Nurturing intrapreneurial behaviour leads to development, growth, and improvement in organisations, explains Thom Dennis

Millennials and Generation Z are natural entrepreneurs but may not have the resources to start their own businesses, so many established organisations are increasingly awakening to the value of intrapreneurship: the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working within a large organisation and looking to nurture it. Hard to quantify, the prevalence of intrapreneurs varies across industries, organisations, and regions, but the current five-generational workforce, globalisation, and the need for new solutions in a VUCA world mean organisational innovation is very much in demand.

Intrapreneurship enables employees to take risks, express themselves, be innovative, and use these skills to benefit their organisation and themselves. Without starting their own business or creating something completely from scratch as an entrepreneur would, the intrapreneur helps established businesses to be more competitive and adaptable with the development of new products or services, leading to possible increased efficiency, social change, corporate innovation, and new revenue streams. Intrapreneurs use the company’s resources rather than their own to come up with business solutions, explore market opportunities, and add value to services and products.

Coined in the 1970s, the term is still not that widely used, but academia has looked at it for some time. Research shows that intrapreneurship is an important factor in the growth and development of companies. Research by Falola et al. (2018) indicates that intrapreneurship enhances innovation, creates agility to adapt to external change, improves performance, and reinvigorates businesses. Additionally, a study by J. Felicio revealed that nurturing intrapreneurial behaviour leads to permanent organisational development, growth, and improvement.

Giants like Apple, Amazon, and Starbucks share the commitment to foster the intrapreneurial spirit. Google’s famous ‘20 percent rule’ requires its employees to spend a certain amount of their working time on original ideas that will benefit the company, laying the groundwork for tomorrow’s success and sustainability. Equally, small businesses and non-profit organisations can benefit from time for reflection, bold problem-solving, and out-of-the-box thinking, although it can be harder because resources such as time, capacity, space, and finances are more limited.

How Do We Support, Inspire, and Create Intrapreneurs?

1. Identify their attributes

Intrapreneurs are easy to identify in many cases. They are visionary thinkers. They show initiative and drive, are proactive and resourceful, have excellent market knowledge, can adapt within their career, happily take calculated risks, and ask for flexibility. They often can breathe life into future or dormant projects.

2. Nurture and enable them

Intrapreneurs need facilitating mechanisms and an atmosphere that supports their creative drive. By allocating dedicated time and space, employees can brainstorm and collaborate without the limitations of their regular work environment. Ensure your intrapreneurs have access to whatever possible resources they may need, whether that is flexibility and novel ways of working, tools, training, mentorship or coaching, new technology or financial aid, or a dedicated space, and help them successfully realise their ideas. When nurtured, an intrapreneur is likely to be more engaged and perform better whilst at the same time benefitting the business.

3. Examine how risk is perceived

Assess how risk is perceived, how decisions are made, and if experimentation is being encouraged. Is there an acceptable level of tolerance for failure and mistakes? So often, the final product comes from trial and error. Let them suggest and implement improvements in customer experience, emerging market trends, cross-functional communication, and efficiency. Encourage a mindset that views failures as learning opportunities and removes the fear of failing.

4. Reward them appropriately

By recognising and celebrating the success of intrapreneurs, companies show that they place value on innovation and creative thinking and have a better chance of retention. Different people will be motivated by different rewards, so a tailored approach is needed, from opportunities for professional development, appropriate incentives, and bonuses to public recognition or award ceremonies to show the company’s appreciation. This can in turn serve as a powerful tool for inspiring other employees to contribute meaningfully.

5. Always upskill an intrapreneur

A report from The Possibilists highlights that 88.4% of changemakers consider skill development a basic need. They value learning, growth, and an ability to evolve.

6. Adopt a transformational leadership style

To succeed, intrapreneurs need buy-in from their managers. They value inspirational leadership, managerial receptiveness, autonomy, and a tolerance for failure. Managers need to be trained to create the supportive ground without feeling threatened, and leaders need to ask questions, listen deeply, build rapport, and action the implementation of good ideas whilst calculating risk. They need to build trust and encourage ideas and knowledge-sharing.

7. Welcome problem-solving solutions

Remove managerial barriers and red tape. Encourage all colleagues to identify problems and address them with creative ideas, proactively looking for how to improve the business. A chemist at 3M, Dr Silver, developed a low-tack adhesive, which was initially considered “a solution without a problem” until a collaboration with colleague Art Fry led to a realisation of the potential of the adhesive for creating a reusable bookmark – leading to the creation of the billion-dollar success of the Post-it Note.

8. Develop a clear vision and purpose

Having a clear and shared goal that is grounded throughout the whole organisation provides employees with a sense of direction. When intrapreneurs understand how their efforts will contribute to the organisation, they feel motivated to tackle new ideas.

9. Reduce levels of stress

There are 13.7 million working days lost annually in the UK as a result of work-related stress, anxiety, and depression, costing approximately £28.3 billion. If we feel burned out because of unachievable time and workload pressures, then absenteeism is likely to be high and engagement will be low. Stress and burnout are the antithesis of the right conditions to nurture intrapreneurship.

10. Build a diverse team

Diversity brings varied skills and perspectives to the table, so create an environment where all are welcome, everyone is trained in cultural intelligence to get the most out of the diversity of the team, and differences are valued. Intrapreneurs are not necessarily lone rangers; they are often team players and frequently become excellent leaders.

11. Actively show deep listening

When employees know their voices are heard and won’t be dismissed, they will feel encouraged to contribute to the flow and development of new ideas. Regional manager of a McDonald’s branch Dick Brams came up with a simple idea – meals for children. Two years later, Happy Meals was launched and became a bestseller.

12. Take a good look at your culture

In 2020, McKinsey reported that 70% of transformation initiatives failed primarily as a result of challenges associated with people and organisational culture. Culture is often flagged by existing intrapreneurs as an important factor, so take a good look and decide if you need to make any changes, seeking expert help, because changing a culture is a uniquely important, and difficult, process. Is conflict being dealt with effectively? Are there claims of harassment or bullying being made and are they being comprehensively investigated? Do employees feel fully included? Do they know they are valued, and their jobs are safe? A psychologically safe culture fosters an intrapreneurial mindset.

Trust Your Intrapreneurs

Businesses with low trust suffer from conflict, rivalries, lack of engagement, poor creativity, and divisive thinking, all of which work against intrapreneurial development. On the other hand, organisations with high levels of trust and a clear purpose have healthier collaboration, strong engagement, better morale, and lower employee turnover. These are organisations that thrive, as do the intrapreneurs within them.

Thom Dennis is the CEO of Serenity in Leadership. With an MSc in Change Agent Skills & Strategies, skills as an NLP Master Practitioner, 17 years’ experience as an officer in the Royal Marines and having extensively travelled around the world, Thom ... (Read More)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *