Is There a Silver Bullet For Intrapreneurship?

Intrapreneurship is vital for all organizations to thrive in the 21st century - equally important for large firms, SMEs, and family businesses. Is there a proven recipe, a one size fits all approach to promoting intrapreneurship?

This is the second of three articles exploring the themes covered during the upcoming Intrapreneurship Conference 2014 (10-12 December 2014, The Netherlands): an interview with Hela Chebbi, Mohamed Sellami and Kathleen Randerson from EDC Paris Business School and Sana Saidi, ESC Troyes Business School

To answer this question, we sat down with Hela, Kathleen, Sana and Mohamed from EDC Business School Paris, to get a first glimpse of the outcomes of their research project on “the past, present and future of intrapreneurship”, which they will present during the Intrapreneurship Conference 2014.

In this article, professionals share the five main factors influencing employee’s entrepreneurial behavior: the organization’s structure, culture and HR practices, as well as its management systems and human resource practices.

Regardless of the size, industry or focus of the organization, they found that these factors deem most important for stimulating intrapreneurship. But is there a silver bullet for intrapreneurship? No.

Intrapreneurship has proven its worth to all companies embracing it, but mostly after a period of trial and error.

There is an incubation period to intrapreneurship, but at the same time, not doing it is not an option anymore.

Just like none of the entrepreneurs disrupting industries became a success overnight, Dan Thoma was right when stating that the path to intrapreneurship is a bumpy and sometimes lonely road with an uncertain destination – pack light, be prepared for the worst and aim for the best. There is an incubation period to intrapreneurship, but at the same time, not doing it is not an option anymore.

The least we can do is offer you a compass to navigate this exciting landscape – here are five factors to keep in mind when embarking on your intrapreneurial journey.

Factor 1: The organizational structure

Generally, in order to identify intrapreneurs and support their initiatives, a firm should adopt a flat structure, maintain a high level of flexibility, coordinate actions through projects, and prefer loose coordination mechanisms.

Similarly, to innovate, companies should focus their efforts on the proximity between the top management and intrapreneurs, like Nespresso which created an incubator model for high risk projects.

However, the ecosystem created by Google demonstrates the existence and interest of dynamic structures to support intrapreneurship. Here, intrapreneurs start by developing their ideas internally before being placed in incubators for growth and launch. These initiatives can ultimately be bought by Google.

Factor 2: Management

Management systems influence the entrepreneurial behaviors of individuals in the organization, for example the personality of leaders. If leaders tolerate error and admit the existence of co-stars, would-be entrepreneurs are more likely to take initiatives, making these individuals easier to identify and catalyze.

If leaders tolerate error and admit the existence of co-stars, would-be entrepreneurs are more likely to take initiatives, making these individuals easier to identify and catalyze.

This commitment of management towards organizational entrepreneurship must be explicitly written into statements or enacted through systems, like the intrapreneurship bootcamp of Alcatel Lucent in which employees submit their innovative ideas for development over several months with the involvement of management.

Strategic planning is also important. A high degree of strategic planning can limit and reduce the links between the employees and technological opportunities, hampering intrapreneurial attitudes and initiatives. But once established, the intrapreneurial levers (innovation competition, task forces, bootcamp, etc.) become themselves planified. This is why the management plays an important role to balance autonomy and planning.

Factor 3: Culture

Innovative companies usually have entrepreneurial values, like embracing failure, creativity, mutual trust, open mindset and communication. For example, Google has developed a culture based on innovation, ambiguity and risk taking in Silicon Valley. Based on these values, the company offers 10-12 new services per quarter.

Factor 4: Resources

Middle managers can empower motivated and creative employees to mobilize organizational slack to support intrapreneurship initiatives. Individuals can leverage on formal mechanisms, such as in 3M, where the employee who created and developed the project “Post-it” received additional financial resources and 15% of his time off to do it.

