How to Turn Dreamers into Doers & Harness the Power of Intrapreneurship
Blog: The Process Street Blog
Does anyone have the number for Jeff Bezos?
He owes me over $10,000.
Thanks to his 1-Click checkout, I must’ve purchased at least $10,000 worth of stuff that I didn’t need or want. He’s made it way too easy to purchase from Amazon and it’s got to stop.
So, yeah if you have his number I will…Wait… What’s that?
Bezos didn’t come up with the 1-Click checkout idea? It wasn’t his idea to make it possible to buy a Tibetan Buddhist necklace worth $169,000 in one single click?
Well, if it wasn’t entrepreneurial Bezos, the innovator and founder of Amazon and the Blue Origin spaceship, then who on earth was it?
Regular Amazon employee, programmer, and intrapreneur: Peri Hartman.
Thanks to Peri’s pioneering checkout idea and Amazon’s unwavering belief in intrapreneurship (harnessing the power of innovation from within the workplace), the 1-Click checkout gave Amazon a huge competitive advantage, re-wrote the entire book on eCommerce, and ruined my life. They also made a cool $177bn by slapping a patent on it and licensing the idea out to others.
But despite this example, many companies fail to harness the power of their existing internal innovators. Preferring instead to hire external resources to execute ground-breaking ideas, boost competitor advantage, and improve ways of working.
So, taking more intrapreneurial examples from the likes of Apple, Facebook, and Google, this Process Street post will help you understand the importance of intrapreneurship and shine a light on the hidden entrepreneurial resources that lie within your company:
- Are intrapreneurs just shy entrepreneurs waiting for their big break?
- Proof that encouraging intrapreneurship is good for business
- How to recognize intrapreneurs and nurture intrapreneurship within your organization
Ready to see what’s right in front of your nose?
Are intrapreneurs just shy entrepreneurs waiting for their big break?
Like entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs use assertive risk-taking and innovation to take an idea, execute it, and turn it into something profitable. But, unlike entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs do this internally, within the four safe walls of their organization.
Typically, intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs share a lot of similar characteristics: they’re both proactive risk takers and creative problem solvers; they’re both forward-thinking visionaries that are comfortable with ambiguity, and they’re both acutely aware of market needs.
So, it’s fair to ask: Are intrapreneurs just budding entrepreneurs waiting for their big break?
If you encourage intrapreneurship within your organization, will you end up losing your best employees as they find their feet, grow their wings, and fly the nest in search of bigger, better, entrepreneurial horizons?
“Many senior leaders, surprisingly, are actually afraid to promote out-of-the-box thinking for fear of losing their best employees to success and then to competitors.” – Harvard Business Review, Recognize Intrapreneurs Before They Leave
In short no, probably not.
Intrapreneurs vs. entrepreneurs: Same, same…but different
“A common misconception is that those willing to step up to the table of market leadership with new ideas and those willing to try their hand at innovation aren’t interested in being part of a large corporate environment.” – Brazen, 5 Essential Traits of the Successful Intrapreneur
From big wins to major losses, entrepreneurs willingly sign up to shoulder the ups and downs that come with starting-up and running a successful business. For them, the huge financial gains they’ll get if they’re successful (which of course they know they will be) is worth the volatility, a hundred times over.
Intrapreneurs, on the other hand, have made a conscious decision to avoid this level of all-or-nothing risk in favor of a regular paycheck and a more stable lifestyle. In their eyes, they have the best of both worlds: the chance to move fast and break things, without turmoil or risk.
Entrepreneurs also like to work independently. They don’t want the hassle of corporate politics or internal relationships: they’re too laser-focused on scale, growth, and investment opportunities. Whereas intrapreneurs relish overcoming corporate hurdles, building bridges, and leveraging internal relationships. Working hard to get the best out of others is what makes them successful.
“Learning how to navigate corporate politics and leverage relationships is the great intrapreneur’s superpower.” – Forbes, Why Intrapreneurs Are Not Just Entrepreneurs Working Inside Large Companies
Although both possess a natural instinct for innovation, an ability to think outside-the-box, and an inclination to break barriers, intrapreneurs will always prefer stability and relationships over extreme risk and total independence.
