Care and Feeding of Your Company’s Intrapreneurs

While many managers may not currently be familiar or comfortable with the concept, it certainly is time for change where the intrapreneur is concerned. It’s time to update the management training courses, seminars and books and get folks on the bandwagon. Intrapreneurs are your corporate innovators; the people who are lateral thinkers, have great ideas and know how to make those ideas a reality for your business.

In their post in the Harvard Business Review blog titled “Recognize Intrapreneurs Before They Leave”, Vijay Govindarajan and Jatin Desai take a closer look at the risks companies take when they do not perform the proper “care and feeding” of their in-house entrepreneurs, who are also called by the term “intrapreneurs.”  The authors list the top 6 behavior patterns of successful intrapreneurs.  These patterns are very interesting because they are not what I thought they would be.  Here these patterns are, in summary, for your review.

  1. Money Is Not the Measurement. I totally get this one. According to the authors, the primary motivation for intrapreneurs is “influence with freedom.” Rewards and money are great, but they are not the reason why an intrapreneur is an agent of change within an organization.
  2. Strategic Scanning. I have worked with these agents of change and watched them always look one step ahead of everyone else to the next best thing. Wish this was a skill that could be bottled up and sold to everyone. Just think of the great ideas we could come up with by being one step or more ahead of the game when it comes to change.
  3. Greenhousing. Intrapreneurs remind me of gardeners, bringing the seed of an idea to fruition over time before sharing that new idea with the rest of us. As the authors say, intrapreneurs “…tend to ideas in their greenhouse, protecting them for a while from potential naysayers.”
  4. Visual Thinking. I am married to a visual thinker and it is truly amazing to watch my husband combine brainstorming, mind mapping, and design thinking in order to solve a problem or do something differently.
  5. Pivoting. Intrapreneurs feel no need to stick to the normal path or corporate strategy – that’s what makes them such effective agents of change. The authors list a few examples of pivoting.  For example, Steve Jobs pivoting Apple from an education and hobby computer company to a consumer electronics company.
  6. Authenticity and Integrity. Intrapreneurs are typically not mavericks. After all, you can be honest and true and still be a corporate innovator and “get ‘er done” staff member.

Perhaps it is easier in some roles to be intrapreneurial and appreciated by your company, especially if your job was always intended to be that type of job.  When that is not the case, it may be difficult for the person having innovative ideas and their managers to know exactly what is expected and how to handle successful internal innovations.  I suppose one response to this could be to minimize the visibility of the situation and keep moving on in “business as usual” mode.

Seems to me that intrapreneurs create momentum for other folks within the organization. There are folks out there who are creative, enthusiastic and ready to take risks to do great and wonderful things within the organization. For their fellow staff members, the opportunity to ‘come along for the ride’ and possibly find an incentive to become their own agent of change is an excellent opportunity indeed.

Does your organization promote an environment where its intrapreneurs feel safe to share their ideas, both good and bad?  Financial bonuses also provide incentive for folks to share these ideas, although intrapreneurs don’t seem to care so much about the money.  Striving for a win-win is the way to go, although it seems like a delicate balance in some companies. .

It almost seems as though having intrapreneurs in your business creates a sort of Catch-22 situation. The intrapreneur is giving their idea to the business to do with as they will, so it isn’t actually just their idea once it is shared, is it? I wonder if this causes many folks not to share their ideas so they can still keep them as their own.  I would hate to think about how many great things were not shared that could benefit not just the individual but also the organization and its customers.

Susan Weese

Reference:  “Recognize Intrapreneurs Before They Leave” by Vijay Govindarajan and Jatin Desai, retrieved from http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/09/recognize_intrapreneurs/

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