In many companies, innovation is a matter for the bosses, impetus for change comes from the management and investments are mainly aimed at increasing efficiency. But to survive in global competition, to really change ways of working and bring new products and services to market, change must come from within the organization itself.
The prerequisites for this are usually there already: Intrapreneurs are entrepreneurially active employees whose personality structure is more entrepreneurial. Why not start your own business then? Because they are emotionally connected to their business and also appreciate the environment of a well-known brand, access to resources and customers, and last but not least, the associated collateral, which comes with a fixed employment relationship.
Because of their strong understanding of the market and the customer, intrapreneurs already anticipate the decisive development stages of the industry. And not only that; moreover, they are also prepared to set up the necessary structures and processes that change the way in which their company works and works.
Their urge to do the right thing for the future of their company is stronger than the concern about missing skills. They acquire new knowledge along the way or inspire colleagues for their project. In the personality profiles of intrapreneurs, I have identified two characteristics in my work: high social and communication skills on the one hand and high expertise on the other.
The former often work at the interface with customers, for example in sales or marketing. They experience most impressively how the world of their customers changes and what new needs arise. Intrapreneurs with a professional background, on the other hand, recognize from their competence new technological possibilities or already live the lifestyle of tomorrow.
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Intrapreneurs were dismissed as troublemakers
These traits of intrapreneurs should appear to be very popular in management in view of our present volatile, unpredictable, complex and ambiguous world (VUCA).
Unfortunately, under the premise of efficiency optimization in recent years, a different pattern has manifested itself: intrapreneurs were stamped out as complicated, and sometimes even bullied, when they provided their ideas for additional grinding in projects and additional work for colleagues. The company as an organism simply rejects confounding factors and forces them into uniformity.
Now is the time to reverse this trend: the speed at which change occurs is continually increasing, as well as the dynamics of markets and audiences – companies need to act, and intrapreneurs can provide the necessary momentum for development. Yes, they also cause pain. And that is precisely their added value. They are the engine that can bring about continuous innovation – in fact, anchored in the company.
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Companies simply can not afford to rest on efficiency gains in the business model and moderate advances in decades of products. This contradicts the breakthroughs that disruptive startups have in traditional industries, as well as the market driven expectations of customers.
These today require the innovative further development of offers and migrate away if companies fail to do so. Loyalty to old brands with disappointing products and services no longer exists.
Instead of blocking the way for intrapreneurs, the management should celebrate them along with their way of working. But this requires a cultural change that has to be consciously shaped. The organization must be shaken up from above, processes and structures broken down, and efficiency optimization at least temporarily prevented.
In this intervention, the message to intrapreneurs is that to open the path paved with ignorance and uncertainty towards sustainability, the space for new and radical solutions is wide open. This requires establishing a clearly structured and rapid innovation process or – if the organization is too rigid and caked – getting external help so that intrapreneurs can show themselves.
Requirements for intrapreneurship
The described personality we can not teach anyone. She is there or not. What management can do, however, is to support these people; Bringing them forward, enabling them to produce results and creating spaces along the process, as well as complementing the team constellation to orchestrate a result-oriented way of working. Three things are needed to specifically promote the activities of intrapreneurs:
1. The necessary free spaces
Intrapreneurs have to explore new ways of working off the beaten track and turn assumptions about the market and users into knowledge. They should not be hampered by long-established processes and structures – such as reporting obligations, middle management requirements, or persistence in tools that have always been used.
2. Real perspectives
In view of the defeats experienced by intrapreneurs in bringing forth their ideas in the past, it is only logical that they have new perspectives to show. They must be able to go on with the next steps in their projects without being thwarted by the company. “Our company is not ready yet” is one of the sentences that should not fall in this context.
3. The right team
Intrapreneurs are not lonely riders. They need people to help them achieve the vision. The ideal team combines three functions:
1) Intrapreneurs as makers and drivers of a project
2) Networkers with high social and communication skills
3) Power promoters as a protective screen and to set political course
The path to intrapreneurship and a high degree of maturity in the company’s ability to innovate involves massive changes. He should be thoughtful – with methodology and openness. Methodology for new ways of working and roles. And openness, as a company to constantly learn new things about themselves, to respond to feedback and to adapt the process accordingly.
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About the author:
Lukas Golyszny is one of the founders and managing directors of Service Innovation Labs. The Berlin innovation consultancy develops innovative services with innovative business models and supports companies in the transformation of their organization.