by Jason Richmond, CEO and Chief Culture Officer at Ideal Outcomes, Inc.
The Sony PlayStation exists today because of one persistent Sony engineer, Ken Kutaragi, who had a vision for the future of video games in the 1970s. Although he initially worked independently to develop the new game console, and faced internal resistance, he convinced Sony’s leadership to proceed with his project. It was the right move. A few years later, Kutaragi was the CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, and by 1998, the PlayStation was generating 40% of Sony Corporation’s operating profits.
Kutaragi isn’t just a hero to video game fans for inventing the Sony PlayStation; he’s also an inspiration to anyone who believes in the power of intrapreneurship.
What is Intrapreneurship?
Intrapreneurship is a management concept coined by American entrepreneur and author Gifford Pinchot III in a white paper he wrote with his wife in 1978 entitled “Intra-Corporate Entrepreneurship.”
The idea is based on entrepreneurship principles but practiced within the boundaries of an organization. It allows employees to embody an entrepreneurial spirit but with more resources (like capital and logistical support) and less financial risk.
The DNA of Intrapreneurs
Like any good entrepreneur, intrapreneurial employees are out-of-the-box thinkers who look for new ways to create solutions and solve problems. They continually come up with ways to improve their roles or the quality of their work. And by suggesting a way to solve a challenge the business has overlooked or struggled to address, they can even end up innovating for the entire organization. If a business has built its core strength in a certain area, intrapreneurs might offer a fresh perspective that could potentially point in new and lucrative directions.
However, intrapreneurship is about more than having great ideas. True intrapreneurs also operationalize them, and they are not afraid to shake up their surroundings to do so. As Pinchot put it, “intrapreneurs are the dreamers who do.”
Why Cultivate a Culture of Intrapreneurship?
For organizations, cultivating a culture of intrapreneurship brings innovative change and increased agility that can improve efficiencies, reduce costs, or boost profitability.
It’s also good for recruitment and retention. Intrapreneurs are empowered individuals who are wholly invested in their work, more satisfied with their jobs, and less likely to explore their options elsewhere or leave to start their own venture. Companies that support intrapreneurship are considered inventive and creative—qualities that are very attractive to many job seekers, especially Gen-Z and Millennials.
Intrapreneurs possess many skills and attributes considered desirable in senior leadership, such as vision, energy, and confidence. When companies allow employees the freedom to explore the boundaries of what’s possible, it helps them identify future leaders.
Since intrapreneurs can fuel a company’s success and drive new and exciting ideas that could revolutionize the organization and industry, it’s not surprising that leaders increasingly appreciate the value of identifying and nurturing them. The scale and speed of digital disruption across industries means that companies who don’t embrace intrapreneurship risk getting left behind.
Strategies for Igniting the Intrapreneurial Spark in Your Business
Let’s consider some ways to leverage the competitive advantage of intrapreneurship in your organization.
Build a Culture that Supports Intrapreneurship
Intrapreneurship isn’t just about doing things a certain way within a specific process. It’s a mindset that enables people to think and act in a way that encourages innovation. For this reason, company culture is a primary enabler of successful intrapreneurship.
The first step is to look at the current strengths and limitations within your current company culture. Then, you can see what needs to change: For example, there may be an opportunity to foster a stronger commitment to people, actively embrace continuous learning, or be more open to experimentation.
Allow Time for New Ideas
Encourage your employees to spend a significant portion of their time working on new ideas beyond their job scope. These projects might show no promise of paying immediate dividends, but could reveal key opportunities down the road. Google and Apple have been doing this for decades, and the results speak for themselves. Breakthroughs like AdSense, Google Maps, Google Earth, and Gmail at Google and the iPhone, iPod, and iCloud at Apple have all been credited to employees.
For this to work, you’ll need to put systems in place to assess employee ideas and allocate budgets for them to develop proofs of concept.
“We need to plant many seeds because we don’t know which one of those seeds will grow into a mighty oak.” – Jeff Bezos.
Some employees may be reluctant to try something new, or to bring up ideas that do not align with the existing business plan or goals. It’s important to ensure that everyone feels comfortable and secure in what they’re doing. Create incentives for great ideas. And always celebrate achievements, no matter how small.
Be a Beacon of Support
Be a leader who inspires others by demonstrating intrapreneurial thinking. Communicate a bold vision that inspires bold results, stay curious, listen attentively, and act quickly to explore new possibilities.
Use your personal and professional networks to identify successful entrepreneurs and other experts who you can bring in to help foster your intrapreneurial culture and mentor your budding intrapreneurs.
Find Your Ideal Intrapreneurship Strategy
Creating an intrapreneurial culture should be the goal of any business leader with an eye on long-term success. Executive teams don’t need to act as dreamers, thinkers, and innovators on their own. Every member of the business should be encouraged to participate.