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5 Ways To Harness Intrapreneurship In Organizations

Aniisu K Verghese

Corporate Communications

How do organizations harness the entrepreneurial spirit and creative attitude of its employees to boost business outcomes? When Gifford Pinchot, the person credited with coining the term ‘intrapreneur’ came visiting at Tesco Bengaluru it gave us confidence that good ideas do stand the test of time.

In 1978, Gifford Pinchot and his wife Elizabeth S. Pinchot coined the term ‘intrapreneur’ to represent the autonomy and initiative that employees can be given to enhance creativity and make organizations more successful. In their seminal paper ‘Intra-Corporate Entrepreneurship’ they wrote ‘The greatest opportunity in the world today is the opportunity to help form the social inventions which will allow people to lead lives which more fully express their potential. People have enormous potential for goodness, for insight, for creativity, for intimacy, and for work. Much of this potential is trapped within the constraints of today’s huge hierarchical organizations. The development of the entrepreneur is a step towards freeing individuals, our organizations, and our society to use our potential for building fuller, more meaningful, richer and more productive lives for all of us. The signs of imminent change surround us. Intrapreneurship is an idea whose time has come”.

In a freewheeling discussion with leaders at Tesco Bengaluru, Gifford discussed the range of disruption sweeping the world of work. Also how tapping the power of individuals’innovation, curiosity and commitment to build entrepreneurs within can support creative business problem-solving.

So what does it need to create an environment where employees can be ‘intrapreneurs’? How can organization’s immune systems stay in check when employees continue to be ‘intrapreneurs’? These themes and more were discussed.

The ‘intrapreneur’ is defined as ‘a person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation’. This means someone who is curious to solve business problems over and above the regular duties he or she does. The individual must be able to bring innovation to use at work and for the benefit of the organization. Gifford calls the individual as ‘the general manager of a new idea’. Someone who is able to take an idea and implement it completely.

Here are my learning and perspectives from the conversation and 5 approaches organizations can take to nurture intrapreneurship.

-      Curate the journey of intrapreneurs: Intrapreneurship like entrepreneurship isn’t a linear process. Failing fast and cheaply are drivers for fostering ‘intrapreneurship’. When one innovates, ‘it doesn't always come out the same way’. The journey isn’t easy although the choices are clear – the intrapreneur will choose to ‘do something’ rather than wallow in denial and depression.

-      Pivoting matters in intrapreneurship: The intrapreneur is more important than the idea itself. Intrapreneurs are self-motivated and driven. Pivoting is what differentiates the intrapreneur from the regular employee. Intrapreneurship can serve cost management, efficiency, innovation, progress among other positive motives in organizations.

-      Organizations have a role to play: Organizations can make the culture conducive to innovation. Helping intrapreneurs to be internal entrepreneurs by pushing freedom down the line. Organizations can tap potential among employees by supporting these intrapreneurs succeed through mentoring, providing freedom and resources. Acceptability, trust, and motivation combined with a supportive reward system which isn’t punitive of innovation make intrapreneurs thrive.

-      Leaders can nurture intrapreneurs: Intrapreneurs need ‘air-cover’ from leaders- be allowed to take risks and placed in environments where they are inspired to try out new approaches without hindrance. For example, the labs in organizations or the R&D department are suitably placed to start. For leaders who want to nurture intrapreneurs, they must be willing see intrapreneurship as a team sport, tolerate small beginnings, involve people, help others add value and learn not to take credit for other peoples’ successes.

-      Best of both worlds: It isn’t about ideas or presentations but about getting stuff done. Intrapreneurs are both ‘dreamers and doers’. Since they are closer to the ground they can spot opportunities and make things work. What we need to realize is that tacit information rests with these intrapreneurs and helping them put it to good use will make organizations go further. It isn’t about disruptive ideas but using stealth to make bold yet effective decisions that make intrapreneurs progress. Humility is essential for intrapreneurship. Intrapreneurs need to try and fail, be persistent, be willing to own the outcomes.

Intrapreneurship has implications for organizational communication. By understanding the levers that drive employees’ enterprise and spirit communicators can collaborate to strengthen bonds. Can intrapreneurship be sustainable? It depends if organizations are open to allowing employees exist as entrepreneurs within the system, allow for freedom beyond performance and control and cherish dreamers and doers who follow their passion and creatively solve business problems.