Intrapreneurship is a two way street. It is not a binary choice. It’s not an either-or but an and-also. You need leaders that can manage the core business at the same time you need leaders that can build new ones. This is the paradox of Intrapreneurship.
Intrapreneurship is all about finding the right balance between the core business and the new businesses that you are building. It’s not a switch that you can turn on or off. It requires a deeper understanding of the nuances that influence and support Intrapreneurship. The correct allocation of resources, the right mix of innovations, the right people to drive it and the right culture to support it. These are distinct and different requirements. They represent a startup.
At the same time you need to keep the organization moving forward, enhancing existing products and services, leveraging new technology, engaging employees in challenging work, managing a balanced portfolio of investments, driving incremental change in core systems and processes and being responsible to shareholders. These are the fundamental principles that drive and sustain established organizations. They are the foundation.
The paradox is that you need to do both of these things simultaneously. One view represents the past and the other the future but they both help us see that what is needed is something in the middle. A bridge from one to the other. A process that leverages the best of both. A roadmap for evolving the core business to the new business model. That bridge today is intrapreneurs.
Intrapreneurs are the ones that can bridge this divide and help transform their organizations. They can operate effectively in both worlds. But it is leaders in the core business that must set the stage.
The question for leaders is whether or not they will embrace Intrapreneurship as part of their overall strategy. Recent studies suggest that leaders are looking at Intrapreneurship as a way to generate new business growth. The question is their commitment to it. What level of commitment are they willing to make. Is it a matter of just adapting to the new business reality or adopting it as viable alternative growth strategy or actually integrating it into the fabric of their organization?
Despite their similarity, adapting and adopting have totally different meanings. When you adapt to something you are willing to change your idea or behavior so it is easier to deal with a particular situation. When you adopt something you take something and make it suitable for a new purpose. Integration takes it a step further. When you integrate something you combine something into an integral whole.
Where your organization fits on this spectrum of commitment will determine how big, strong and durable that bridge will have to be between the core business and the new business you are building.
It is also a signal to intrapreneurs the level of influence, persuasion and motivation that will be required to push things through. The amount of collaboration, leadership and political savvy that will be needed. The degree of risk taking, decision making and communication that will be required. The effort and energy required to bring skeptics on board, secure funding, and show results. The uncertainty, doubt and frustration that you will have to live with. The breadth and depth of capabilities needed to deal with roadblocks and obstacles that will get in your way. The amount of stress you will need to endure and the level of resilience you will have to have. These are only a few of the things that will be impacted by the level of commitment your organization makes to intrapreneurship.
The less committed they are the more committed you need to be. If your organization is adapting it will be incumbent upon you to move the organization forward to adoption and eventually integration. It’s a transformation that takes time, patience and a lot of energy.
Keep in mind as an intrapreneur you have one foot in both worlds – the core business and the new business you are building. Your success will depend on how well you deal with the other side of the bridge, the core business. They will be quite happy to watch from a distance from the comfort of their offices. But it is incumbent upon you to open their minds, their perspective, and their beliefs of what is possible. To engage them and inspire them to want to explore new opportunities.
This requires having a deep understanding of how the core business operates and where it is flexible and where it is not. A network of people you can count on to support you. Resources that are available for you to leverage. Insiders who can provide assistance, direction, connections and technical support. An understanding of the political climate and key influencers. A sponsor that will pave the way for you with others. A CEO that is prepared to support you with the board. These are only a few of the things you will need to succeed.
Solving the paradox of intrapreneurship comes down to you, the intrapreneur. And it is for these reasons that having the right set of competencies and behaviors are critical. You must know how to operate effectively in both sides of the bridge. That’s why you are hearing that what intrapreneurial leaders need is a strong set of soft-skills; self-awareness, influence, collaboration, communication, listening, motivation, negotiation, delegating, emotional intelligence, empathy, creativity, flexibility, resilience, etc. These are important no matter what side of the bridge you are dealing with.
The key challenge for organizations is identifying and developing intrapreneurs that can work effectively in both the core business and the new business they are building. But this is not an easy task because what is required in the core business is often just the opposite of what is required in a new business. It is not that one way is better than the other it is just that you need someone who can work effectively in both. Working in and between these two different types of environments is not easy, it is stressful and requires a great deal of stamina, finesse and competence.
The key challenge for individuals is demonstrating through your actions and your experience that you have what it takes to operate effectively in both worlds. Being an intrapreneur is not an intellectual exercise it comes from the experience itself. You need a solid understanding of the core business and you need to build a portfolio of entrepreneurial experiences. It is only then that you can appreciate, compare and contrast how different these two different sides of the bridge really are.
How many times have you seen your organization put someone who has been successful in the core business on a new entrepreneurial project, only to see them fail? Or they acquire a startup company and see the leadership team from the startup eventually leave.
The only way to solve the paradox of intrapreneurship is identifying and then developing professionals that can operate effectively on both sides of the bridge. Then move the organization from adapting to adopting and eventually integration.
Integrating intrapreneurship into the fabric of the organization will only happen when there is a clear understanding of the steps, the processes and the people that are needed to move from one side of the bridge to the other side.
Originally published in 2017.