At times, leaders in large corporations find themselves stuck in a rut. When companies become big enough that standard protocols and hierarchy lord over decision making, it’s easy for company culture to stifle creativity, innovation, and novelty.
Managers can still save their organizations from becoming too stiff, too structured, or too “corporate,” however, by making sure key characters called “intrapreneurs” are present.
What is an “intrapreneur”?
Intrapreneurship is a relatively new concept, which basically borrows certain features from entrepreneurship but applies these in the corporate context. While intrapreneurs appreciate the economic value of monetary compensation (as an individual) and the bottom line (for the company), their dedication to the growth of the organization is driven by a deeper and more intimate connection to the company vision. They think, decide, and behave like founders and borrow external lessons from startup success stories.
Why are intrapreneurs important?
Intrapreneurship involves pursuing and developing new ideas and opportunities to create value for the company. Intrapreneurs care for promising ideas and see these to fruition for the benefit of their organization. They are “greenhousers,” or individuals who cannot leave alone the good ideas germinating in their mind and aren’t simply satisfied with the status quo. Essentially, intrapreneurial success means being the are generators of new business for existing, large, and often old companies that otherwise wouldn’t possess an entrepreneurial mindset. They provide the capacity to push an existing company towards new heights and dimensions, and essentially prevent their organization from becoming antiquated and irrelevant. This makes them especially innovative employees that are invaluable to the future of their company.
Like their counterpart, the entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs possess an entrepreneurial spirit and traits that enable them to stand out from the rest of the organization. They are risk takers, problem solvers, and visionaries who thrive on competition. Intrapreneurs are unafraid of experimentation, piloting, and the probability of failure. In an article by Forbes contributor David K. Williams, he calls the process of not getting what you intended as “failing up.” Intrapreneurs can adapt to unexpected events and outcomes and are confident in their ability to take any outcome, whether a success or a failure, as a stepping-stone towards growth.
One famous example of a solution that came out of the creativity of an employee is the Gmail. Google encourages its employees to spend 20 percent of their time on personal projects. One such project was Gmail, which Paul Buchheit developed between 2001 and 2004. Gmail was the first email service provider that enabled large storage and a search function.
Intrapreneurs apply technology and promote innovation to develop novel market solutions. They also consistently discover and try out more effective methods of accomplishing goals and tasks. Intrapreneurs value independence and autonomy in their work but are also capable of leveraging cultural diversity and driving productivity. Unsurprisingly, the individuals who fall within the traits I have laid out here are the ones who typically make the shortlist of a company’s next generation of leaders.
A more advanced breed: Social intrapreneurship
A subsection within intrapreneurs is a unique breed called “social intrapreneurs.” Like social entrepreneurs, they work towards the eradication of old Customer Relations Management models. They can exist within non-profit organizations and aim towards strengthening their organization in the business development and innovation arenas. They apply business and marketing concepts from profit-driven companies to drive productivity, efficiency, and professionalism and aim for financial sustainability.
Social intrapreneurs can also function within profit-driven companies — by driving the social movement across the organization and aligning the company’s vision with the needs of society and the environment in a socially responsible way. According to a Forbes article by Ashoka, “Social intrapreneurs are right now sitting within existing organizations at the intersection of innovation, social good, and entrepreneurship.”
While intrapreneurs appear to be new characters in the business ecosystem, their introduction to business has never been timelier, given the diverse ways in which technology and company innovation can be created and applied. With socially conscious intrapreneurs, we can be assured of a future championed by business leaders who possess creativity, integrity and commitment to a unified and socially oriented vision.
Chiara writes about business, finance, social enterprising, health and medicine, and the unique placement of women across these areas. She is also a co-creator at FictionFolk, which designs events that aim to peddle the literature culture.
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