An ENTREPRENEUR is someone who builds a business from scratch whereas an INTRAPRENEUR brings about change from WITHIN an organization. Unfortunately, innovation is often stifled in organizations by traditional planning cycles due to incremental change and consensus building. Setting goals, creating plans, taking action, and evaluating outcomes are the hallmarks of a conventional approach. In contrast, innovation is a nonlinear, complex, and creative process. While traditional planning is group-dominated, innovation emerges from individuals or small groups of people. It is true that aspects of traditional planning may be applied to an intrapreneurial course of action, but there are several other strategies and behaviors that make a process intrapreneurial. Here are five of them:
Pay Attention to Ideas
Everyone has had the experience of coming up with an idea that did not arise from a literature review, a needs assessment, or a strategic
planning process. Ideas that appear to come from nowhere often fade away with little more than fleeting attention. This is unfortunate, as intuition can be the foundation of innovation. Although not every idea is good and not all ideas deserve implementation, many get discarded before they have the opportunity for critical consideration. Pay attention to these ideas and capture them for further reflection.
Pursue Ideas in the Face of Obstacles
The inclination with “out of bounds” ideas is to think of barriers and reasons why the idea will not work. Some ideas fade away, but most are actively dismissed as unreasonable, undoable, or impossible. Every organization has barriers that exist relative to structures, policies, traditions, cultures, and people. We think that these are organizational obstacles, but they actually exist within us. Organizational obstacles do exist, but they only arise when the idea is presented in some manner to organizational members. Until that moment the only obstacles in play are internal: fear, lack of confidence, doubt, and pride.
Carefully Solicit Specific Feedback
The organizational environment provides constant feedback. The idea should be shared with a few trusted colleagues and only shared with one’s supervisor if they have shown themselves to be open to radical ideas. In management structures ideas are often taken immediately to one’s supervisor. It is possible that the supervisor will represent an organizational obstacle by explaining why this idea cannot be implemented, asking for additional research and documentation, or putting the idea into the appropriate planning channels right away. This is the way most managers have been trained to think. Traditional management practice inhibits innovation rather than promotes it. One’s supervisor must be brought in at some point, but it is usually better to do so later in the process.
After obtaining initial feedback from trusted colleagues and friends, feedback on the idea should be collected from diverse sources across institutional boundaries. Anyone who might be a potential user of the new idea or anyone who would be important to the implementation of the idea should be considered. A willingness to involve others in the development of the plan creates support essential to successful implementation. Feedback may also make clear to the potential intrapreneur that the idea is not workable or may actually run counter to the common good. That too is a positive outcome.
Recruit a core group
One person alone is limited in the number of ideas they can implement. Once feedback is solicited from colleagues, other people need to be recruited. These people need similar enthusiasm for the idea and should be committed to refining it.
Utilize Organizational Slack
All new ventures require resources. Organizational slack describes the excess resources that exist in an organization in the form of underutilized personnel, spare time, unused capital, or extra supplies. The intrapreneur needs to find forms of organizational slack that can be applied to the implementation of the innovation. These are internally generated resources that act like venture capital to support creative startup projects. One can get a project off the ground by “bootlegging” the money, time, and talent one needs. Such bootlegging activities can include meeting away from work or after hours to discuss the emerging idea and taking money from accounts under one’s control and pooling these funds as seed money. There are ways for ideas to emerge even in the most rigid system if people involved are committed to them. Typically, staff believe that ideas do not get beyond the dreaming phase because there is no money in the budget to support them. This is an internal obstacle and ignores that there may be other resources to support the activity. Even if there is money, if core members have no time to invest in the idea, the project will
not get off the ground.
Intrapreneurship challenges us not to get bogged down in the everyday managerial tasks of work, but to stay in touch with your vision, your constituents, and your personal goals. It reminds us to be attuned to hidden ideas, open to feedback, and ready to respond. Those who lead others are in the position to create environments to promote an intrapreneurial mindset. This can include creating intra-capital (such as, by setting aside money and recognizing and using organizational slack for innovative ideas), encouraging staff to generate ideas they are passionate about, being a sponsor of innovation, encouraging cross-organizational activities, and intentionally bringing people together from different parts of the institution.
What has been your experience in trying to achieve an Intrapreneurial mindset?