More than a buzzword: How intrapreneurship is redefining innovation in 2023
With the pace at which technology moves today, becoming an entrepreneur is no longer a difficult feat. An idea, a laptop, and a WIFI connection are usually all it takes to get you started. Startup funding and business development opportunities are also plenty in abundance, with crowdfunding platforms, venture capital funds, and accelerator programs providing ample opportunity to start getting your idea off the ground. The path to entrepreneurship is clearer than it has ever been.
Interestingly, it is reported that around 70% of all successful entrepreneurs develop their winning ideas while working at their 9-to-5 and leave their positions to commercialize their ideas outside of their organizations.
The prospect of this brain drain is disparaging for a lot of innovation managers.
Employees are a big source of innovation - in fact, 60% of organizations state that employees are their most valuable source of innovation
The need to harness the innovation potential of employees is crucial. However, the question arises: What is the most effective way to do this in today’s fast-paced business environment?
The corporate startup mentality
Working with startups to support internal innovation is a crucial strategy for many organizations; around 16% of innovative organizations state they work with startups and external entrepreneurs to foster innovation.
However, over the last few decades, a new phenomenon has been taking place within corporate innovation; the idea to foster 'startup ingenuity’ within organizations.
How are companies doing this? By looking at those would-be entrepreneurs in their organizations and turning them into intrapreneurs.
Intrapreneurship is the buzzword of the moment. It's on the tip of every innovation manager's tongue, and for a good reason. Intrapreneurs, a term coined in the 1980s by management consultants Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot, are described by the consultants as “dreamers who do” and “those who take hands-on responsibility for creating innovation of any kind, within a business.”
Intrapreneurs are highly valuable employees to an organization. They are motivated individuals that work diligently to develop viable ideas that can give organizations a competitive foothold.
Throughout history, we have seen that compliance has never been a viable business strategy; businesses like Blockbuster, Kodak, and Myspace have learned this all too well. As technology moves at an exponential pace, the ability to stay ahead of trends is imperative. Here is where intrapreneurs come in; their innate ability to go against the grain is exactly what corporations need to innovate.
While it is clear that the need to foster intrapreneurship is compelling, 77% of executives report that their capability to support intrapreneurship within their organization is at high risk. Organizations that don't succeed in creating the right opportunities for intrapreneurship are in danger of losing highly valuable innovators.
Not everyone is cut out to be an intrapreneur. However, companies can foster employees' entrepreneurial mindset. We explore how companies can build their capacity to support intrapreneurship and drive startup thinking within their organization.
Where things could go wrong
Before we detail the key considerations to make when building a solid corporate intrapreneurship program, it is crucial to understand where you could go wrong.
While many organizations are extremely hyped up about the prospect of running intrapreneurship programs, one crucial aspect regularly gets overlooked: intrapreneurship programs often are unsuccessful in producing tangible results.
There are several reasons why this could happen:
While some executives might strongly believe that an intrapreneurship program will produce viable ideas and products in the short term, this is rarely the case. And, we would argue that that is actually okay.
Beyond it being a tool for developing solutions, one of the most critical facets of an intrapreneur program is that it is a highly valuable tool in helping to shape the innovation culture of an organization. Organizations that fail to understand that this culture shift is just as significant as a short-term boost in ideas can not truly embrace intrapreneurship.
When excitement wanes
Intrapreneurship programs are exciting. They offer your employees the opportunity to contribute to your organization in truly valuable ways, and they invoke a sense of intrinsic motivation.
To start with, engagement in your intrapreneurship program may be very high; however, if employees see no follow-through with their ideas, the excitement around innovation can die down. The need to see an outcome is just as critical for your employees as it is for your executive team.
The corporate environment does not embrace change
Incubating an idea within a corporation can be a staggered process. If a corporation does not take on an ethos to 'think like a startup,' it will experience challenges in enabling intrapreneurship.
To foster real success, your corporation needs to take an all-in approach to execute its intrapreneurship program.
