As Intrapreneurship captures the imagination of individuals and organizations alike you have to ask yourself – why now. Is it the promise of new business growth, increased productivity, employee engagement, talent retention or something more strategic – preservation?
Are the hopes and dreams of workers based on the notion that being an entrepreneur in or outside of a company is the new path to personal and professional success or something more frightening – falling behind?
In either case Intrapreneurship is being seen as ‘the silver bullet’. To inspire, engage and make work meaningful for individuals.
The term silver bullet is often used as a metaphor for a simple, seemingly magical solution to a difficult problem. A simple remedy for a difficult problem.
Intrapreneurship represents a new direction for work that makes sense and has the best upside.
Organizations want to believe that there is a silver bullet that will solve their company’s issues. The perception is that there is a solution out there if they can just find it. So they latch on to the latest fad or management practice that seems to be the next thing. Today that is Intrapreneurship. But the business graveyard is filled with management practices that promised much but delivered little.
Intellectually these organizations are right that Intrapreneurship is the best way forward. What seems to be missing is the ‘how’. Intrapreneurship is not something outside an organization it is part of the DNA of the organization. It is embedded in the people and culture. Looking outside for answers is ignoring the fact that the resources are already within their grasps. They just need to find a way to identify, leverage and organize these resources. The proliferation of incubators, accelerators and corporate VC’s is seen as the answer. This is taking a process approach.
In turn employees are looking for more meaning at work and want the freedom and flexibility to explore the breadth and depth of their own capabilities. They believe that being an entrepreneur or intrapreneur is the best way to do that. They read articles from experienced entrepreneurs who tell them that “we all need to be entrepreneurs now”. That the traditional career ladder is dead. That the future of work is being an independent consultant, free agent or self-employed. That being an intrapreneur is the best way to achieve professional growth in an existing company.
Intellectually these individuals are correct. What seems to be missing is the understanding that intrapreneurship is not an intellectual exercise it is grounded in experience. You can’t be an entrepreneur or intrapreneur until you are one. Thinking you are one is not the same as being one. What about the thousands of entrepreneurs that didn’t make it. Why is there a lack of stories about successful intrapreneurs? Why are intrapreneurs frustrated with the slow progress of intrapreneurship in their own organizations and looking to leave? This is looking at it from a people perspective.
The question that organizations must ask is how to best leverage both process and people to achieve their goals. The question that individuals must ask is do they have capabilities and competencies required to be effective and successful as an entrepreneur or intrapreneur. Intrapreneurship requires both. Many organizations focus on process without giving enough consideration to the human element.
Process helps provide structure, discipline and a set of practices that enhance intrapreneurship. It provides a roadmap, a new way forward and a defined approach. Process alone however is not enough. It is the people that provide the energy, motivation and effort required to achieve challenging goals. They are the catalyst that drive change, manage it and create change. It is also people that create the culture needed to sustain change.
In her article Talent Data Creates a High Performing Culture, Pamela Walter states that, “The currency of our times; talent, data and attention have impacts on organization, team and individual effectiveness. How well do you know the team, i.e. individuals and aggregate strengths that could be fully leveraged to achieve breakthrough levels? How well do you know yourself?” These are questions that organizations and individuals should be asking themselves.
There are no silver bullets when it comes to solving complex business problems. It takes hard work and preparation that too often is missing when it comes to intrapreneurship. That preparation comes in having the right people and processes in place to support and sustain intrapreneurship. Although the concept behind intrapreneurship is clear, the context in which it is implemented will vary substantially. Therefore there is no cookie cutter solution to intrapreneurship. Intrapreneurship must be customized to the unique and diverse culture and operating environment of each organization.
It is for this reason that people are the key to intrapreneurship. They are able to effectively navigate their way around the organization. They learn which processes need to be changed, tweaked or replaced. They are able to deal effectively with organization obstacles and roadblocks that get in their way. They know how far they can push the boundaries of what is acceptable behavior. They are able to unlock the entrepreneurial talent within their team. They are willing to challenge and question authority. They are willing to make unpopular decisions that move their project forward and so much more…..
Are Intrapreneurs the new silver bullet? It is not clear that they are but the potential is there.
We will only find out if the organizations in which they reside give them the freedom to explore the breadth and depth of their own capabilities as they do the same with the organization. It is about exploring what is possible. It is only then that an organization will understand what needs to be done to effectively and successfully institute intrapreneurship. You don’t know what you don’t know until you explore the unknown. That’s what intrapreneurs do.
When a new internal venture falls short of expectations it is often easier to write it off rather than figure out the what, the why and the how that weren’t done for it to be successful. Having one or two ventures a year is not enough to institute and transition an organization to a more entrepreneurial culture. You don’t know what is possible until you try different things. You don’t learn to be entrepreneurial by playing it safe. You don’t know why you fail until you do. You don’t know how to succeed until you’ve had success. It is a learning process that takes time and patience.
The simple truth is that every individual, executive and organization wants to believe that there is a silver bullet out there. The question is will Intrapreneurs become that silver bullet or must we realize that there are no silver bullets in life.
Silver bullets were a calling card for The Lone Ranger, the masked man that used silver bullets as a symbol of justice, law and order, and to remind others that life, like silver, has value and is not to be wasted or thrown away.
Originally published in 2017 as: Are Intrapreneurs the New Silver Bullet for Organizations?