“Virgin could never have grown into the group of more than 200 companies it is now, were it not for a steady stream of intrapreneurs who looked for and developed opportunities, often leading efforts that went against the grain.” – Richard Branson
Intra vs entre: What’s the difference?
Entrepreneurial businesses grow regardless of how the economic landscape looks because they are clearly differentiated, seize growth opportunities, and respond quickly to changing markets.
But how do you actually leverage entrepreneurial talent and turn a reactive, risk-adverse environment into a proactive culture of innovation?
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Different centres of the globe seem to have a natural ability to bring up entrepreneurial talent. Countries like Australia, South Africa, and key parts of Europe come to mind as environments that have a natural flair for innovation and entrepreneurship. Possibly this relates back to the heritage of these countries and the success profiles and capabilities that people have passed through the generations.
But irrespective of where entrepreneurship evolves from, it is something we need to harness and leverage.
To assert competitive advantage, many organisations are challenged with the task of developing entrepreneurial talent within their leadership pipeline. But what does an intrapreneur actually look like? A bold entrepreneur, driving their own operation to new heights may look different to the intrapreneur, who operates within the structures and expectations of a large enterprise.
However, there are some real synergies in terms of profile and character. Characteristically, like entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs are bright individuals who get a kick from generating initiatives, devising new ideas, solving problems, introducing concepts and implementing creative changes. The scale, level and boundaries of innovation may be different – but the concept is the same. In terms of environment, both have similar needs; space to create, room to grow and freedom to take risks.
Ultimately, the biggest differentiator between the world of the entrepreneur and that of an intraprenuer is you, the employer.
Unlike the entrepreneur who operates in a self-construed, self-defined environment, an employer can make or break innovation in the corporate setting. The leader has the ability to cultivate and provide the level of respect, support and freedom for the intrapreneur to flourish behind corporate doors.
The realisation of the value of corporate innovation generally falls down due to the actions (or inactions) of the employer. Employers drive intrapreneurs away through blocking their ideas, providing them with no support and micromanaging their thought processes and actions.
Gifford Pinchot, who coined the term “intrapreneur” in 1978, conducted a study in which he interviewed over 100 self-made entrepreneurs who left their previous employer to establish their own business.
The common thread in all 100 responses was that they left their jobs out of sheer frustration, because their new ideas were killed by upper-management one too many times.
Creating a culture of innovation
Maximus (the performance consultancy I founded) has defined an approach that we use with many clients to determine high potential people with entrepreneurial ability, and develop the mindsets and capabilities of these people to operate as intrapreneurs. This results in new streams of revenue, significant ROI and business improvement.
1. Get consensus
All the ideas in the world won’t help you if you don’t start at the top. The executives must be on board with the appetite for intrapreneurship. If there is no appetite, great ideas will never be crystallised and you are wasting your time. We also know that people perform and act according to what they think their leader cares about. The success of executing the strategy is dependent on the culture alignment – and this starts at the top.
2. Define profile
Organisations aiming to create an innovative culture must think about how they define intrapreneurship within their enterprise, and the style of entrepreneurial talent they need.
Generally no two firms are looking for the same level of innovation and entrepreneurship. Some want freedom within very few boundaries whilst others have a very clear strategy and want their entrepreneurial talent focused on making money or saving money within that specific lens.
The second reason is that some entrepreneurial capabilities are innate and can’t be learnt. So you must define what you need to be hiring on and who you wish to develop over time.