The right resources are not offered
Beyond the budget, the proper support and space to ideate are critical. Organizations that do not provide the right resources to intrapreneurs, along with a clear path to help them to deliver their solutions will soon see that they don’t get the value they need from those viable ideas.
The pillars of running an intrapreneurship program
Running an intrapreneurship program has its challenges, but corporations can make it a more seamless process with the right strategy.
Provide employees with autonomy
Whenever you consider running any innovation program, the first thing to consider is implementing the correct structure.
Consider the following:
- Closely align your program to your company objectives to gain buy-in from key stakeholders.
- Define what success will look like for your program. Adopt key success metrics that allow you to share progress with key stakeholders on an ongoing basis and benchmark results against KPIs.
- Structure your program around multiple iteration cycles. Think carefully about your process to filter ideas. Develop a process where around 80% of the projects submitted will be filtered out on the first round and 15% during subsequent evaluations. This will allow you to manage a vast flow while focusing on the 5% of remaining projects.
- Continuously involve your participants in every stage of the process, regardless if their ideas are successful or not. Building a community around your program is key.
Provide time and avenues for idea generation
‘Autonomy around process fosters creativity because giving people freedom in how they approach their work heightens their intrinsic motivation and sense of ownership.’ - The Harvard Business Review
While providing the right structure to your intrapreneurship program is crucial, intrapreneurs are in part driven by the desire to be autonomous. Therefore, giving your employees the right level of autonomy and responsibility to manage their projects is a crucial component of what will help fuel their creativity to innovate.
As a general rule, the first ten ideas your employees generate will go nowhere. However, one in their next batch of ten ideas may be the winning idea. This is to say that time is needed to generate ideas with actual value.
When developing your intrapreneurial program, don't limit your program to small intervals of time. Understand that a longer period of time may be required to help you incubate valuable ideas.
Create motivation and incentives
By their nature, intrapreneurs are more likely to be intrinsically motivated. While this may be the case, it is still essential that intrapreneurs see that an organization values their inputs and ideas.
Consider the reward system you will implement to help motivate and incentivize your employees. Rewards will help your employees feel they have created a positive impact that will lead to heightened motivation for your program.
Having the opportunity to participate in the program can be a powerful motivator in itself. Organizations treat involvement and participation in these programs as an indicator of leadership. Employees involved in the intrapreneurial program will have greater exposure to senior executives and leaders and, as a result, a greater chance of career advancement which can be a huge motivator.
Communicate the value of intrapreneurship to your employees
Communication is king.
While your innovation team may be hyped-up about intrapreneurship, many of your employees are likely not even to know what the term means. Create educational offers and build interest in programs through company events and meetings. For those employees most interested in your intrapreneurship program, keep them regularly updated about the progress of your program.
Develop the knowledge around how to design and validate business ideas in your organization. Consider creating an academy to share tools, tips, and frameworks to support employee idea generation and validation.
Say it with me: Failure is good
Failure is okay. Scratch that; failure is good.
'There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Full stop'. If you google inspiration innovation quotes, this one is likely to pop out at you.
Reward failure like you would reward success. You can see large companies such as Tata Group adopting this mantra to heart. As an interesting example of how organizations can spear innovation, the multinational conglomerate introduced an award that recognizes failed innovations. Initiatives such as this help acknowledge failure as a normal part of the innovation process.
So whether your employees fail or succeed, it's okay because the innovation journey is what matters most.
Today innovation is everywhere. Innovation managers have been increasingly focused on getting out and pounding the path to search for external innovations that can drive their internal innovation. Yet employees are the leading source of innovation for most companies.
Intrapreneurship has been one of the most trending topics in innovation; however, intrapreneurship is more than just a buzzword. Intrapreneurship is the next generation of internal innovation driving transformation in global organizations. Intrapreneurship programs also help to highlight key employees and support their growth in the organization.
By retaining and supporting valuable innovators, executives can develop solutions that will help transform their organizations into innovation powerhouses.
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