The basic concept of intrapreneurship is simple:
Intrapreneurship is the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working within a large organization.
Intrapreneurship means that individuals in your organization look to the future and develop and test new ways of serving your customers beyond your current business model. It starts with an individual and later a small team that attempts to anticipate changes in the lifestyles (b2c) or ways of operating (b2b) of your customers.
Intrapreneurship can create continuous innovation — but only if you pay attention to the cultural elements.
Even if you teach people how to think like an entrepreneur, if you neglect to train them in how to be like an entrepreneur, you will find that people quickly revert to old patterns.
While your initiative might even have produced a new business solution, you will have missed out on the opportunity to drive longer term cultural change toward the future of work.
So the first step is be really clear on why you are engaging in Intrapreneurship in the first place.
In a mechanistic and competitive view, intrapreneurship programs can reduce time to market, and allow you to disrupt yourself before others do. The focus and ROI here is ultimately survival in a fiercely competitive market — with the rate of change in innovation only increasing in a digital and global world. Here the focus is on the product, the new business, not on creating longer term sustainable change in your organization.
More lasting impact is created if you focus on employee engagement, which is quickly becoming a priority among organizational leadership and the C-Suite (less than 70% of millennials find themselves engaged in their work and 60% are open for new opportunities according to recent studies by gallup). Often used to justify the ROI of intrapreneurship programs, engagement is a serious issue that can be addressed by giving your employees more opportunities to work on things that matter to them. A Corporate Leadership Council study of 50,000 employees from 59 organizations found that 71% of companies with an above average percentage of highly committed employees perform better than average compared to their industry peers. Engagement is beyond the realm of HR and needs to be baked into your overall strategy and organizational DNA.
Of course you don’t just want to engage your existing employees, you also want to attract top talent in the market. Especially for the millennial generation being able to work on something that is meaningful to them is a key value and criteria in considering opportunities. If you wish to continue to attract the best talent out there, you will also have to provide them with opportunities to unfold and express their purpose.
As millennials will make up and determine the workplace of the future, intrapreneurship programs can help you prepare for the required culture change. You can use intrapreneurship initiatives as a means to inspire an overall culture change toward more creativity, productivity, and a sense of ownership throughout your organization.
If you are clear as to why you want to engage in intrapreneurship, the next step is to think about how you want to deploy it.
Types of Intrapreneurship Programs
Intrapreneurship programs can take many forms and there is no right way of deploying them. The right strategy depends on your organization, its purpose, vision and portfolio of activities. It also depends on the desired outcomes and timeline of the project and the maturity of your organization. Here are a few approaches:
- Pet Project — Initiated by an individual executive, an intrapreneurship program can come out of departmental budgets and focus on a problem that is particularly interesting to the executive. He or she would use some of her fungible budget, bring together and focus a hand-picked team, and initiate a project.
- Self-Guided — Along the lines of Adobe’s Kickbox program, you can also let employees self-guide through at least the initial steps of business development (with some small stipend fund to allow them to develop an MVP and an official slip from HR that allows them to spend time focused on their project and relieving them from some of their day job).
- Bootcampsto set foundation and kickoff things quickly, but more importantly, to train people, you can use this immersive format. To sustain the learnings, bootcamps require follow up and ideally have an alumni program that enrolls participants in either becoming trainers for future bootcamps, or in the least into being intrapreneurship ambassadors within their business units.
- Umbrella project — Comprehensive program involving stakeholders across the organization, with multiple online and offline initiatives, including bootcamps, online and offline training modules, and a well designed communication strategy that continues to spread the memes of intrapreneurship and ownership culture throughout the organization.
- Culturally embedded — Some organizations already have cultures where intrapreneurship is a natural element. In this case employees have the space and time to work on projects they are fascinated by, they have the required training and the ability to connect to others in the organization, and they ultimately have a path to pitch projects once they are in the appropriate stage of development. With culturally embedded intrapreneurship, new projects develop naturally on their own. While this will become ever more crucial in future organizations, unfortunately, today this is a rare case.
One factor in picking the right approach for your intrapreneurship program is to choose to which extent you wish to use them to spread innovation culture versus just creating a once-off new business idea:
In the case of pet projects, the executive running them will — hopefully — serve as a mentor to provide the cultural and leadership guidance needed.
For self-guided intrapreneurship, you either already need a culture that supports individual initiative, or be extremely conscious in your communications around the program. You will still find that people don’t necessarily learn from videos and brochures.
For that, bootcamps can provide the right environment. Here, employees can actually be trained not just in methodologies, but in the leadership aspects required to sustain intrapreneurial thinking and being even beyond the current project.
Ideally, you wrap bootcamps in larger umbrella programs that support program alumni and that use them to spread intrapreneurial thinking and being further through the organization.
This then sets the stage for culturally embedded intrapreneurship, where intrapreneurship becomes simply one way of how you do things in your organization, where every employee feels empowered and supported in working on issues that are important to them, and for which they see a new opportunity in your customer base.
Now that you have options as to how you will deploy intrapreneurship in your organization the final question is what you are actually teaching your employees.
Structural vs Cultural Intrapreneurship
Most intrapreneurship programs focus on what you could call structural or procedural intrapreneurship, which in many ways hints at the structural future of organizations (more on that in a future article). It is the formalized process of creating new ventures from within the organization, beginning with how you capture signals of change to ultimately launching a new way to serve your customer base, whether integrated or spun off from the original business. It accelerates the development of new business models by side-stepping normal bureaucratic complexities.
Structural intrapreneurship initiatives focus on teaching employees to think like entrepreneurs.
Today, there are many great tools available for this purpose: Business Model Canvas, LEAN, and Design Thinking or Human Centered Design to name the most common ones. Many companies have formalized their own approaches to these methodologies and have even made some of them publicly available as in the case of Adobe’s Kickbox.
Teaching and spreading these tools throughout your organization has many benefits. First and foremost, it teaches your employees to think like entrepreneurs, to understand a holistic view of a business, to grasp how their role actually fits into a bigger picture of how your business operates. It can create a new sensibility toward customers and toward creating solutions with real value propositions — and ultimately business value.
Then, there is cultural intrapreneurship, which is the part that tends to get overlooked or foolishly assumed. It is the part where you teach people to belike an entrepreneur. It is about embodying the spirit of entrepreneurship, about ownership culture, about giving your employees the personal tools to develop resilience and sustained focus on a customer problem to be solved in ever new ways using your organization and its resources to do it.
Cultural intrapreneurship is about your organizational purpose, and about taking it off of the plaque on the wall and making it come to life in the hearts and minds of your employees.
Cultural intrapreneurship focuses on the individual, how they operate, how they operate in team, and how they look at themselves as an originator of processes rather than merely being a cog that executes them. It is about awakening them to their own capacity for leadership, making them aware of how they contribute, sense, discern and collaborate, and how they can ultimately use their personal creativity to solve problems not just for the business but by using the business to create positive impact for society at large. It is about being like an entrepreneur.
This does not always have to result in a whole new business idea. It wouldn’t be feasible for every employee to constantly invent new businesses. That is not the goal here. The goal is for each employee to think of themselves as a business, of their team, of their department, and take ownership in ensuring customer problems are solved creatively and productively.
In the next installment of this series, I will dive deeper into what cultural intrapreneurship looks like and how you can create such a culture in your organization.