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Thom Dennis

Serenity in Leadership Ltd


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Ten ways to inspire and encourage intrapreneurship

Organisational innovation has never been more important. Harnessing this means learning from and nurturing our risk taking, visionary and resourceful intrapreneurs. With buy-in and direction from leadership, intrapreneurs can add real knowledge and value to organisations.
clear glass pendant lamps turned on during night time representing intrapraneurs and intrapraneurship

With today’s diverse workforce spanning five generations, coupled with the effects of globalisation and the demand for innovative solutions in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) environment, there is a heightened need to tap into organisational innovation. 

Known for their natural entrepreneurial skills but possibly lacking the resources to launch their own ventures, many millennials and Gen Z’s are using these skills to their advantage within a corporate setting.

The value of intrapreneurs

Intrapreneurship enables employees to risk-take, be innovative and use these skills to benefit their organisation and themselves. 

Without starting their own business or creating something completely from scratch as an entrepreneur would, the intrapreneur helps established businesses to be more competitive and adaptable with the development of new products or services, leading to possible increased efficiency, social change, corporate innovation and new revenue streams. 

Intrapreneurs use the company’s resources rather than their own to come up with business solutions, explore market opportunities and add value to services and products. 

Taking 20% to give 100%

Giants like Apple, Amazon, and Starbucks share the commitment to foster the intrapreneurial spirit. 

Google’s infamous ‘20 per cent rule’, requires its employees to spend a certain amount of their working time on original ideas that will benefit the company, laying the groundwork for tomorrow’s success and sustainability. 

Equally, small businesses and non-profit organisations can benefit from time for reflection, bold problem solving and out-of-the-box thinking, although it can be harder because resources such as time, capacity, space and finances are more limited.

Intrapreneurs use the company’s resources rather than their own to come up with business solutions

How can we motivate intrapreneurs?

1. Identify your intrapreneurs 

Intrapreneurs are easy to identify in many cases. They are visionary thinkers who show initiative and drive, are proactive and resourceful, have excellent market knowledge, can adapt within their career, happily take calculated risks and ask for flexibility. Intrapreneurs often can breathe life into future or dormant projects.

2. Provide the necessary resources

Intrapreneurs need facilitating mechanisms and an atmosphere that supports their creative drive. 

By allocating dedicated time and space, employees can brainstorm and collaborate without the limitations of their regular work environment. 

Ensure your intrapreneurs have access to whatever possible resources they may need, whether that is flexibility and novel ways of working, tools, training, mentorship or coaching, new technology or financial aid, or a dedicated space and help them successfully realise their ideas. 

When nurtured, an intrapreneur is likely to be more engaged and perform better whilst at the same time benefiting the business.

3. Encourage experimentation

Encourage a mindset that views failures as learning opportunities and removes the fear of failing. 

Culture is often flagged by existing intrapreneurs as an important factor, so take a good look and decide if you need to make any changes, seeking expert help, because changing a culture is a uniquely important, and difficult, process. 

Assess how risk is perceived, how decisions are made, and if experimentation is being encouraged. 

In 2020, McKinsey reported that 70% of transformation initiatives failed primarily as a result of challenges associated with people and organisational culture. 

Let them suggest and implement improvements in customer experience, emerging market trends, cross-functional communication and efficiency.

When nurtured, an intrapreneur is likely to be more engaged and perform better

4. Celebrate creative thinking

By recognising and celebrating the success of intrapreneurs, companies show that they place value on innovation and creative thinking and have a better chance of retention. 

Different people will be motivated by different rewards, so a tailored approach is needed, from opportunities for professional development, appropriate incentives and bonuses, to public recognition or award ceremonies to show the company’s appreciation. 

This can in turn serve as a powerful tool for inspiring other employees to contribute meaningfully.

5. Help them to thrive

A report from The Possibilists highlights that 88.4% of changemakers consider skill development a basic need. They value learning, growth and an ability to evolve. 

6. Provide inspirational leadership

To succeed, intrapreneurs need buy-in from their managers. They value inspirational leadership, managerial receptiveness, autonomy and a tolerance for failure.  

Leaders need to ask questions, listen deeply, build rapport and action the implementation of good ideas whilst calculating risk. 

They need to build trust and encourage ideas and knowledge-sharing.

7. Encourage problem solving

Encourage all colleagues to identify problems and address them with creative ideas, proactively looking for how to improve the business. 

A chemist at 3M, Dr Silver, developed a low-tack adhesive, which was initially considered “a solution without a problem” until a collaboration with colleague Art Fry led to a realisation of the potential of the adhesive for creating a reusable bookmark leading to the creation of the billion-dollar success of the Post-it Note. 

Encourage all colleagues to identify problems and address them with creative ideas

8. Provide direction

Having a clear and shared goal that is grounded throughout the whole organisation provides employees with a sense of direction. 

When intrapreneurs understand how their efforts will contribute to the organisation, they feel motivated to tackle new ideas.

9. Value differences

Diversity brings varied skills and perspectives to the table so create an environment where all are welcome, they are trained in cultural intelligence to get the most out of the diversity of the team, and differences are valued. 

Intrapreneurs are not necessarily lone rangers and are often team players and frequently become excellent leaders.

10. Hear every voice

When employees know their voices are heard and won’t be dismissed, they will feel encouraged to contribute to the flow and development of new ideas. 

Regional manager of a McDonald’s branch Dick Brams came up with a simple idea – meals for children. Two years later, Happy Meals was launched and became a bestseller.

If you enjoyed this, read: How to govern and support culture from the boardroom

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