Discovering & Developing Intrapreneurs

Does your business talk the innovative talk but struggle to walk it? If so, it could be that you don’t have enough Intrapreneurs in your organisation. And even if you have them you might not know who they are or what to do with them.

In his iconic book, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Drucker stated that, ‘Innovation is the specific instrument of Entrepreneurship’. So if innovation is generated by Entrepreneurs in their own businesses, who is doing the innovation in an already established business owned by someone else? These people are called Intrapreneurs.

The term “Intrapreneur” originally came from a paper written by Gifford Pinchot in 1978 which led to the eventual publishing of his book “Intrapreneuring” in 1985 and a number of others that followed. But the idea of Intrapreneurs has recently come back on the corporate world’s radar because of the absolute need and subsequent fixation on Innovation for business survival in 2020.

It would therefore be feasible to surmise that you would find Intrapreneurs at the source of most corporate innovation. Think Steve Sasson the Kodak employee who developed the first digital camera. Kodak decided to keep his innovation secret for fear that it may have a negative impact on their industry! Not embracing Sasson’s Intrapreneurial spirit cost Kodak dearly. Contrast this with Spencer Silver of 3M Post it Note fame who over a 12 year time span was allowed to pursue his idea through to completion with spectacular success for Silver and 3M.

Companies that understand the value of recruiting, fostering and rewarding Intrapreneurs clearly reap the benefits. Some of the largest organisations in the world such as Google, Apple, AliBaba, Amazon, understand the Intrapreneurship phenomenon and continue to leverage it successfully. So how do you recruit Intrapreneurs to your business and how do you foster them once you have them? More importantly once you have them, how can you keep them? At the core of these important questions is the necessity to understand them.

Here are my 6 D’s to discovering & developing Intrapreneurs in your organisation. Use these tips to identify, understand and foster Intrapreneurs in your midst:

1. They are Dynamic

These guys and gals are entrepreneurs in the waiting. Some of them will even go into their own business start-up after Intraprenuring in yours. You don’t need any morning motivational speech to get them plugged in – they are already self-motivated. It is very important that you recognise them early before their new way of thinking falls on deaf or even hostile ears and they move onto a company where they are able to develop a more simpatico relationship than in yours.

2. They Develop Ideas

Pinchot describes Intrapreneurs as ‘Dreamers who do’. But just giving them the space to come up with ideas isn’t going to keep them in your business. You also have to give them control of bringing their ideas to life. Never forget that Intrapreneurs have Entrepreneurship in their DNA. They love doing ideas as much as developing them. Like entrepreneurs in a start-up, Intrapreneurs live to see their idea come to life.

3. They Drive Change

Intrapreneurs know and understand that change is the only constant in life so naturally you will always find them at the forefront of change within your business, lobbying for transformation wherever they can. However successful Intrapreneurs do not petition for change just for change’s sake but instead they drive change in a purposeful and well thought out way. Any robust innovations they propose will always be accompanied with a solid business case.

4. They are Determined

If they know they have management support for what they are doing, they will be determined to bring their idea to life. ‘We’ve done that here before and it didn’t work’ holds no weight for the Intrapreneur. They are there to bring innovation to the business whether it be via a new way of on boarding staff, the development of a new CRM system or even the creation of a completely new product or service. They are also not easily distracted by naysayer’s, once the Intrapreneur has their idea’s end in sight they are like the proverbial dog with a bone.

5. They are Dedicated

Intrapreneurs, like their Entrepreneurial cousins, are enthusiastic and focussed in their approach. They will believe it is part of their brief (even if it’s not) to improve or at least make a positive change to something in the business and they will not rest until they have. Unlike Entrepreneurs however, Intrapreneurs prefer to work in teams. They are natural leaders who attract people with their passion and positivity, so make sure you put a good support team around them and sit back and watch the innovations fly, but make sure to give them a budget – if you don’t things may get out of hand in all of the excitement.

6. They are Diligent

These people are the ones you will find still working once 5pm has come and gone and they’ll probably been the first ones in too! They don’t understand the concept of Work/Life balance – there is just too much to do. So make sure they have a good assistant to support them otherwise you will find them trying to do everything and none of it very well. Let them focus on creation don’t waste this valuable resource on administration – let someone who is good at that stuff do it, Intrapreneurs are big picture thinkers, give them concepts not details.

In summary, Intrapreneurs represent a significant competitive advantage in the form of ongoing Innovations in any business they are a part of. They may not be your run of the mill employee, and they will probably take more time and effort to manage, but if done well the results can add great returns to your bottom line in the form of new services, products or business improvements. But it’s not only profits that are positively affected by the efforts of Intrapreneurs; your business will also have the advantage of having a dedicated person and their team consistently focussed on the creation and implementation of new innovations and if that isn’t an integral part of what every business needs to succeed and grow I don’t know what is. 

Karen Franks, GCM MEntr MBA
Director, Innovation Entrepreneurship and Learning
Moore Stephens SA & NT Australia
kfranks@moorestephens.com.au

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