Intrapreneurs, or entrepreneurial employees, can be game-changing for businesses when cultivated in the right way. While such employees are exceptionally vital for early-stage startups and small businesses, they can be equally useful for larger organisations.
Intrpreneurs are usually employees of a company who are assigned to work on a special idea or project, and are given the time and freedom to develop the project as an entrepreneur would with their business.
Key Differences Between Intrapreneurs And Employees
As a business owner, finding the right talent to fill the right positions is key to growing your business. After all, a business is nothing without its people.
Talented intrapreneurs are basically “entrepreneurs-lite”. They are individuals who may not want to take on the financial risk of starting a business of their own but have the talent and aptitude to be changemakers in your company. You can empower these individuals to generate new revenue streams for your business by first understanding who they are and what makes them different from employees.
|Financial Risk||High. You are putting your finances on the line with your own business||Limited. You are taking risks with your employer’s resources||Low. You are responsible for doing work assigned to you|
|Professional Risk||High. Failure of the company to execute your business plans may mean starting from scratch all over again||Moderate. Failure of the company to execute your project may mean slower promotions||Limited. Failure of your company to execute business plans reflect on all employees|
|Financial Reward||Unlimited upside. You reap the profits of your venture||Moderate upside. You may be rewarded with the additional benefit of stock options from your employer||Limited upside. You may get pay raise or promotions.|
|Skillsets Required||Sales, marketing, product, design, engineering, finance||Sales, design, product, engineering||Role specific|
Although there are differences between intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs, these enterprising individuals can have a similarly positive effect on the business as the entrepreneur themselves.
This is what makes it key for entrepreneurs to be able to spot such high-quality individuals. At the same time, no business should just dismiss their ordinary employees. While they not typically in a position to push business initiatives ahead also perform important roles in the company. Furthermore, entrepreneurs can also try to spot the intrapreneurs from their employees in the first place.
Here are 3 key personality traits common to both intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs, but you may find somewhat lacking in ordinary employees.
For intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs, money’s not the be-all-end-all. While money can be a good incentive, the true benefits are reaped doing something they love. They aren’t afraid of hard work because they are laser-focused on their dream and their vision.
They don’t give up when a challenge arises. They stick with their passion and see it through. As Steve Jobs once said (according to the Smithsonian Institution), “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.” And perseverance comes only when you’re passionate enough about something.
#2 Risk-Taking Appetite
The chasm between what is and what can be is crossed by taking healthy, calculated risks. A healthy risk-taking appetite is necessary for a business to develop innovative products and services.
Both intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs need to have a high enough dose of chutzpah to disregard the opinions of the more conservative masses and take risks to build a future that they see for themselves.
#3 Stubborn Flexibility
Successful start-up founders need to have the persistence to navigate treacherous terrains and hostile competitors, but flexible enough to know when to change course and pivot.
This paradoxical mindset is also eschewed in intrapreneurs, who not only need to know which stakeholders are vital to a project, but have the ability to pursue and bring people together for a prolonged period of time.
Empowering The Intrapreneur: Institutionalising Innovation
If you want intrapreneurs to flourish in your organisation, you first need to empower them to take risks and give them space to build new revenue streams for your business. However, free rein should only be extended insofar as you hold them accountable for their actions, i.e. results.
Intrapreneurs can help you experiment with new business models, implement innovative projects and build new revenue drivers for your business. To be able to do so, it is important not to micromanage and suffocate them under bureaucratic structures but allow them to discover new methods of doing things by themselves.
According to the Harvard Business Review, intrapreneurs are supposed to be the “rebels, breaking the rules and swimming against the corporate tide”, but in reality, the organisation needs to empower these individuals for them to succeed in bringing innovation to the forefront.
The experience of the typical intrapreneur looks less like Spencer Silver, who developed the Post-It note while at 3M, and more like Steven Sasson, the engineer at Kodak who invented the portable digital camera. As is now well-known, instead of propelling Kodak into the future, the digital camera became a massive missed opportunity.
No individual should be tasked with the sole responsibility of bringing “corporate innovation” to your business. Rather, you need to find out how to structure your business to accommodate these strong personalities to build a business that renews itself over time.
It starts at the top with you as the business owner supporting the following:
#1 Leadership and an innovation culture willing to commit
#2 System-wide resources
#3 A governance process that can deliver on a clearly articulated mandate and scope for breakthrough innovation
#4 Processes and tools to manage innovation
#5 Metrics and rewards required for innovation cycles that take longer than incremental product innovation
#6 Skills and talent that are differentiated from traditional R&D or new product development roles
Groom Intrapreneurs In Your Organisation
If you can spot enterprising employees who have what it takes to build a subsidiary for your business — congratulations! You’re a gold prospector who managed to find gold from the riverbed.
More often than not, these individuals have a different way of looking at things and have plenty of ideas to contribute. Instead of shutting them out, try listening to their suggestions to see if there are merits to their proposals.
If there is a clear risk-to-reward ratio, let that gung-ho employee try out the project to test his / her limits and watch for clear signs of entrepreneurialism. If they are scrappy enough to build something from nothing, you can put more resources (people and capital) on the table for them to leverage.
Hold Hackathons And Cultivate A Design Thinking Approach In Your Business
Design Thinking, first cultivated by IDEO and wholly integrated by forward-thinking companies like 3M, is a business methodology that prioritises experimentation over systems.
The 5 stages in Design Thinking are:
#2 Define (the Problem)
This approach works especially well when combined with events that spur innovation like hackathons, where you encourage freeform thinking and employee participation in projects that can help your business generate new products and services.
As regional competition intensifies with the rise of Vietnam, Indonesia and China in the wider Asia hemisphere, Singapore businesses have to find ways to stay competitive. Having intrapreneurs in your organisation will go a long way to help you drive innovation and stay ahead in the tumultuous days to come.
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