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Exploring the Intrapreneurial Way in Large Organizations

Posted by Paul Hobcraft on Jun 16, 2016 2:42:29 PM

photodune-16460721-entrepreneur-s.jpgAre we seeing a change in mentality within large organizations towards encouraging individuals to ‘break out and become more intrapreneurial within their part of the business?'

Is this tapping into the increasing desire to be part of creating something new, to grab back the engagement needed, that sense of identity and a growing sense of ownership?

Large organizations sense they are missing out on radically different business opportunities and cast their envious eyes towards the young start-ups, not just coming up with original ideas to solve existing problems and pent up needs, but seeing the work as potentially disruptive to those managing in the existing space.

This start-up and entrepreneurial spirit is making many senior executives nervous and they want to find ways to harness this within their own organizations, and thus the intrapreneurial movement has been born and is growing fast.

It is tapping into a internal need for everyone involved, to innovate in different and more radical ways. Partly we are seeing a restless younger workforce who want to break out of restricting and confining jobs. They want to find more meaningful ways to contribute, to engage, to find ways where they can be impactful, not just in their careers but in making something happen, that is different and better than the existing.

Driving impact, delivering to scale

Intrapreneurs within large organizations can tap into the amazing ability to drive impact and deliver scale. Starting up a business from scratch is really tough but the high level of failures run at nearly 90% and to emerge from spending 24 x 7 for two or three years may have enormous experience and learning, but it can totally fail in delivering this urge for impact and contribution.

Being part of a larger organization operating in this intrapreneurial role takes away some of the heavy issues faced by start-ups but replaces these with an equally onerous set of tasks.

Equally beside this younger generational need, those a little older turn to their legacy and sometimes decades of work within their organization to want to attempt to change part of the culture and deliver some of the ideas that have been ‘frustrating them’ over time.

For the organization it is recognising that it has the chance to unleash the talent that lies within. If they can create an environment for some to have a higher level of autonomy, of being creative and getting this clearer sense of meaning, it can help invigorate and renew much that large organizations grapple with daily – the stifling of initiatives, seemingly slow moving cultures and not seizing on all the opportunities that the market and customers are looking for.

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The challenge is in the structure and format and character of those Intrapreneurs

There is no single way to do intrapreneurship. It needs a significant amount of attention, commitment and determination. Each design perhaps is unique to fit individual circumstances.

From the organizations point of view, they need to set up a clear, distinct, more than likely separate business practice that liberates people to build upon their emerging entrepreneurial personalities. They need to build the walls and fences, protect the ideas, support the work in progress, nurture the people involved and allow for a higher level of patience to see a return coming ‘down the line’.

The individuals wanting to take on this intrapreneurial role need to think through how to serve the interests of the organization in different ways that break with the existing and normal, learn to exploit and explore all the inner relationships to advance their work and learn to adapt constantly as they go, as they adjust to failure and building upon a series of successes.

The antibodies that lie within any organization are waiting. Those that fear change, and those that feel threatened, jealous or protective of their turf being trampled on. The ones who will want to frustrate, exhaust and determine a pathway towards project death by any means are a constant threat. Intrapreneurs and management alike need to be utterly vigilant in attacking these antibodies if they really see value in promoting this intrapreneurial culture.

The mountains that are needed to be climbed to unleash that Intrapreneur spirit

It all starts with belief, pure and simple. A belief that having Intrapreneurs working within organizations will make a difference in the innovation work needed, and then identifying and encouraging those able to take this task on. Somewhere in this conviction, you can see ideas that can be translated into successful outcomes by unleashing this intrapreneurial spirit. These ideas need to be bigger ideas, perhaps radically different, not the everyday stuff where the organization should have already set up an innovation process to ‘grind’ these through to successful outcomes.

This needs to send a powerful signal that the official licence to change has been granted, and better support for innovation and growth can partly come from deploying Intrapreneurs. It announces this as a parting of the ways from just the “busyness of business as usual” by exploring new ways to seek out the innovation that can be different, but clearly needs to be managed differently.

So what is different and what does that mean to whom?

Intrapreneurship has to be established as a specific system that can be set up and provided to those wanting to take on a different challenge. It needs to become a solid part of the strategy for innovation otherwise it is quickly seen as ‘just another experiment.’ This would fail to attract the right type of person; it signals a lack of commitment, so those budding Intrapreneurs stay hidden in the woodwork or looking to leave, so as to break free to pursue their personal goals and dreams, even taking away the emerging blueprint to disrupt the very firm that has given them this understanding.

