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Intrapreneurship: Becoming an entrepreneur within an organization

Posted on Friday November 16, 2018

Intrapreneurship: Becoming an entrepreneur within an organization

Many New Brunswickers have entrepreneurial ideas but fail to make the leap despite their creative urges. A variety of reasons, ranging from family or financial commitments to fear of risk, may keep workers in paid employment. And, as we saw in the post Working for an Employer: Much More Than Just a Paycheque, there are many advantages to working for a company. How, then, does a person reconcile entrepreneurial spirit against paid employment? Intrapreneurship is a management approach aiming to leverage employees? creative strengths that made it possible for Google to create Gmail and 3M to invent the Post-it note. Let's take a closer look at this key concept guiding the growth of the companies of tomorrow.


Intrapreneurship: A concept originating in the 1970s

The term "intrapreneur" was first used in 1976 by the American businessman Gifford Pinchot III. This neologism combines two distinct but complementary concepts:

  1. The process by which an employee creates a new entity, whether integrated or completely separate, on behalf of the organization where she or he is employed.
  2. The incorporation of entrepreneurial management within the boundaries of an organization, thereby turning employees into in-house entrepreneurs. This management approach is characterized by a higher level of autonomy in the development and implementation of strategies and structures for which the intrapreneurs are then held accountable.

The main objective of intrapreneurship is to enable companies to leverage the creative capacity of their employees to assist in overcoming the inertia found so frequently within larger organizations. One well-known example of this phenomenon is the creation of the ubiquitous Like button on Facebook. Created through a "hackathon" and originally intended to promote collaboration among software engineering teams, the Like button has since become emblematic.


Entrepreneurs innovating on behalf of employers

Intrapreneurs are a significant driving force when it comes to finding flexible, decentralized ways to explore solutions to a wide range of situations and challenges at existing companies through the:

  • development of new products and services
  • formulation of innovative growth strategies
  • introduction of leading-edge technologies
  • adoption of new administrative methods
  • analysis of issues affecting various production processes and implementation of redesigned systems.


Channelling the creative force of individuals

Intrapreneurs are provided opportunities to pursue ideas "outside" of their organization with a view to tackling issues and projects independently of their employer's traditional directions and decision-making habits. This positions them to identify new approaches to solving problems and:

  • identifying business opportunities in the various markets in which the company is active
  • finding shortcuts for moving forward more quickly with projects and meeting tight deadlines
  • committing personally (in some cases outside of regular working hours) to the success of initiatives.

Intrapreneurs stand out from managers for their high level of independence and capacity to implement new production modes. For maximum results, companies have to allocate the designated individuals the space and resources they need to implement their ideas.


A corporate culture going beyond the employer/employee relationship

It's not enough to simply allow employees to take initiatives here and there to miraculously transform them into intrapreneurs. Companies need to be prepared to provide their employees latitude to modify not only their own working environments and methods but also corporate structures themselves. The guiding principles include:

  • innovation
  • decision-making autonomy
  • employee ownership
  • free thought and out-of-the-box approaches
  • encouragement of critical thinking
  • regular questioning of work methods.

Fostering a truly entrepreneurial culture based on these principles positions the companies of the future to place their destinies in the hands of their most creative and productive employees (to everyone's benefit)!


The typical profile of an intrapreneur

Identifying employees likely to contribute the most to their company in an intrapreneurial role is no small challenge. Inversely, proposing that an employer reduce an employee's workload and reallocate schedules to make room for intrapreneurial initiatives can be a delicate task, particularly at companies that are still in the process of embracing this management approach. This has nonetheless been the key to the success of many highly innovative companies. For example, Google designates 20% of its' employees time as free time for developing their own projects.

To effectively identify potential candidates, it is important to differentiate them from other candidates with a management profile. For example, intrapreneurs stand out for their ability to step back and gain new insight into issues. They reorganize human, material and other resources to generate different results. They also come up with new strategies for achieving objectives they have set for themselves. Managers, meanwhile, are more effective at improving performance within the confines of existing operational frameworks, upholding and reaching the goals set for them and executing strategies developed by the management team.


Essential qualities of intrapreneurs:

  1. Work independently and take responsibility for their actions and decisions, whether good or bad
  2. Demonstrate leadership by motivating and inspiring others
  3. Show creativity and have strong intellectual resources
  4. Are positive, humble AND confident
  5. Know how to clearly communicate their directions and vision of things.

Being identified as an intrapreneur and earning the trust of a management team requires advanced personal attributes and professional skills. Just like entrepreneurs starting up their own companies, intrapreneurs have to have these qualities and use them at every stage of their new, independent ventures.


A new approach to managing employees: let them manage themselves

To mobilize teams and take advantage of opportunities, human resources departments should consider offering employees greater flexibility and responsiveness as well as ongoing improvements to all work processes and procedures. Providing employees the option to manage themselves creates a new dynamic with regard to human resources. It also makes intrapreneurs more likely to:

  • incorporate new approaches into their work
  • stay up to date through professional development
  • make bold strategic choices in complex, challenging contexts.

A company develops intrapreneurs by giving employees ownership of initiatives and encouraging the associated personal involvement and motivation.


Maintaining intrapreneurial interest in long-term commitment

One of the major challenges of this management approach relates to companies capacity to retain high-performance intrapreneurs over the long term. Companies might consider:

  • offering share ownership options
  • sharing the profits generated through intrapreneurial initiatives
  • implementing a bonus system.

These solutions assist companies in motivating their strongest-performing resources to stay with them over the long term. Providing access to share ownership via in‑house start-ups helps to create a stimulating entrepreneurial environment.

Embracing this new management approach positions the companies of tomorrow to set themselves apart for their high levels of agility and innovation. Active, dynamic management of career paths through intrapreneurship also increases the likelihood of retaining the most productive employees over the long term.

Finding and retaining high-quality workers remains a major challenge across nearly all sectors. Intrapreneurship offers a contemporary management approach (after all, the 70s weren't that long ago!) for companies seeking to remain at the forefront of their industries.

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