In this case, the allocation of these resources must be fair. But bootstrapping (mobilizing organizational slack through informal means) also supports intrapreneurial initiatives.

Factor 5: HR system

Studies show that American intrapreneurs are often motivated by financial rewards whereas in Europe, the intrapreneur’s visibility is more important.

Intrapreneurship has best chances of success when it’s based at least on three practices:

  • Consider entrepreneurial abilities (not just functional skills) in recruitment.
  • Set up “symbolic” or “financial” reward systems: The first should take into account the intrapreneur’s profile in order to avoid their frustration. Studies show that American intrapreneurs are often motivated by financial rewards whereas in Europe, the intrapreneur’s visibility is more important. Xerox’s case is often cited as an example not to follow because the managers created the “Xerox / park device” without any reward system. In 2002, Xerox sold this structure. This fact pushed the employees to create 35 start-ups, but Xerox couldn’t leverage on their innovations.
  • Train and develop employees to improve their skills and their ability to take initiatives. For example, Alcatel Lucent helps intrapreneurs by offering intensive training programs dedicated to developing business plans.

An important side note is that we shouldn’t forget the company’s environment. The technological level of the industry may impact the development of internal initiatives, as is the case in the telecommunications sector.

France Telecom, for example, has created new divisions (Explocenter, Technocenter) to promote further initiatives internally. The Canadian transportation company Bombardier had to adapt to global economic difficulties and as a result, new factories and opportunities have emerged.

There is no such thing as a silver bullet

From the diversity of examples we have found in the research, we came to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a silver bullet to implement a successful intrapreneurship program.

Certain factors, such as the intrinsic characteristics of the manager or the maturity of the market, are difficult to change. For others, managers can act on entrepreneurial culture, communication and trust, incentive systems, the autonomy given to intrapreneurs, the tolerance of error and the degree of strategic planning.

Whether you are just starting out to embrace a culture of intrapreneurship, or you are looking for ways to further increase the impact of your current intrapreneurship programs, the Intrapreneurship Conference 2014 provides you with everything you need for becoming the next intrapreneurial success story.

You get real life cases by intrapreneurs, practical workshops on all relevant aspects of intrapreneurship and a select group of fellow innovation managers to network with.

So while we can’t offer you a silver bullet, we’re confident you will be inspired to boost your innovation results in 2015 and beyond, because of the real life cases by intrapreneurs, practical workshops on all relevant aspects of intrapreneurship and a select group of fellow innovation managers to network with.

Join your colleagues from industry leaders like Philips, BBVA, Johnson & Johnson, Rabobank, DSM and Deutsche Telekom – click here for more information and to register for the Intrapreneurship Conference 2014.

By Hans Balmaekers

About the author

What if people feel fulfilled and engaged at work, and organizations thrive by having a positive impact on the world? As the founder of sa.am and sparqz.co, Hans is driven to transform this vision into reality, by supporting individuals to become intrapreneurs, and companies to embrace an intrapreneurial culture. Additionally, because of his passion for intrapreneurship, Hans is co-organizing the Intrapreneurship Conference 2014 – the premier global conference around “the best recipe for innovation”.

The Intrapreneurship Conference

With innovation being the #1 priority for all companies, many innovative organisations find that “Intrapreneurship” is the most powerful engine for innovation and growth.

Whether you are looking for ways to implement your first intrapreneurial program, or you want to effectively leverage your investments in the incubators, accelerators or venturing you are already facilitating, Intrapreneurship Conference 2014 is the conference for you.

During this 3 days event, you will learn about the best practices for implementing, driving and leveraging Intrapreneurship within your organisation. You will network with experienced intrapreneurs, impactful consultants and like minded peers from other innovative companies.

Learn how to leverage intrapreneurship in your organization at the 4th Intrapreneurship Conference – the first, biggest and best in its kind.

Check out the program and register for the conference here: http://www.intrapreneurshipconference.com/

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