The importance of Intrapreneurship
Innovation is the life-blood of any organization; we have all heard it and one way or another understand it. Actually, let me rephrase that. Revenue is the life-blood of any organization, but innovation begets revenue. One big movement in large companies is the idea of intraprenuership, the act of behaving like an entrepreneur within an established organization. Intrapreneurship is baked into your culture–it starts from your first hires in a start-up and needs to persist as you grow. It is not something that you can take a two day course and learn, much like entrepreneurship.
Why do you need intrapreneurship? Well, innovation is what sells. Companies have come and gone because they were stuck in the status quo, not innovating and thus becoming stale. The status quo is boring and demotivating. While these companies make great case studies, they do little to motivate the people involved. Intrapreneurship instills the drive, creativity and urgency into your employees. You can either have one person be an innovator or you can make the entire organization live and breathe innovation.
So, how do you foster an environment where your employees can feel comfortable being intrapreneurs? There are a few things I have found effective to get people out of their shell and try different things.
Following the agile model of iterative product development allows you to be able to test your innovations more frequently and get feedback quickly. This is a key component to intraprenuership. The waterfall methodology doesn’t allow time to tweak ideas and prototypes often resulting on those projects being scrapped for high priority planned projects. With agile you can time-box your innovation, forcing the intraprenuers to feel the same pressure an entrepreneur would feel when building products. A good way to do this is having regularly scheduled hack-a-thons where employees can work on their own innovations for a set period of time.
Encourage and Lead by Example
If you are the founder this one is easier than you think. As a leader, people look up to you and imitate you. As the founder, it is not uncommon for your employees to want to be entrepreneurial like you. Just listen to their ideas. No. Actually listen. I get it–you are the visionary, the entrepreneur–but there is value in hearing and seeing the prototypes being developed by intrapreneurs. Imagine injecting your entrepreneurial spirit into each one of your employees, because that is what you are doing by listening and providing them the platform to innovate.
By providing the means for your employees to become intrapreneurs, you are indirectly improving their day-to-day planned work. It allows them to view what they may consider mundane tasks in a different light and become solution-based thinkers. I often think of innovation as a prize–I am glad to do the grunt work as long as I get to innovate frequently–and in turn this affects how motivated I am as an employee.
Don’t Bet The Farm
If you are gaining traction, don’t pivot. Slowly start empowering the intrapreneurs to be product visionaries too. A good rule, (over)used in agile, is the 80/20 rule. In your next project, try to have 20% innovation driven by the intrapreneurs in your organization, while 80% are planned features. A good way to do this is to take out one or two features that you have planned for a sprint/release, and let the intrapreneurs research and build something. This is a good way to foster creative thinking and innovation with little risk.