There are many enablers to make this transition happen. The most critical is deep management support, creating a culture for entrepreneurship to thrive and knowing the type of people that can make this happen. The quality of any ideas, the mandate that goes with that idea and the funding and milestones needed to be in place and the clarity of failure and what that means. Each of these becomes a critical enabler to make this concept work.

So then we need to consider values, personalities and the operating conditions.

Firstly not everyone can simply become an intrapreneur you have to possess a certain resilience and toughness. They need high levels of tenacity, this mental toughness and commercial zeal to drive through the concept they are working upon. The optimism, staying ready to adapt, be flexible but also the underlying ‘steel’ to be assertive, creative and determined to push something through, to overcome the many barriers and resistance that comes with exploring more radical innovation.

They must continually make the business case, negotiate and navigate around the system to achieve their ends and that often requires a deep knowledge of the many ‘ins and outs’. They need to forge their business community, building the identity with what they are undertaking, reaching out to the network both within and outside the organization. They need to unpick and unlock resources that bring additional ‘scarce’ skills to help, and just fostering this underlying culture of resilience needed both personally and within the project management.

These attributes need nurturing and supporting and this is where a clear sponsor comes in. This person needs to provide ‘air cover’, needs to help the intrepreneur to navigate through the obstacles thrown up within the parent organization and ensure there is always a high level of trust as the decisions and progress are being made. It becomes more reliant on relationships, not processes being put into place. The job and the relationships need constant engagement.

The shared belief is based on two essential points; as innovation is a discovery process the people involved in finding the solutions are as equal to the ideas they are pursuing. It is toughest at times of setback or failure; it is being agile enough to deal with ambiguity, uncertainty and making a change, even when change is painful. It is about dealing with measured risk and returns.

So to intrepreneurially tango you have to have a clear mandate

  1. To ensure the team has degrees of freedom to create, design and innovate
  2. The mandate that they can question and challenge the existing mould to achieve success
  3. Knowing the break points to being commercially courageous against being foolhardy, to know the confines of risk but the chance to grab a real opportunity
  4. To find the ways to keep all involved energised, incentivised and focused on the prize, the opportunities and the contribution to the goals
  5. To keep informing, to make the work transparent and open for others to contribute, help and support.
  6. Knowing the difference between timely updates and keeping the head down just that little longer as the breakthrough ‘ahh’ is just around the corner
  7. Design in consciously the methods and ways the organization sees’s the value and the alignment
  8. Be constantly aware that performance will be judged, more than likely under a harsher spotlight than for others and recognise what you are working on is commercially critical and decisions will often be based on pragmatic, rathar than opportunist or idealistic criteria. Live with it as part and parcel of the job.
  9. Consciously stay out of the everyday stream, even challenge if this should go through a typical ‘stage gate’ process as it is really hard for most to understand what makes up a great idea and that it is not a linear process but an iterative one, full of loops, failures, experimentations and revalidating and retesting.
  10. Make sure the governance is highly dynamic and agile, trading off the progress of insights, learning, discovery and experimentation in a journey that recognises iterative and flexible decision making that favours adaptation and informing. Making sure there is a right to make mistakes as long as people learn from them and they were contained within the confines of the risk profile.

Intrapreneurship offers the potential of being a vital part of your innovation strategy

As organizations seek growth they need to encourage higher levels of impact. Those that take the route of becoming an intrapreneur share in this desire to build something that has a valuable contribution and impact.

To take on this challenge requires a different mindset and most probably set in a ring-fenced environment. One that conveys flexibility and agility but a need for pace and speed, have higher levels of risk-taking and a clear realisation that failure is part of the learning, a commitment level sometimes beyond ‘belief’ and simply don’t take existing procedures, barriers and established rules of engagement as a reason not to do something, they are true ‘bunker busters’.

In summary

More and more value creation is coming from start-ups, they search for dynamism and points of significant competition, to deliver those more radical, sometimes disruptive solutions. To overcome the built-in risk-adverse and general slowness in large organizations, they need amazing energy to ‘push the obstacle and barriers’ out of the way and still stay ‘fixated’ on the opportunity to bring it to commercial fruition.

Not an easy task but one that is running in parallel to the entrepreneur outside, demonstrating they can deliver on a dream and opportunity that does make a clear contribution and impact.

So are you tapping into this real momentum behind the idea of Intrapreneurship within your organization?

Read more about developing Intrapreneurship:

Topics: People & Culture

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