So there you go: it’s safe to invest in intrapreneurship within your organization.
Proof that encouraging intrapreneurship is good for business
“Over 70% of transformative innovations are conceived, developed and commercialized by employees working within large companies” – Forbes, Why Intrapreneurs Are Not Just Entrepreneurs Working Inside Large Companies
Point proven. Onto the next section…
As we’ve already established, intrapreneurs are innovators by nature. They’re always on the lookout for new opportunities, ground-breaking ideas, better ways of working, and where improvements could be made.
This ideas-first mentality is intrinsically good for business: it elevates the top line, boosts company culture, increases competitive advantage, and cuts time-to-market.
But, the real value intrapreneurs bring to the table is their ability to make their ideas happen. To turn pie-in-the-sky thinking into reality.
Intrapreneurs tend to have an unfathomable understanding of the company, the market, the products, and the employees they work with. This knowledge, coupled with their drive to continuously innovate and improve, allows them to launch ground-breaking products, implement better processes, reach improved levels of productivity, and conquer emerging markets.
“Corporations with entrepreneurially-minded employees see the benefits – ranging from innovative offerings, increased skills and capabilities, and competitive advantages to cost savings, motivational boosts, and accelerated product and service launches.” – Deloitte, 5 Insights into Intrapreneurship
But, these are only mere words to describe the benefits of intrapreneurship. I promised you proof.
What happens when Apple encourages entrepreneurship…
I couldn’t write a post about intrapreneurship without mentioning the pioneers of innovation themselves: Apple. With their infamous internal hackathons that have produced major market wins such as the iPhone, iPod, and iCloud, Apple has always been big on encouraging intrapreneurship.
In fact, Apple’s entire culture is based around:
“Ad hoc meetings of six people called by someone who thinks he has figured out the coolest new thing ever and who wants to know what other people think of his idea.” – LinkedIn, 25 Best Innovative Quotes from Steve Jobs
I could wheel out so many Apple innovations to prove the effectiveness of intrapreneurship, but we don’t have all day so I’ll only pick one.
Several years ago, my Dad went through an irritating phase of calling me at around 2.30 am each morning.
It was back when you had to press an actual button to unlock your cell phone.
The luck of my name beginning with ‘A’ and the need for a light to see his way to the bathroom in the middle of the night meant he’d accidentally prank call me at the most inopportune times.
(In the end, I had to change my name to stop it. God knows who he ended up calling on his way to the bathroom in the dark after that ).
So, you cannot imagine my delight when regular Apple employee, Freddy Anzures, invented the ‘swipe to unlock’ feature while he was working on the development of the first-ever iPhone.
“When locking the bathroom door of an airplane toilet, Freddy had a sudden ‘Eureka’ moment. He was struck by how easy it was to lock and unlock the door, you simply had to swipe, nothing else.” – Sideways6, 14 Inspiring Examples of Intrapreneurship and Employee Ideas in Action
Freddy’s idea became one of the key features of the ‘revolutionary’ iPhone, disrupted the entire cell phone market, and pushed rival competitors firmly out of the way.
What happens when Google encourages entrepreneurship…
“Google has long encouraged its employees to devote 20% of their time to side projects, which is one reason why it remains one of the most innovative companies in the world.” – Inc, Want to Boost Your Bottom Line? Encourage Your Employees to Work on Side Projects
Google labels this 20% downtime to work on side projects as ‘dabble time’, and it’s thanks to this intrapreneurial outlook and Paul Buchheit (a regular Google engineer) that we have Gmail.
Paul started building a new “email thing” (his words) back in 1996. It took 11 years of ‘dabble time’ to tweak and improve this little side project until it became what 44% of the population know, use, and love (most of the time) as Gmail.
What happens when Facebook encourages intrapreneurship…
Like Apple, Facebook is also big into their hackathons. Every few months they hold a hackathon where employees from across the entire organization are encouraged to come together to brainstorm and shape new ideas and features.
Again, there are multiple market-leading features that have launched as a result of Facebook prioritizing internal innovation, but the one I like most is the ‘Like button’.
