Intrapreneurship. The Secret Weapon of Corporate Success?

By Chapple

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Companies of all shapes and sizes face similar challenges, namely attracting, keeping and engaging the most talented employees whilst making a profit. What if there was only one thing a company needed to do that could achieve all those things? Well, there is and it is the little known or discussed concept of Intrapreneurship. If you list a few companies that consistently make huge profits, regularly top the ‘best company to work for’ list and are known to easily attract the top talent, Google, Virgin, Facebook, Pepsi, John Lewis and 3M for example, chances are they are also at the forefront of embracing Intrapreneurs in to their company.

What is Intrapreneurship?

The word was first coined by Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot in 1978 and is defined as the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working within a large organization. Intrapreneurship is known as the practice of a corporate management style that integrates risk-taking and innovation approaches, as well as the reward and motivational techniques that are more traditionally thought of as being the province of entrepreneurship.

If an employee comes up with an idea that could radically change the fortunes of their company simply by doing things another way or coming up with a new product or service idea that has great potential, they have two choices; they are given time, space and a budget within their existing company to develop their idea, or they go it alone and start their own company and turn into a competitor. On the face of it, the first option would seem the obvious choice for an employer, the second for an employee but it isn’t that straightforward.

Many organizations understandably fear failure and don’t want to try new things and many individuals with innovative ideas fail to get them to market either through lack of funding or experience. Innovation can’t happen without doing things differently, taking risks, and above all else, failing and learning from it. So, collaboration between an employee with a great idea and a company with a creative vision can often bring about innovation that results in greater profits and industry prestige. It is therefore vitally important not only to make room for Intrapreneurs in an organization but also to provide incentives for them to stay.

Google is well known for its innovative approach and they set up a formal process for encouraging internal entrepreneurship, implementing ‘Innovation Time Off’ to encourage creativity among its employees and support continuous innovation. About 20% of an employee’s time is spent on company-related work that is of personal interest. Almost half of Google’s new-product launches, including Gmail, Google Earth and Google Glass, are said to have originated from the Innovation Time Off programme.

At LinkedIn, employees can pitch an idea to the executive team and if their idea is approved, they are able to spend up to three months dedicated to turning the idea into reality. At Facebook, they have ‘hackathons’ where they encourage teams to collaborate on projects. The “Like button”, one of the most important innovations in the company’s history, was the product of a hackathon. And it isn’t just tech companies that embrace Intrapreneurs, John Lewis has invested in the ‘JLab’, which will give start-ups office space and advice, with the overall aim of rolling out the project across its 40 stores.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found UK growth could be boosted if large firms adopted the entrepreneurial spirit of start-ups, but also discovered that only 12 per cent of employers are doing anything about nurturing it. For many large, long-established companies, becoming more entrepreneurial in outlook requires a sea change in attitude and structure but mayprove to be the only way to survive in the modern economy.

How do you achieve the successful integration of Intrapreneurs into your organisation?

According to EY, there are five key points to look out for:

  • Create a culture of flexibility. Processes and procedures need to be streamlined so that anew idea can translate to market success quickly.
  • Accommodate risk. An intrapreneurial culture inevitably generates greater legal and financial risks for the company, and as many organizations fear failure, they don’t let their people try new things. But innovation can’t happen without doing things differently, taking risks, and sometimes failing, but learning from each failure.
  • Manage internal tensions. Research shows that many promising ideas have failed as a result of co-workers who are jealous of the attention paid to their innovative colleagues or line managers who don’t want to lose control of their budgets. Senior managers with the help of expert change management advice need to sell the idea to all employees that internal innovation is vital for market leadership, and even survival for the company.
  • Look to the long term. True innovation requires time and a predictable flow of new ideas that the company can rely on. Setting up an “Intrapreneurship unit” within the company enables ideas to be developed and enabled on a rolling basis.
  • Encourage the happy accident. Sometimes entrepreneurial successes have happened because someone finds a new use for an old product or ventured into new areas or countries.

Adopting an entrepreneurial culture

There are clear advantages to creating an entrepreneurial culture in any organisation:

  • It can prevent an valued employee from leaving and turning into a competitor
  • Top candidates will be attracted to the company because it is seen as a great place to work and boosts employee engagement with existing employees
  • It can significantly affect the bottom line of the business for the better
  • 90% of people who want to be entrepreneurs are going to fail if they go it alone, so keeping them in-house increases the chances of great ideas being developed
  • A key reason why millennials leave their companies after a few years is because of a lack of career opportunities. An Intrapreneurship programme is one solution to solve this retention problem

Of course, there will be some disadvantages too:

  • While employees spend time developing ideas they are not earning revenue for the company
  • Budgeting for failure is a big challenge in any company
  • The best Intrapreneur may leave anyway
  • Restructuring an organisation to allow for innovation can be costly and stressful without good management
  • Employees who are not natural innovators may have to have to embrace a culture change and feel threatened or disengaged 

In today’s ‘adapt or die’ corporate world, an organization has to be able to adapt and adjust their future plans on an almost continual basis. Innovative and successful organizations have a fluid, agile attitude, and accept that there may be several “right” ways to innovate. But, with great employee communication and change managers in place, Intrapreneurs can open up new ways of thinking that can lead to greater innovation and commercial success.


At Chapple we specialize in sourcing candidates in external and internal communications, employee engagement, change and business transformation roles.

Contact us on 020 7734 8209 for more information about how we can help you find the right people for your business.


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