Intrapreneurship is not new – the concept was invented in 1978 by American entrepreneur and author Gifford Pinchot III, and popularized in the mid-80s when Steve Jobs famously told Newsweek: “The Macintosh team was what is commonly known as intrapreneurship… a group of people going, in essence, back to the garage, but in a large company.”
An intrapreneur is an employee who has the mentality of an entrepreneur. Mainly, they do for corporate innovation what an entrepreneur does for a startup. Companies such as Google and 3M are well known for successes that stem from intrapreneurship. At 3M, intrapreneurs developed Post-It Notes, and at Google, intrapreneurs created Gmail, AdSense and Google News. However, these companies are a minority, and more large organizations need to take advantage of the power of intrapreneurship.
Innovation is the cornerstone of a successful business, yet it often eludes large companies due to bureaucracy and rigid processes. With intrapreneurship, companies give themselves the freedom to take risks and be more innovative and creative. Today, organizations that actively promote intrapreneurship allow their employees to spend up to 20% of their time on ideas that are unrelated to their regular roles. Intrapreneurship pays enormous dividends for companies because employees have permission to think big and go beyond the status quo—two essential ingredients for creating new innovative products, services and business models.
There are benefits to the talent acquisition and retention side as well. People with intrapreneurial mindsets are more likely to be attracted to companies that encourage creative thinking and provide a supportive environment for new ideas. Job candidates may choose to work for a company with an intrapreneurial culture over a company offering a higher salary, to have more rewarding work experiences. It follows that happier, more fulfilled employees are more likely to stay with an organization.
Before deciding on how your organization can embrace intrapreneurship, we suggest having your leadership team consider these questions:
- Could our company benefit from an injection of intrapreneurial energy? How?
- How can we leverage existing (or develop new) resources to nurture intrapraneurs and intrapreneurial teams?
- How can we prepare and develop our business model to accept the creative disruption of the intrapreneurial project?
If you decide to create an intrapreneurial program, you must first find the right talent in your organization. Not everyone is cut out to be an intrapreneur, nor does everyone want to be one. Take a fresh look at your workforce and identify those with the characteristics of successful intrapreneurs, including curiosity, persistence and willingness to take risks. Understand their unique needs and talents and dedicate the appropriate resources to them in the form of time, budget and management support.
If you can’t identify anyone who possesses these characteristics internally, you may need to hire someone externally to bring intrapreneurial capabilities into your current environment. The right person will have a sense of mission, a predilection for freedom, a hunger for knowledge, a passion for seeing the vision of your company — and an eagerness to realize it. By hiring an external intrapreneur for your company, you can multiply the success of your company by adopting a competitive and innovative edge.
It’s critically important to ensure that the organization’s culture accepts, nurtures and encourages intrapreneurship and embraces it as business as usual. The intrapreneurs and the organization at large should have the same strategic goal: to make the company successful. The business and its intrapreneurs must support each other while taking different routes to the same destination.