Taivara Blog Post by Michael Shuchter
Nurturing Intrapreneurship for Innovation Success
Engage and develop intrapreneurs who can help you disrupt your business and industry, before they leave to do it elsewhere
Innovation is necessary to stay alive and drive business forward. It’s commercial Darwinism. Those who can rapidly adapt to changing markets are the ones who survive and thrive.
Being innovative is more complex than a simple change of mindset, however. In order for a company to be innovative, it has to have innovative people; people who are looking to solve genuine problems by offering a feasible solution.
These intrapreneurs, are entrepreneurs in a corporate environment. They have the entrepreneur’s spirit but may not have the time or funds to start their own business.
The great thing is, there are more intrapreneurs in your organization than you might think. Unfortunately, there’s probably a reason why you haven’t seen their potential. That reason is an unsuitable culture. Employees may feel that they are unqualified to drive a new idea forward, they may feel that the “juice won’t be worth the squeeze” and that they won’t be properly recognized or compensated, or they may fear that they will be punished if the project fails.
These concerns span across the vast majority corporate environments. Luckily, there are steps you can take to address them. These steps may seem obvious at first, however very little is often done to implement them and the problems persist.
1. Make Time for Intrapreneurship
Alison Coleman, a business journalist for Forbes, says “creating an intrapreneurial culture that encourages creativity and innovation can provide the boost to employee engagement and performance that a business needs”. This can be difficult for executives, and especially middle-managers to embrace intrapreneurship. Despite statements to the contrary, few make time for identifying and nurturing intrapreneurs. They may not have a talent performance and development system for doing so. They rarely have the time to focus on innovation, beyond the small incremental improvements most will label as innovations. Their energy traditionally is focused on achieving short-term goals, often at the expense of ensuring long-term viability of the business. Their training and experience has taught them to place their time and resource bets on ‘sure things.’ Disruptive innovation is rarely seen as a sure thing at the early stages of its development. However, management needs to understand that they may have to sacrifice time from their day-to-day, and embrace uncertainty, in order to pursue the next big thing for the greater good of the company.
"Their energy traditionally is focused on achieving short-term goals, often at the expense of ensuring long-term viability of the business."
Given that time, resources and leadership attention are in short supply in most organizations, to succeed in creating an environment supportive of intrapreneurship, it is critical to identify employees who already have the energy and drive to advance their ideas on their own.
2. Identify Champions & Give Them Room to Run
Your staff offers a wealth of skills, knowledge, and hidden talents. Whether it’s the leaders prophesying the future of the industry and setting the direction of the organization, or the employees on the front-lines dealing with customers’ issues on a daily basis. Everyone in the organization can innovate. They often just need the opportunity to do so.
First, leaders need to do an honest self-assessment (or their bosses need to assess them) to see if they have the stomach for driving change and giving their people the latitude to create it. Frankly, most don’t. Their training and experience means they excel at doing todays jobs and driving incremental improvements. These leaders should not be the ones made responsible for driving intrapreneurship in their part of the organization. Leave that to those who truly have an appetite for driving change and trying new things, with the courage to persist. These leader champions will be the ones most likely to work with the intrapreneurs on their team and advance new ideas, products and approaches. Most organization have 1-3 senior leaders willing to take the plunge. They should be the ones charged with initial innovation efforts.
Next, it is important for these change leaders to identify the intrapreneurs around them. Often, this requires management to embrace the nonconformists in their organization who are most critical for driving change and building an innovative company culture. These nonconforming employees, with a talent for intrapreneurship, are typically the people who drive their bosses crazy as they seek to gain support for their ‘crazy’ ideas and upsetting the status-quo. Intrapreneurs will be those who already have ideas for better serving customers, developing new offerings and disrupting the organization in good ways. You’ll quickly see which of your employees have the energy and motivation to both propose and advance a concept in the face of corporate resistance (there will always be resistance!)
Finally, intrapreneurs need some room to run. Give them some freedom on clearly defined initiatives, with defined (but not overly restrictive) guardrails.
3. Get Specific
Innovation initiatives are often approached as theoretical exercises or fancy strategic planning processes. These are mistakes.
It is critical to let the intrapreneurs you’ve identified, bring their ideas forward. It is rare that leaders need to go in search of ideas. They already exist. The key is identifying the most promising ones and providing intrapreneurs with the opportunity to advance them.
Identify a good mix (3-5) of initiatives to advance, some short-term and incremental, others longer-term, fuzzier, and potentially more disruptive. Nothing sharpens the focus of your intrapreneurs more than identifying specific projects, investing resources, and providing specific timeframes and metrics (appropriate to an early innovation).
This is where it may be beneficial to bring in innovation coaches, consultants, and trainers to help you ask the right questions, identify potential opportunities and most importantly, support and nurture your intrapreneurs as they advance their initial ideas. An outside coach can come alongside intrapreneurs to support them as they encounter friction when trying to bring their ideas to life. Trainers can upskill your employees, helping the natural intrapreneurs adopt proven frameworks when advancing their ideas. Consultants can help executives identify and remove obstacles to innovation.
Let’s see how Taivara’s coaches, trainers and consultants can help you create a culture of intrapreneurship in your organization.
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4. Enable, Support and Encourage Your Intrapreneurs
In order for intrapreneurship to take root, employees must feel supported in their risk-taking. Any change requires risk and they need to know that their careers are not in jeopardy for trying new things, many of which might fail or change considerably along the way. Most companies have already set a precedent for what happens when you fail. Employees may hesitate to take on risk thinking that if they fail, they will be punished. Do whatever you can to ensure that employees don’t fear taking on innovation initiatives. Be open to the idea of them failing. It will happen but you will also learn a lot from it!
"Employees may hesitate to take on risk thinking that if they fail, they will be punished."
Intrapreneurs need to be given some latitude and some resources (appropriate to the stage of the opportunity) to advance their ideas. Change leaders need to support them and remove obstacles along the way. The involvement in a senior leader in championing their efforts, will go a long way in demonstrating your support of you fledgling innovators.
In addition to resources and leadership support, it is important to give a little thought to how your intrapreneurs will be incentivized. While money is nice (and a great idea, if feasible), other forms of recognition are often highly motivating. Finding ways to highlight the work of your intrapreneurs and given them venues for telling their story will be motivating for some. Providing direct access to senior leadership to review progress and learnings is often appreciated.
If you take the actions outlined in this article, your willingness to take some risks and encourage your intrapreneurs just might pay off! Even if there are some false starts in the beginning (there always are), if you can learn from the lessons and grow as a result, your support of intrapreneurship should result in:
- Accelerated advancement of innovative ideas
- Opportunities for dreaming-up, designing and developing truly disruptive innovations
- Increased employee engagement, as a result of your people feeling valued
- Improved retention, as your most entrepreneurial employees realize that they can scratch their innovative itch within your organization
Please shoot me a note to chat about how you can encourage intrapreneurship in your organization! You can reach me at https://www.taivara.com/michael/
Practice Leader, Corporate Innovation
Michael is the leader of Taivara’s Corporate Innovation practice. He helps clients develop their innovation culture and systems. You can reach Michael at https://taivara.com/michael