To operate in today’s VUCA environment is challenging for businesses and to maintain a competitive edge they need profound and rapid changes. There are several examples where organisations have ruled the market due to their innovations, but lost it due to attention.
An example is Nokia- a Finland firm established in 1865- moved from producing paper to tires and gum-boots and then to mobile phones. It led the cell phone revolution and within no time became one of the best known and highest valued brands around the globe. While Nokia's rise to the top was quick, the reverse was similar too. Nokia's fast development had resulted in a loss of flexibility and intrapreneurship. And in 2013, it all culminated in the sale of its mobile phone business to Microsoft.
The probable answers to surviving in today’s dynamic and competitive environments are adaptability, creativity, risk-taking abilities, proactivity, and innovativeness - in short: Intrapreneurship. Intrapreneurship is nothing but behaving like an ‘entrepreneur’ within an established company. Below I discuss some ways to foster individual intrapreneurship behaviour within organisations.
Developing a good fit between existing systems and targeted ones by building capabilities
New systems within organisations usually work in highly ambiguous environments, with limited visibility to the alternatives and outcomes, leading to many possible directions and evolutionary paths. Such situations call for risk-taking behavior that require resources. However, corporate budgeting systems often show an inclination towards already set businesses as they generate higher tangible returns in known markets (Sinha, 2021). In a comparable ethos, HR systems thus devised, developed managers whose operational capabilities resonate with the needs of mature businesses—not the strategic, conceptual, and innovative abilities that start-ups require (Gravin and Levesque, 2006). To overcome this block and strike a balance between the new and the old systems, managers must begin with narrowing the playing field and start with assumptions about what will work and what won’t by combining ‘open-minded opportunism’ with ‘disciplined planning’ (Gravin and Levesque, 2006).
This may not appear to be a very good idea for large organisations but one should not underestimate the fact that it takes dedicated time, and financial and human resources to build a promising idea into a viable product, and those resources are often already accounted for on other projects (Altringer, 2013). So, it is important for organisations to systematically analyse their resources to build capabilities.
Developing the right organisational climate
Time and again studies have established the role of organisational climate in influencing individual creativity and innovation. The right environment consists of careful marshaling of resources to support new ideas, reduced high power distance, open communication and rewards for good ideas (Hunter, Bedell & Mumford, 2007). For example, the Facebook ‘Like’ button was first prototyped in one of Facebook’s infamous hack-a-thons. Also, when in the late 80’s Ken Kutaragi - one of Sony’s junior engineers - was supported by the group CEO Norio Ohga, when he came up with a better version of his daughter’s gaming console and in 1994 the first PlayStation was floated, it was a hit. Communication helps in opportunity identification and stabilises negative emotional arousal, thus, leading to value addition within the organisation. Besides top management support, diversity, shared perception, safety to experiment, adequate training and rewards & recognition also helps to make the organisational environment right for intrapreneurship (Birkinshaw et al., 2011). Numerous organisations presently are rewarding employees for attempts which probably failed but lead to learning: Both Google’s lab X and at WPP’s Grey Group in New York incentivise failures that provide insight (Ahuja, 2016).
Opening up to challenge the status-quo
It is a well-known fact that organisations design their systems to ensure the success of their established businesses as they account for major revenue share. Thus, many times working environments are unsurprising, and executives strive for efficiency, stability, and making the most of incremental growth (Gravin and Levesque, 2006). But to promote intrapreneurship it is important to challenge the status-quo. When an employee comes forward with some novel business idea, it is important to support him/her to develop a prototype to test his/her hypothesis — with just one client who is assumed to be well served by the solution. If that solitary client utilises the solution and prescribes it to other people, at that point it turns out to be simple for organisations to scale it up to a bigger group of customers so as to gather more information.
One instance of this approach in real life is a product idea called “Shop Owner”, launched by an Intuit worker in Bangalore. He discovered that store clerks in rural areas were unable to keep track of sales by depending on their memory to provide cost estimates and make transcribed sales slips. Most did not have access to computers or cash registers with integrated accounting features, however, almost everyone had smartphones. So, he came up with a solution in the form of an app that packaged point-of-sale accounting, simple stock management, and printed receipts. In view of that plan, he and his team developed and tested a prototype — in less than a week. Their first client was the café located inside Intuit’s own Bangalore office. It was a hit. From that point, the model was considered sufficient to scale-up for further testing and discovery (Ahuja, 2016).
Giving constructive feedback to support and not to control
One of the critical factors to promote intrapreneurship is to provide constructive feedback. Managers should avoid being judgmental. Individuals would face many uncertainties while developing new organisational ventures; with constructive feedback managers can ensure that they move in the right direction. Also, careful learnings from various other organisations can help organisations to take calculated risks and set-up new workable ventures within. Organisations should allow employees to take responsibility for their actions by making some substantial decisions on their own. The sense of autonomy increases engagement at work and motivates employees to work towards their passion (Ahuja, 2016), in the form of enhancing the processes or adding value to the existing venture(s) or creating value in the form of a new venture(s). Additionally, the sense of accountability pushes them to eliminate unwanted triggers and allows them to take calculated risk.
Helping employees to unwind
New venture idea(s) require innovation, deep thinking and passion. At times it can be difficult for employees to balance between new and existing work. Also, striking a balance between personal life and work can be challenging. So, managers must ensure to develop and organise programmes which allow employees to interact in an informal setting and spend time with their loved ones. Where intrapreneurs come together in one place through such programmes, cross-functional interaction is promoted. It also helps the organisation to keep innovation focused on issues that are in line with the organisation’s vision and employees’ passion. Such free conversations allow them to learn from their past mistakes without any hesitation (Sinha, 2021).
These steps will not only foster intrapreneurship within organisations but will also help them to find new directions to gain competitive advantage in the markets.