Originally called the ‘Awesome button’, the Facebook ‘Like button’ was originally prototyped by Facebook engineer Justin Rosenstein in 2007 during one of these hackathons.
Although they’ve never released any official statistics, it’s clear that the ‘Like button’ gave Facebook a serious competitive advantage: Almost every other social platform out there has a similar feature!
How to recognize intrapreneurs and nurture intrapreneurship within your organization
Why buy a new light bulb when you already have plenty in the cupboard?
An intrapreneur is a dreamer that does. They’re not an ideas factory churning out idea, after idea, after idea. And they’re not a workhorse powering through task, after task, after task.
They’re a combination of the two.
But where are they? How do you recognize them?
5 tell-tale signs you have an intrapreneur in your grasp
Intrapreneurs are not always the top performers, the biggest rebels, or the most obvious mavericks. They’re usually hidden gems that once discovered and polished, will dazzle you with their brilliance (and make you a lot of money).
So, how do you uncover these hidden gems?
Intrapreneurs tend to possess the following unique characteristics:
- They’re happy in a crowd and they work well within a team, but they’re also self-motivated enough to achieve great things on their own too.
- They’re advocates of change and are always looking outside-the-box for new ways to improve.
- They understand the concept of risk and reward, so they’re not afraid to take risks, break rules, and push boundaries if it means they can serve the market better.
- They welcome competition because they see it as an opportunity to showcase what they can do, rather than an obstacle they have to overcome.
- They’re super confident, have an unshakeable belief in themselves as an ideator and activist, and are secure enough to handle rejection, failure, and brutal criticism. They’re comfortable being uncomfortable.
Reckon you have any hidden gems within your organization?
Chances are you do. In fact, research by the Harvard Business Review suggests that a firm with 5,000 employees is likely to have around 25 intrapreneurs.
So once you’ve found your gems, how do you help them reach their full potential so you, as an organization, can reach yours?
How to encourage intrapreneurship within your organization
“Successful companies with their own innovation engines understand how to find, develop, and retain intrapreneurs. In order to outcompete, they promote and nurture a small start‐up environment within a large organizational structure that embraces continuous experimentation to find the next big thing.” – Harvard Business Review, Recognize Intrapreneurs Before They Leave
Because they have entrepreneurial-type qualities, if intrapreneurs feel stifled or unrecognized within your organization, they will leave.
To prevent this, create a culture that will allow your intrapreneurs to shine:
Give people freedom
Micro-management is an intrapreneurs kryptonite. Offer your employees support and guidance, give them the freedom to work freely on their task-lists without interference, and don’t question their every move. You’re only there if they need you.
Give people time to try new things
Allow your workforce to develop their ideas alongside their daily workload. For example, at Process Street, we have a ‘hackaday’ each month. It’s one day out of our usual schedule which allows us to work on side-projects. Sometimes they lead to great things, sometimes they don’t. But, we’re given the time and space to try something new, develop an idea, or improve the way we work. It’s a chance for your budding intrapreneurs to stretch their wings and push the boundaries. Who knows where it could lead…
Recognize people’s efforts
Intrapreneurs are more motivated by recognition and achievements than they are by money. So make sure you acknowledge, reward, and communicate successes and efforts with praise, feedback, and kudos.
Don’t point the finger
Not every new idea will work, so how you handle perceived risk and failure is key. Finger-pointing and blame cultures will only dampen the intrapreneurial spirit within your organization. Develop a culture that treats failure as an opportunity to learn.
Intrapreneurs are innovative, self-motivated, proactive, and action-oriented people. They take the bull by the horns to pursue an innovative product or service.
Their natural ability to solve problems and execute ground-breaking ideas makes them an unstoppable force within any organization.
You only have to look at the likes of Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon to see how important encouraging intrapreneurship within your organization is.
Turn the dreamers of your organization into doers by cultivating a culture that:
- Allows time, space, and freedom for innovation;
- Doesn’t flinch at failure;
- Recognizes achievements.
Have you got any intrapreneurs in your organization? How do you encourage intrapreneurship? Let us know what new ideas, products, or ways of working your intrapreneurs have developed! Who knows, you might appear in an upcoming article!
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