People Experience Series: Facilitating intrapreneurship in 3 steps

Intrapreneurship is a loaded word. It might sound very 21st-century, but its five syllables are older than that, and so is its meaning.

The term “Intrapreneur” dates back to 1978, when Gifford Pinchot and Elizabeth Pinchot coined it in the book “Intra-Corporate Entrepreneurship” while attending Tarrytown School for Entrepreneurs in New York. The first formal academic case study of corporate entrepreneurship or intrapreneurship was published in June 1982. And in February 1985 in the TIMES magazine.

What does intrapreneurship have to do with you anyway? We think we can provide you with a few reasons to keep reading.

The concept of employees innovating within an established organisation has been around for some decades and the dates mentioned above are undeniable evidence. Simply put, intrapreneurship is a mindset that encourages employees to develop new enterprises and commercially viable ideas within the company.

In our previous People Experience Series, based on the PwC report Secure your future people experience, we shared tips with you on how to burn the burnout down, the importance of redesigning loneliness for a mentally-wealthy and more productive workforce; the autonomy equation, to motivate creativity and initiative; and forging a culture of change, to show the importance of agility and adaptability in the workplace.

In this article, we dive into another dimension: the fact that organisations want to invest in an intrapreneurial mindset. Innovation doesn’t recognise hierarchies. Developing new and disruptive ideas doesn’t come just from leaders.  Every employee, no matter their seniority level or position within a company, has the potential to induce change at different levels. 

The power of listening, i.e. processes that allow for employees to propose new ways of doing things and solving problems, are necessary to pursue intrapreneurship and make it a sticky characteristic of the organisational culture.

The result is doubly positive: you’ve got more ammunition to reach business goals linked to efficiency, productivity and market. Equally, the individuals’ need to create and innovate finds room and it’s fulfilled.

Read on. We promise to make it worth your while. 

Wanted: Support for good ideas

A majority of young people see themselves working independently at some point rather than being employed within traditional organisational structures. But autonomy and creativity shouldn’t be wasted only on the young. We are seeing a similar trend, with a significant increase in entrepreneurialism, in more mature sections of the workforce.

Technology has fundamentally democratised entrepreneurialism because being an entrepreneur today takes no more than an internet connection and a service to sell. If a person needs investment for small entrepreneurial ventures, he or she can call on crowdfunding platforms. 

The social acceptance of entrepreneurship has also shifted. Managing one’s own business was once seen as a lesser form of work compared with professions such as medicine, law, and civil service. This stigma has shifted. People now believe, on the contrary, that those running their own businesses have a high level of respect in society. This is the result of more people actively taking a chance at creating their own business.

Supporting intrapreneurship may be a risky move for some companies, but they are more and more bound to embrace it. Failing to create opportunities for intrapreneurship risk losing innovative team members. 

The usual scenario is that successful entrepreneurs develop big ideas while working in an established company, but are forced to leave when the moment to commercialise it arrives. That has to do with  frustration triggered by organisational rigidity stifling their entrepreneurial flair. 

If companies provide opportunities for workers to develop innovative ideas and turn these ideas into businesses, people are more likely to stay because they feel they are contributing to their long-term success. 

It’s the best bargaining two parties could have done.

How to facilitate an intrapreneur environment

Creating a “startup environment” that accepts and nurtures continuous experimentation within a company is crucial to support intrapreneurship. But where to start?

We’ve identified 3 crucial steps to make sure you facilitate this type of workplace the right way:

  • Create psychological safety

Environments where employees feel encouraged and safe to share new and challenging ideas are pillars to supporting intrapreneurship. These psychologically safe settings produce fewer errors and more innovative ideas. Often, it’s the day-to-day behaviour of leaders that determines whether this safety exists or not in a company. 

Are employees able to challenge authority? Do leaders actively seek ideas from their people? Do leaders act on the ideas put forward by the employees? All these facets contribute to employees feeling confident and able to share their ideas and opinions.

  • Provide time and avenues for idea generation

Initial ideas come from creativity, but generating many of them takes time.

Employees need to have the space, time and opportunity to experiment and try out ideas that may or may not work.

Some companies hold periodic hackathons, giving employees the chance to present ideas and compete to tackle specific challenges aligned with the company’s strategy. 

Employees with the best ‘hacks’ can earn prizes and recognition.

  • Reward failures

The old and wise proverb, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” perfectly explains this step. 

It’s important to reward both the victories and the defeats. Why? Because by doing so, people feel supported to take innovation risks, no matter the outcome.  

By introducing awards that recognise failed creations and innovation attempts, the company demystifies failure. It’s seen, instead, as an inevitable and useful part of the innovation process. It enables employers and employees to take another approach to proposing ideas, learn about the products they are creating, and the markets they serve.

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