Intrapreneurship: From Playing Hide and Seek to The Dismantling of Classic Hierarchy. Where are You At?

We bet you hear the word innovation at least a dozen times a day, if not more. Every single company seems to be thinking of, planning for, and somehow doing innovation in some way. With so many ideas, frameworks and success stories, how can you cut through the noise and capture what’s most relevant for your company?

To answer this question, we organized the first Intrapreneurship Conference in 2011. The aim was to create a platform to bring together those organizations that were already doing intrapreneurship, and experts who were supporting their clients to implement intrapreneurship, with those who were looking for ways to build a culture that stimulates innovation from within.

We wanted these leaders to learn from each other, share experiences, and improve their innovation results. Now in its fourth edition, the Intrapreneurship Conference (December 10-12, The Netherlands) again brings together intrapreneurs, experts and innovation managers, to share what’s working today and new ideas for tomorrow.

As a taster to this event, we asked a few of the experts attending the event to provide you with a snapshot of the intrapreneurship landscape. Their conclusion? Intrapreneurship is no longer a new concept to try out – for companies most successful in innovation, it is a core element of their strategy. Still, that’s just the beginning…

Intrapreneurship is no longer a new concept to try out – for companies most successful in innovation, it is a core element of their strategy.

Early days: playing hide and seek

While intrapreneurship is at the core of innovation efforts in leading companies today, Neil Fogarty vividly remembers it hasn’t always been like this:

“In the early days of the discipline, intrapreneurship has been seen as ‘counterculture’ – keep it below the radar; don’t let corporate antibodies attack it; don’t tell the boss.

This model may appeal to maverick employees, but the risks are that it is outside of the mainstream, lacks alignment with overarching corporate strategies, and all of your innovative thinking is with one (secretive!) employee.

However, when we consider the big successes of innovation (iPhone, PlayStation, Post-It, etc.) we see ideas that are supported by the corporation and not hidden from it.

Intrapreneurship is now a vital business strategy

Intrapreneurship is a vital business strategy and if we want it to become part of the corporate strategy, we have to stop playing silly games.  Intrapreneurship is a corporate strategy and it should start acting like it. I think we will have a Director of Intrapreneurship on a major board within the next 15 years.”

“It’s easy to fall into the trap of not thinking about an intrapreneurship program in the right context and instead it is viewed as “another project” the organization is rolling out, alongside all of the others. This can cause you to manage it in the wrong way,” adds Jan Kennedy.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking about an intrapreneurship program as “another project” the organization is rolling out, alongside all of the others.

“Most likely you promote intrapreneurship because your organization is not “ambidextrous;” it is not so good at being efficient in its management of today’s business whilst also being adaptable for coping with tomorrow’s changing demand. In other words, your organization is designed for exploitation, but not for exploration.

An intrapreneurship program is an exploration type of project and must be managed and carried out in such a way. It therefore needs different skills, metrics, planning, communication, reporting, funding, etc. associated to it.

As a serial entrepreneur, I can assure you that intrapreneurship resembles entrepreneurship more than anything else, so the frameworks and metrics you use should be adopted from the world of entrepreneurship as opposed to projects designed for exploitation.”

Just applying startup methods is not enough

It’s no secret or surprise that companies look to how startups operate, and then apply the principles and methods that work for these new companies. Job done and mission accomplished?

No – argues Claudio Vandi. “It requires corporations to change on a fundamental level. To start an intrapreneurship program you have to be excited about unknown outcomes, accept to lose control, support and fund projects that can go against your current business, and challenge the purpose of your company. That is a stretch for most managers.

In order for intrapreneurship to work, you need to give your team radical autonomy and push them far from your organizational constraints. It can be scary today but will help you to identify the talents that will lead the future with you. ”

“Intrapreneurship isn’t so much about applying startup methods or principles as it is about creating a new culture,” adds Philippe de Ridder, co-founder Board of Innovation.

It’s a fundamental shift: from command and control to autonomy

“In 10 to 20 years’ time, most businesses will be populated by a new kind of employee, people who do not just bring their own device, but their own business ideas, working practices and even their own teams of people.

Intrapreneurs are already flourishing in pioneering companies such as Google and GE. But what is today cutting edge will in future be the mainstream, and any company who values either strategic innovation or talent engagement and attraction has a very compelling reason to embrace intrapreneurship.

In this shift, organizations have to move from a compliance and control culture to a culture of autonomy. An organizational intrapreneurship mindset is characterised by a great level of de-central agility rather than strong central planning, a long-term purpose rather than short-term profit goal, and a greater amount of ‘makers’ rather than ‘managers’ within your organization.

As people align to intrapreneurial activities, we can expect the dismantling of classic hierarchy. And it might go faster than you think.

The future organization itself can be pictured as a fluid, open network; significantly different from the static, siloed structure we still see today. Think of the army and an open source network like Wikipedia as two sides of the extreme within this spectrum. The view on human motivation underpinning all of this has fundamentally moved from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation. It is time for companies to adapt to this new view.”

That last comment makes Neil Fogarty smile. “That’s right for sure. I think there’s a vast opportunity for freelance intrapreneurs – people being parachuted into a business to support a corporate strategy, fulfilling an assignment and moving on – a ‘gun for hire.’ As people align to intrapreneurial activities, we can expect the dismantling of classic hierarchy. And it might go faster than you think.”

Innovation happens in an ecosystem, not in a vacuum

In her work consulting with companies, Marieke de Nijs confirms the trend that a lot of companies are trying to regain the entrepreneurial DNA of their organization and are implementing lean startup principles to their innovation and venturing programs. But there’s more going on, she adds:

“We see that often innovation is not so much about generating new ideas, but that it is about selecting the most promising ones and taking them to the next level.

Making a connection between inside intrapreneurs and outside entrepreneurs is the accelerator to turn promising business concepts into successful innovations and ventures.

Making a connection between inside intrapreneurs with outside entrepreneurs is the accelerator to turn (existing) promising business concepts into successful innovations and ventures.

We have learnt that by making unexpected connections between sectors or by linking business concepts to external crowds of customers and startups that radical innovations can sprout and grow.

Creating a successful symbiosis between the strengths of different worlds is a keystone in creating and accelerating valuable enterprises of the future.”

How are you implementing intrapreneurship in your organization?

Are the intrapreneurs in your organization still acting under the radar? Or are you already engaging with outside ecosystems to drive innovation from within?

Whatever your current situation is, the Intrapreneurship Conference 2014 offers you the opportunity to get the latest insights on what it takes to successfully implement and leverage intrapreneurship, so that your organization is ready for the next step towards reaching your innovation goals.

You’ll hear directly from experienced intrapreneurs and innovation experts, like the ones quoted in this article, and there’s ample opportunity to network with peers from other industry leading companies. Take a look at our program and register for the Intrapreneurship Conference 2014 via this link.

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/

Photo : Scared Business Man by Shutterstock.com

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