5 Ways to Foster High-Impact Intrapreneurship

The popularity of intrapreneurship within companies is the biggest factor that sets apart ones that continue to expand for decades and the ones that fade away.

According to MIT researcher, Eric von Hippel, if companies try to rely on their past successes, they will quickly lose market share to competitors who are faster and listen more closely to customer needs.

Though the importance of intrapreneurship is well-recognized, many companies struggle to foster it because their cultures are too rigid and/or complacent. To overcome this, you need to remove barriers to innovation and create opportunities for employees to pursue out-of-the-box ideas. 

Here are five actionable ways to foster high-impact intrapreneurship.

1) Work with the Natural Intrapreneurs in Your Company

Studies show that approximately 20% of employees naturally display intrapreneurial behaviors. If your company culture lacks innovation, collaborating with these individuals will give you the best chance of success since they’re eager for the opportunity to share their ideas.

To identify your intrapreneurs, look for employees who:

  • Are eager to solve problems
  • Volunteer for difficult projects
  • Attempt to bend the rules on their projects
  • Have lots of ideas about their team’s work

These employees stand out because they’re always eager for a challenge and aren’t satisfied with the status quo. To get started, meet with them 1:1 and ask about their ideas to improve the projects their team is working on, new projects they’d like to begin, and issues they’ve identified in the company. This conversation should generate a few ideas that you can use to launch your first intrapreneurship initiatives.

2) Give Employees Role Flexibility

One of the biggest barriers to intrapreneurship is that employees don’t know where to begin. If you’re constantly assigning them specific tasks, there’s little room for them to create their own innovative projects.

Instead of hoping they come up with ideas in their spare time, put them in a position where they have no choice but to innovate.

The easiest way to do that is to create role flexibility. This involves making every individual responsible for a large project or goal and empowering them to do whatever it takes to be successful.

When you tell employees what they need to achieve instead of what they need to do, they’re far more likely to test new ideas and create innovative solutions to problems that they may have otherwise ignored.

As employees explore ways to achieve their goals, they’re likely to identify broader opportunities that will spur intrapreneurship initiatives.

Related: How to Use Goal-Setting Exercises to Drive Employee Success

3) Create Intrapreneurship Incentives

Deloitte’s research found that intrapreneurs are far more intrinsically motivated than the average employee. To incentivize people to take on innovative projects beyond their typical responsibilities, you have to appeal to their creative ambitions.

Here are a few ways:

  • Praise their efforts in team meetings and emails
  • Temporarily take a couple of their typical tasks off their plate so they can focus on their project
  • Introduce them to internal experts who can provide

And other forms of encouragement that emphasize that you value the work they’re doing.

Keep in mind that how you react to their failures is just as important as how you reward their successes. Instead of punishing intrapreneurs when their projects fail – which is inevitable much of the time – help them gather insights from their project so they have a better chance of succeeding next time. As people who love to learn, they’ll appreciate this approach and be motivated to do better on their next project.

Related: How to Motivate Employees to Engage in Continuous Learning

4) Establish a Structure for Employees to Gain Sponsorship

Sponsorship is vital to ensuring your intrapreneurs have the resources and guidance to succeed. Establishing a structure is easy. All you have to do is:

  1. Create a method for employees to submit their pitches. Pitches can be live or via a written application and can be either with their direct managers or a committee.
  2. Choose who will serve as sponsors. Again, this can be direct managers or members of a committee.
  3. Establish a time frame that people can work on projects before they need to be reevaluated. Implementing time constraints that can be extended if there is good progress prevents resources from being wasted.

Sponsors should work with intrapreneurs to ensure their vision remains aligned with company goals and empower them to bend non-critical rules that are hindering them from moving forward. By serving as mentors, sponsors play a critical role in keeping intrapreneurship projects on track and ending ones that are bound for failure.

5) Adopt a Long-Term Focus

The reality is the vast majority of intrapreneurial efforts take a minimum of a few quarters to generate a measurable ROI, and many will fail along the way. To see results, you have to adopt a long-term focus and accept failure in the short-term.

That being said, you shouldn’t wait around and hope your team’s intrapreneurship efforts become successful. Check-in with your employees at a cadence that makes sense for the type of project (ex. it takes longer to develop a new product than revamp an internal system), and evaluate two things:

  1. Are they making progress toward their goal? To justify your employee’s time, they need to show improvement. If they can’t, you need to decide if the project should be ended or given additional resources.
  2. Is the problem they’re solving still relevant? If employees are making slow progress over a long period, there’s a chance new technology and other changes will make their project irrelevant. Watch for this, so people don’t continue to waste time on unnecessary projects.

Having regular check-ins to ask these questions ensures that your team puts their effort toward projects that give you a pipeline of innovative products and processes that you need to survive in the long-term.

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