Dispelling Intrapreneurship Myths

Photo Credits: Breather

In his recent talk at C2 Montreal 2017, Leonard Brody introduced the idea of innovation being everyone’s job in a company, as opposed to a specific department’s. This, he states, is a necessity for a company to remain truly competitive in the new, disruptive landscape.

While Google, Pixar, P&G, J&J and 3M are all excellent illustrations of how innovation stems from a company-wide effort — as opposed to a select few -, studies point to a nuance which injects a dose of realism, in order for this advice to be actionable and more effective:

Not everyone has the inclination or desire to innovate. On the other hand, Intrapreneurs need intrapreneurial ecosystems to contribute innovation to their organizations.

Studies show that setting this ecosystem into place drastically increase the chances of innovation success within an organization (see below). And while not everyone in the organization will have the time or inspiration to innovate, every single person holds a crucial role in the success of innovative transformations.

Meet the Intrapreneurial Ecosystem

Manager

Studies show that setting this ecosystem into place drastically increase the chances of innovation success within an organization (see below). And while not everyone in the organization will have the time or inspiration to innovate, every single person holds a crucial role in the success of innovative transformations.

Managers of intrapreneurs have the toughest job of all. The success of one of their team members, however, can be rewarding : visible both to the people within and outside of the organization, the manager will be known for having contributed to the support of the person and for developing talents and creativity within his or her employees.

Although intrapreneurial employees hold the influence cards in their hands when it comes to personal attributes (such as likability, competence, hard work, ambition and self-confidence), knowledge, mental skills and reputation, they often lack two key powers: resource control and information control.

Empowerment for intrapreneurs is often at the opposite of what business schools have trained our managers to do: control. While control is certainly necessary for projects to be delivered on time and on budget, when it comes to ideas, a manager’s true contribution can be to ‘’facilitate, empower and orchestrate’’.

  • Facilitation means building an environment where employees can generate and implement ideas
  • Empowering makes sure the structure in place rewards all players of the intrapreneurship ecosystem — not just the intrapreneurs
  • Orchestrating means giving latitude to employees and help in a coaching capacity, rather than in a micro-manager’s

While laying the foundations for a space where intrapreneurs can innovate, the manager’s contribution has the potential to create positive impact to a much larger extent:

Mentor

  • Intrapreneurs have many flaws; they are often in roles unrelated to launching initiatives, and therefore have flagrant lacking skills (which we will discuss under the Intrapreneurs section below)
  • Intrapreneurs also often face a lot of resistance to new ideas, as well as failures, before they come out with a winning concept, which can be demanding on the morale in the longer term
  • Employees are also typically conditioned to believe their ideas and opinions don’t matter in the system, and that they have little space to contribute, should they even attempt to. The result is that many good ideas often get unvoiced, or the ideas that do get voiced lose their attraction if the intrapreneurs believes the impact of implementing them will be minimal and unsupported — in terms of resources, time and intellectual freedom.

Sponsor

Managers are often a proxy, an embodiment for the rest of their organization. Through their words and actions, they signal both to the intrapreneur and the rest of the ecosystem, what the organization stands for, values and rewards. They are the most critical touchpoint with the intrapreneurs, who can help ideas flourish or get stifled in minutes. Although this article will not cover this topic in details, it should be highlighted that managers have many leverage points and contributions they can make at every stage of the intrapreneurial process.

Listening Ears / Sounding Board

While a manager can also act as a mentor, the role of mentor does not come with a hierarchical role. Mentors are often individuals who have been successful intrapreneurs in the company themselves, and who can pass along that knowledge. Because of their solid track record and strong network, they can vouch and advocate for the intrapreneur. Their experience also helps transform the insights brought on by intrapreneurs into truly actionable pieces, which will have traction in the organization.

Sponsors are to entrepreneurs what agents are to artists. They help intrapreneurs build good businesses cases for their ideas, help position them on the political landscape and grant them access to resources in order to enable their project.

It goes without saying that intrapreneurs are humans, and humans on a difficult path, at that, too. In addition to their regular workload, intrapreneurs invest a lot of energy and time with ideas that meet resistance and require a lot of effort to build from the ground up. Even though not everyone innovates, everyone in a workplace has the ability to support and encourage an intrapreneur through their effort: this may mean offering an ear for them to get a chip off their shoulder on hard days, to answer a quizz or test a prototype to help them out, or even just show excitement and interest over a lunch discussion.

There is often a stigma that comes with innovators: unless management publicly supports and instils an environment that is supportive of experiments and disruptive ideas (which includes failures in the prototyping stages), it is often seen as risky by other employees and managers to associate themselves with intrapreneurs. Never underestimate the power of social inclusion and of community support for a healthy innovation culture. After all, if being an intrapreneur means suffering social exclusion, no one will voice ideas or take initiatives.

On the sounding board end of the spectrum, experts can help amplify the intrapreneur’s ideas both by adding to the dialogue, or by diffusing and socializing their ideas within the organization. No matter how backed by management, an idea will only truly succeed in its implementation if it is adopted on the floor. Support from colleagues is therefore essential.

Intrapreneur

Source: Intrapreneurship: Managing Ideas Within Your Organization (Kevin C. Desouza)

Their best reward, therefore, is not just financial compensation, as many employees would seek, but rather to share the success of the company, should their idea succeed. It is about a sense of ownership, freedom and control over the idea, and recognition for its success.

But intrapreneurs are vulnerable to a few pitfalls — and this is precisely the area where managers, mentors, sponsors and peers can support them in growing:

  • They are stubborn; they will sometimes not know when to stop, to give up, or to re-think their direction
  • They have very high standards for performance; often capable individuals, their obsession for perfection (and fear of failure) can drive them to perfectionism, constantly delaying the moment where they show their work to others. This results in a loss of opportunity to integrate early feedback, and sometimes in solitary work where collaboration could have benefited the idea. Unmanaged failures can affect their self-confidence in the long-run.
  • They are missing the bird’s eye view; they are so focused on their idea they sometimes forget to evaluate the context in which their idea will fit and how it should be implemented.
  • They often lack political and influence skills; an idea only truly has impact if it is adopted, and implemented. Often focused on ideas rather than people, intrapreneurs may require coaching to learn to package their thoughts and influence without direct power.
  • They may need support for increased efficiency; it is often said that intrapreneurs are the most effective employees, because they just want to get the daily work out of their way in order to concentrate on their intrapreneurial project. An intrapreneur who has not mastered his daily functions will need to shift his attention to execute his tasks productively in order to gain the space needed to innovate.
Source: Intrapreneurship: Managing Ideas Within Your Organization (Kevin C. Desouza)

Organization

Notice that while the intrapreneur could have occupied the center of the Intrapreneurship ecosystem, it does not. That is because first and foremost, the intraprneeur serves the organization.

The organization is the level at which rules, rewards and attitudes are defined. As seen, it is not sufficient to create financial incentives for innovations to service. Innovative cultures require the careful engineering of an ecosystem that supports and empowers idea makers.

  • Through the external rewarding mechanisms we design for each actor in the system
  • Through the resources we grant intrapreneurs — free time, financial resources and access to information
  • Through the stories we share within the organization

We have the power to amplify this innovative culture, and lead by example.

And as it becomes clear through this exploration, intrapreneurship is not an event in time. Nor is it an accidental emergence of spontaneous or on-demand ideas. Rather, it is a process; a cradle we consciously and continuously invest in today, to nurture the disruptive ideas of tomorrow.

And it is by crafting an environment where innovation is a team approach, and not a lone person’s struggle, that we create spaces in our organizations for true transformation.

A Few Resources To Engage Further…


Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on May 28, 2017.