Who says innovation has to come from the C-suite? Every professional can help drive any brand forward through intrapreneurship.
For many, the idea of being an entrepreneur and starting their own business involves too many risks or is just too heavy of a financial burden. These concerns are real and understandable, but how can they be effectively addressed so these individuals can flex their entrepreneurial muscles without starting from scratch? For me, the solution came from intrapreneurship.
It is this very concept that has allowed me to develop an entrepreneurial mindset and pursue creative freedoms uninhibited as president of Venture X: a fast-growing and global coworking space franchise designed for the modern professional.
What is intrapreneurship?
Intrapreneurship is acting as an entrepreneur within your larger company, by innovating and creating new products or services. The term intrapreneurship was first coined by business authors Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot in the late 1970s. They used the term to describe employees in large, highly structured corporations who defied the norm by acting creatively and autonomously, despite the hierarchical environments they worked in.
Think of it this way: Most of us have heard the phrase "you can't have your cake and eat it too." Well, I have always considered that to be a ridiculous statement, and it is one intrapreneurship that resoundingly disproves. Being an intrapreneur is like grabbing the biggest slice there is and eating your heart out. In other words, intrapreneurship allows employees many of the creative capabilities and real-world experiences of an entrepreneur without having to manage all the responsibilities of one.
What does intrapreneurship look like?
Many of the household names and products we all know and love today are prime examples of the power of intrapreneurship: the Post-it note, Facebook's Like button, the Sony PlayStation and Gmail, among others. All of the above are results of intrapreneurs or individuals who were committed to their companies and possessed the fiery passion and creativity of entrepreneurs.
Intrapreneurs desire to bring revolutionary ideas to life, yield higher returns for their companies and usually do so without passing through all the processes and channels that exist within large companies. Being an intrapreneur is having the stability and structure of a great job while also being a part of an organization that actively encourages and fuels your entrepreneurial spirit.
I first came across the term intrapreneur after working with a life coach to complete several personality profiles. Based on those profiles, we found I am passionate about organization, making detailed plans, simplifying processes and efficiently executing these plans. Without the connections to have VC backing, though, my life coach explained being an intrapreneur provided the best opportunity to fully tap into these personality traits. When I joined the United Franchise Group (UFG) in 2012 is when I fully latched onto the idea of becoming an intrapreneur.
Since then, I have become a major advocate for intrapreneurship. To have the freedom to act like an entrepreneur without actually having to be an entrepreneur is not just an attractive proposition for a business's most creative employees, but it is also an incredibly valuable opportunity for businesses to continue their evolution and better meet the needs of today’s customers.
How to become an intrapreneur at the office
If you find yourself constantly brainstorming ideas to move your company forward, here are some things to keep in mind. Your service or product should do one of two things, and, in a perfect world, it should do both:
- Help bring in more revenue for your company with calculated risk.
- Help reduce expenses/save considerable amounts of time for the company.
Have a sound idea? Position it to your boss, the owner or the board of directors, and get them involved with your idea(s) early on before moving forward with them on your own. Most importantly, though, be transparent. Tell these higher-ups what could be in it for them if your idea works, and agree to work on it on your own time while still exceeding expectations in your main role.
If you pitch only what’s in it for you or try something new at the expense of your primary role and responsibilities, it will not be well received. You have to let your company owners know they can count on you to be an invaluable asset in more ways than one.
This also means establishing a rapport with your boss(es) or the executives at your company. More likely than not, these higher-ups are not going to give you the free reign to act autonomously as an intrapreneur if you do not already have a great working relationship with them. This is a task that takes months, if not years, to achieve and sustain.
So, if becoming an intrapreneur at your current place of work sounds like the ideal professional environment, make yourself available when asked, take initiative when seemingly no one else will and make a concentrated effort to invest time in the things your superiors care about. In doing so, not only will you build that trust and respect, but you will also have the credibility to suggest ideas they may have brushed off in the past but now are more willing to consider – especially if they know someone they can count on is leading the charge.
The value of intrapreneurs
Now more than ever, companies are looking for employees who can openly exercise their creativity and put their innovative ideas into practice to help drive the business forward. The default management strategy from the early 1980s to the turn of the century was, “Do as you’re told.” Employees were expected to follow the rigid, cookie-cutter processes and procedures their employers had in place without consideration for the creative perspective of individuals.
Times have changed, and companies that do not foster a work environment that inspires intrapreneurship risk losing their top talent to the talent’s own ventures or more innovative companies. I remind myself everyday leaders must always be on the lookout for what’s next to keep their companies ahead of the pack.
Think about it: if you have a team of people that all look alike, think alike, act alike, come from similar backgrounds, etc., your company is going to struggle dramatically with creating and fostering the kind of innovative ideas needed to advance in the modern marketplace. However, if you’re empowering employees, prioritizing diversity of thought and encouraging their entrepreneurial behaviors inside your company, intrapreneurship can become a differentiating factor that propels your business beyond growth barriers, competition and more.
As a business, you cannot afford – both literally and figuratively – to ignorantly stick to the mantra “this is the way we have always done it” because most, if not all, that do end up underperforming or failing. If you look at any of the successful companies out there – whether it’s a global giant like Facebook or Google, or a mom-and-pop shop down the road – some of their most innovative ideas were born from the inspiration and promotion of intrapreneurship.
A business's success is reliant on its leader’s ability to cultivate an open environment that produces intrapreneurs; one that attracts and inspires entrepreneurial-minded employees who will be themselves and provide their unique perspective to create innovative solutions that drive the company forward.