04 November 2014

How to encourage intrapreneurship

Intrapreneurship can give your business a competitive edge and motivate your staff and give them a reason to stay with your company.

The term intrapreneur is not new, but you’re more likely to have heard of its big brother term, entrepreneur. So what is an intrapreneur and why should you be encouraging them within your business?

Entrepreneur or intrapreneur?

In simplified terms, an intrapreneur is an employee who comes up with innovative ideas or products that are then used by the company they work for to grow the business or compete more effectively. Rather than working for themselves as entrepreneurs do, they work within a company and focus their efforts on changes that could improve their employer’s business.  

However, intrapreneurs are not the same as entrepreneurs.

  • Entrepreneurship is more risky. Intrapreneurship offers financial stability in the form of a steady wage and support from managers or colleagues.
  • Intrapreneurs have less overall control and autonomy. As part of the wider organisation, they still have to answer to the business and are less likely to be able to make the key decisions. Entrepreneurs on the other hand have the last say, as they are responsible for all aspects of their business.  
  • While many entrepreneurs work from home, intrapreneurs are less likely to be able to. The latest Workforce Survey from The British Chamber of Commerce found that only 38% of companies offer remote working.

Why intrapreneurs are good

Intrapreneurship is a way to tap into the ideas of people who best know your products/services - your staff.

It’s good for your business because it can drive growth and innovation by encouraging workers to deliver more and go beyond their job role. It can also help you to keep hold of talented staff for longer by giving them a sense of belonging and an opportunity to make a difference within the company. By giving them a challenge or a personal project to work on, they have a vested interest and will be more motivated to make it a success.

For largely the same reasons, it can be beneficial for your staff. It can help them to gain business knowledge and boost their own career – a top reason why employees look for other jobs. Intrapreneurship offers staff experiences that they wouldn’t have in their normal working day. Plus, by supporting their work or ideas, you’re also signalling your belief in them.  

According to research last year from Forbes and American Express, 40% of millennial staff said they were interested in intrapreneurship and an even larger percentage of managers would be willing to support it.

Many large businesses have used intrapreneurship to their advantage. For example, Google allows its staff to work on their own projects for 20% of the time. They then have an opportunity to pitch their ideas to Google executives. This has resulted in products such as Google News and Gmail, which have both been successful.  

How to encourage intrapreneurship in your business

Not everyone wants to run their own business and take on all the associated risks. Some people prefer to have a dependable wage each month, but they can still want to make a difference where they work. By enabling intrapreneurship, both your staff and your business can benefit.

  • Provide the right culture – one that encourages thinking outside of the box and different perspectives.
  • Challenge your staff. Make sure there is time set aside for idea generation, problem solving and business proposals. Encourage collaboration and critical thinking. 
  • Be clear what your business is looking for. Do you need to improve a particular product or solve a problem?
  • Offer incentives, whether this is monetary or simply praise and recognition.
  • Empower your team by giving them ownership of their ideas and time to test them.
  • Acknowledge that the idea or project may fail. Make sure you don’t have a blame culture and that you learn from both successful and failed projects. If your staff fear failure, they'll come up with less innovative ideas.