‘What are you looking for in your potential HR Leader?’ asked an HR Consultant who had been responsively providing the right fit of potential hires for the COO since the last two years. This was the first HR hiring in leadership role, hence the question. The COO was quick to respond with one crisp sentence; ‘I need an HR intrapreneur for this role’.
Intrapreneur – What’s that? Why do we need a leader who has an intrapreneurial spirit in him? Let us get acclimatized to this term for ease of our reference and some level of understanding.
Gifford Pinchot III, coined the term intrapreneur in 1978. He defined it as "dreamers who do." He further states, "Intrapreneurs are employees who do for corporate innovation what an entrepreneur does for his or her startup." Rather, one can define it ‘as the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working within an organization’. This is a framework for creating an entrepreneurial mindset within a team. However, many times it is seen that businesses often make this costly mistake of undermining its true value. In fact, the classic case of Kodak is an apt example!t.
Steven Sasson, an electric engineer by profession, working in Kodak created the first digital camera. His invention was taken as a threat when he presented his idea to business leaders. Rather than treating it as an intrapreneurial epiphany, such an evolutionary idea was discarded by the company custodians. Finally, in the year of 2012, Kodak--the company that couldn’t keep up with the pace of change in digital technology--filed for bankruptcy. Such a huge mistake could have been averted, had intrapreneurial spirit was handled well in the company. Hence, it is evident that the potential to keep a company moving forward successfully into the future has much more to do with this innate component of intrapreneurship.
On this note, let us try and reflect on the five components of being an intrapreneur with reference to Steven Sasson of Kodak. He was self-motivated to create something new for the company he valued. His proactiveness for innovation kept him highly engaged as an employee. Also, his action-orientation resulted in the invention of the digital camera’s protopype. Companies must value these virtues in their employees that comprise of the five core intrapreneurial elements: Self Motivation, Proactivessnes, Innovation, Engagement, and Action Orientation. Developing these flavors of Intrapreneurship can bring wonderful results.
Furthermore, intrapreneurs have distinctive motivations and aspirations which businesses sometimes fail to understand. They prefer working in different work environments which gives them full empowerment. They become the very change they wish to see and are often seen as flag bearers of change management. Moreover, intrapreneurship requires a new set of competencies and behaviors and business leaders need to think and act differently to attract and retain their most intrapreneurial leaders.
As proven time and again, organizations who have embraced Intrapreneurship have often achieved higher financial returns. The story of ‘Post-It Note’ is certainly a very relevant example to prove the worth of an intrapreneurial culture. Spencer Silver – a chemist who worked in Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company which is now known as 3M did something differently. Post developing a low tack adhesive, he convinced his leaders to produce it. And then it created wonders; they all together filed for twenty-two patents within a short period of time.
Another example of a company that is a firm believer in developing intrapreneurship mindset and culture is DreamWorks. They encourage and empower their employees to drive innovative thoughts, to make decisions on their own and help their employees take full charge of projects by constantly giving them the resources and training they need. Employees are set free and they know that their leaders firmly believe in their capabilities. Free training from script writing to providing support to pitch their ideas in front of the company's executives is common in their organization’s culture. And if their ideas meet the required standard, it is then immediately converted into action.
Google is another very well-known example when we talk about the concept of intrapreneurial work culture. At Google, employees are given a few hours a week that is dedicated to innovative projects as per their choice. In fact, a majority of millennials are embracing the intrapreneurial style of working as they crave for more purpose, meaning, creativity, and autonomy. They look forward to owning up their projects. In reality, progressive companies do value such behavioral virtues. And unsurprisingly, the success and longevity of these companies can easily be correlated to the degree of acceptance of an intrapreneurial culture.
However, there is always a flip side to every story and as said ‘for one big success you may have to pay for dozens of failures’. So, companies that have had success with intrapreneurship also have experienced many failed attempts in their journey. Some such examples are Microsoft Zune, Google Lively and Crystal Pepsi. In short, intrapreneurship is not easy. However, if you don’t do it, you surely can’t survive. Develop it in your leaders and visualize how the company needs to evolve to stay ahead of its competition.