Shift your paradigm – accelerate and innovate with intrapreneurship

Many companies are still stuck in a 20th century mindset when it comes to their employees – people who come to work, do what they’d told, hit their targets and go home. In the old paradigm, the more a business wanted to grow, the more people they employed to achieve the next level of output and revenue.

Once companies get to a certain size, their investors can tend to become more conservative, their leaders less entrepreneurial and their employees less willing to stick their necks out with “out-of-the-box” ideas that may not work out, and that may result in them losing their jobs. Without innovation, companies get too ‘comfortable’ with their past successes, and eventually go out of business. There are many examples of companies who were once household names and are now no longer trading.

Company owners are starting to see the value in doing things differently. Now, for many, new ways of working are coming to the fore: remote working, flexi working, applying new methods to increase profitability, seeing the gaps in efficiencies, identifying intrapreneurship within the organisation, often without having to increase staff numbers – or even outsource innovation. Intrapreneurship, particularly in the tech industry, seems to be making great strides, and is revolutionizing our business paradigms – from the inside out. Being an Intrapreneur is a relatively new term, it originated in the 1990’s to describe ‘an entrepreneurial employee; someone who thinks and acts like an entrepreneur, but prefers to work within an organisation instead of having their own enterprise.’

For successful tech companies, these are increasingly being driven by highly motivated, entrepreneurial individuals who show accelerated, innovative spirit and push the boundaries within their job roles - and often do much more than just meet the basic terms of their contract. These intrapreneurs possess the dynamic qualities of high-achieving entrepreneurs but rather than starting their own enterprises, they use their skills within a company to push it forward in new and surprising ways.

Do you have intrapreneurs working in your organisation?

According to a tech insider, here’s what he had to say about spotting an intrapreneur: “Like entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs tend to be very driven with a strong focus on success. They are good at spotting opportunities, developing creative strategies to take advantage of those opportunities and motivating others to help implement their strategies. Intrapreneurs are thought leaders and tend to be the ones others come to for help and advice about running their own projects.

Intrapreneurs may not be at management level, but they will usually be the driving force in any team they are in, being highly persuasive and becoming a hub that the rest of the team organises itself around. Intrapreneurs can sometimes clash with more traditionally-minded managers who want people to “know their place”, but their very refusal to know their place and to keep doing things the same way they have always been done are what make intrapreneurs so valuable.”

Another industry spokesperson says: “Intrapreneurs benefit tech companies because the tech industry never stays still, so employees who are content to keep doing things the same old way day in, day out can quickly become anchors on your business’s progress. Intrapreneurs are the opposite: they are the ones running out in front, finding new and exciting opportunities to take the company forward in surprising ways.

Intrapreneurs take real ownership of their job roles and tend to go above and beyond to make a success of their areas of responsibility. They have high levels of creativity and initiative and will often produce big results using minimal resources. This means intrapreneurs can bring high levels of innovation to your company but without requiring you to spend a lot of money on developing their ideas before you know whether they are likely to be a success or not.

Perhaps one of the biggest advantages to hiring and keeping intrapreneurs in your company is that these are otherwise the people who would be out there creating the new ideas and technologies that could threaten your own business. For example, new Facebook employees are given a handbook laying out the company’s mission, history and culture. Famously the handbook states: “If we don't create the thing that kills Facebook, someone else will.”

This is the key to intrapreneurship. By incentivising clever, creative, highly motivated people to work for you, rather than to branch out on their own, you are making your company more resilient and adaptable, meaning you are less likely to find yourself put out of business by some clever new idea that your company could have been the one behind.’

As a company owner, or part of senior management, are you a shapeshifter leader who recognises the value of an intrapreneur even if, at times, it can seem disruptive to the ‘smooth day-to-day running’ of your business?



Here are some key insights into what makes an intrapreneur tick:

  • They come to work each day without fear of being fired in their commitment to driving innovation; at the same time they are also accountable and aware that failure is okay as long as one learns from it and they solve their own problems
  • They will do any job needed to make a project work regardless of the job description; at the same time they also hold in high regard the processes they are disrupting
  • Intrapreneurs find people within the company to help them; they follow their intuition about the people they choose and align themselves with those who deliver their best
  • One philosophy is to work underground as long as possible, as publicity could trigger the corporate ‘immune system’ towards anything new
  • Another attitude is that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission
  • However, it is not all maverick ‘n mayhem – intrapreneurs, although passionately true to their goals, will also be realistic about the ways to achieve them, as well as honour their sponsors – the company owners.

“When you find something worth fighting for, it can change you.” Doug Sundheim

Intrapreneurs take smart risks. Ask for help. And are prepared to be wrong.

When do intrapreneurs end up becoming the competition?

In a blog by Laurence Driscoll posing this question, he writes, ‘There is a fine line between encouraging intrapreneurial spirit and inspiring the next wave of entrepreneurs. How can business leaders retain intrapreneurs without stifling their ambition?

It’s no secret that enabling intrapreneurs creates exponential growth within business. But when corporate culture consists of rigid processes that don’t flex for innovation, intrapreneurs can become frustrated and disillusioned, eventually departing to apply their skills to entrepreneurial ventures.’

This is where being a flexible, adaptable shapeshifting leader can ensure a much longer successful way of working with your passionately disruptive intrapreneurs within your organisation.

"I think there will always be fear, but nowadays the barriers to doing something or doing your own thing are so low,” says one intrapreneur, “and instead it's about working to the paradigm of - do good, do well."

So, look around your business, spot your intrapreneurs, and quietly give them your smart-risk backing. Now, more than ever, you need constant innovation from within to keep your business momentum ahead of the curve.


Compiled by Karin Dubois, Network Group