fenced budget – the ecosystem, strives to be as ‘startup’ as possible
Reward & Recognition
The communications consultancy, Prosek Partners gives 5% of the revenue from a customer account to an employee who identified the opportunity and set up the first meeting… for life. CEO, Jennifer Prosek has also given eight entrepreneurial employees equity stakes in the firm in recognition of the new products they’ve created.
Failure is success
There’s an oft-quoted statement by Edison that reads, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10000 ways that won’t work”. Tie that in with Charles House’s ‘failed monitor’ at HP or Spencer Silver’s ‘failed’ adhesive that spawned the Post-it Note – or how about Odeo who didn’t have success building a new podcasting product but one of their engineers, working on side project creates what is now known as Twitter.
The bosses believe in it
It is not cheap when you decide to implement and maintain a fully-functioning intrapreneur ecosystem. Financially, there is a commitment; organizationally, there will be changes; culturally, you are encouraging structured rebellion. If the bosses do not genuinely believe in intrapreneurship DON’T DO IT as it will do you more harm than good. An ecosystem with engaged and enthusiastic leaders is on the right road to success.
In the model, you will see a corporate aspect, a view from the initiative / adventure and a personal consideration. As an example, whereas the business may talk about ‘stakeholders’, the intrapreneurial adventure also has an interest in ‘networks’ to support the work and the individual entrepreneur will be looking to build relationships with ‘professional friends’ – people who will be able to provide advice and support.
Based on extensive research as well as consultation with an international network of associates, I have been able to break the ecosystem into forty areas.
- Corporate – overarching view and responsibility in the development and deployment of intrapreneurship
Innovate – enabling open innovation – developing new ideas aligned to corporate goals
Incubate – supporting the intrapreneur as they develop the idea to a realistic level
Accelerate – bringing the idea to internal and external markets – the ‘go live’ stage
I consider these four aspects as being interconnected – for example, without a clear corporate strategy, there is no guidance as to where to innovate – and the idea will either then fail due to lack of direction, lack of stakeholder engagement, or lack of corporate support… and so it will never be incubated properly or brought to market.