It’s no surprise that so many business leaders today want to bring an innovative, creative approach to their already established companies. To do this, they are turning to intrapreneurs—employees with the energy and creativity to turn an entrepreneurial eye towards specific internal issues or opportunities faced by a company.
Of course, it’s not as simple as all that. Intrapreneurs can be as disruptive to old business models as their external counterparts. And disruption can make or break a business, depending on how easily the company, and its employees, can adapt.
With that in mind, we look at several ways a manager can nurture intrapreneurs, from the essential company culture to smaller, more practical measures.
The culture needed to nurture intrapreneurs
An open, relaxed management structure is a must.
Entrepreneurs have one thing that many employees do not. They have the capacity to act immediately. If you want to foster intrapreneurship, you need to give your intrapreneurs the same capacity. How do you do this? Quite frankly, you relax your management structure.
Intrapreneurs need to know what problem or opportunity they are approaching, and they need to know from the off that their work will be valued and applied to the business. This means that the leaders of the company will listen to the intrapreneurs, acting as a sounding board for potential solutions. They will be available to the intrapreneurs, and they will help guide the intrapreneurs to the solutions that will work for the business, both for the bottom line and for the employees’ morale. They will also have to be honest about the state of the business with people they may not be used to sharing that information with.
Collaboration must be actively supported by management.
Entrepreneurs don’t act in silos. There are no departments when four people are working on a single goal together. Similarly, a business that nurtures intrapreneurs will have to take down some of the barriers between departments. After all, creativity blooms when new, diverse perspectives are added. Even employees from seemingly unrelated fields can bring some useful new perspectives to a problem.
If it is too much to completely tear down the structures separating your departments, scour each department for enthusiastic go-getters. If they are interested, have them join a cross-department intrapreneurship team. That team can focus on one opportunity the company is facing, or they can be encouraged to seek out new, less obvious opportunities. Either way, the combination of the diverse approaches, disciplines and perspectives will undoubtedly create some interesting new solutions.
The attitudes that build intrapreneurship
Risk isn’t a four-letter word.
Entrepreneurs know that there is no reward without risk. And while many established businesses prefer to be risk-averse, there can be no intrapreneurship without some managed risk.
One benefit of a more open management structure is that top brass can help intrapreneurs manage the risks their solution will inevitably throw up. Managers can encourage intrapreneurs to conduct consumer surveys, study the industry, talk to outside experts, demonstrate proof of concept and establish a solid business case, so that all knowable risks can be identified and planned for.
Once all of the groundwork has been laid, the top managers must ensure that the solutions are put into place. There is no point in doing all of this work if the company leaders aren’t going to act on it. And sitting on the intrapreneurs’ ideas will just cause your formerly enthusiastic employees to become demoralized.
Finally, the taking of the risk must be highlighted and celebrated, almost regardless of the outcome. The individuals responsible should be praised for their ingenuity, and lessons should be learned, also regardless of the outcome. That way, you encourage even more calculated risks to be taken and even more opportunities to be grabbed.
The everyday considerations for intrapreneurship
Empower your middle management.
Entrepreneurs don’t ask permission. They see an opportunity, and they leap on it. Your middle management team need to be able to make decisions without having to get every person at the top to sign off on them. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean they should act with impunity. Instead, assign a particular top-level manager to be the person who signs off on a particular intrapreneurial challenge. That way, the intrapreneurs can act quickly, and the company leaders can know there is some project oversight.
Put some boundaries up.
Proof of the connection between strict restrictions and creative solutions are abundant in the art world, and it is clear that having too many options – and too large a budget – can often be counterproductive to the entrepreneur. That is why so many companies failed in the dotcom bust at the turn of the last century. So having some restrictions on what your intrapreneurs can do is actually a very good idea.
Start with a small, strict budget. That will force your intrapreneurs to get creative with their solutions, which in turn will result in more realistic, actionable plans. Since those plan are more realistic, they can be enacted, which makes the intrapreneurs feel effective, and all this feeds back into the loop that encourages and rewards your employees’ intrapreneurial mindsets.
Of course, a little blue-sky thinking goes a long way, so you can start a particular intrapreneurial project by asking how they would meet the particular opportunity in front of them if they had an unlimited budget. Ask them what would need to be done in this area to help the company double its size. Ask if there are other opportunities the company is missing that could put you at the top of your industry. Once they are thinking that big, it will be easier to pull back to more reasonable goals and plans.
Intrapreneurship is more than management jargon. It is a state of mind that treats every problem as an opportunity and every opportunity as a challenge to be met with creativity and bravery. It seeks out opportunities where others see none, and it uses tools and resources in completely new ways. Your employees have this energy and this creativity, and with a little bit of encouragement and incentivization from the top management, they will happily put this to use for your company. All you have to do as manager is make sure you nurture the intrapreneurial spirit that is already there.
Author: Matt Bailey is the Assistant Manager at UKBullion.com. He enjoys writing about small business trends on the UKBullion blog.