I have a group of friends who often used to joke about who makes the ‘perfect’ employee – the yes-man, the one who doesn’t fight very hard for promotion or remunerations, takes on extra workload based on empty promises and is afraid to venture out of the company in fear that no one would ‘appreciate’ them as much elsewhere.
These remarks were of course made with the underlying message to say that our ‘perfect’ employee friends should be more courageous to venture into something on their own.
Needless to say, these jokes were made by the entrepreneurs in our midst, those who have set in their minds that they will not work for another entrepreneur again.
These courageous friends of ours have definitely braved the seemingly scary world of not having a constant stream of income; they have endless streams of profitable ideas, and absolutely enjoy not having to face the anxiety of year-end appraisals!
The dawn of intrapreneurs
And not surprising to most of us, there are always those on the fence – people with great profitable ideas, but would like to enjoy the security of being employed. Namely, the intrapreneurs.
With the conclusion of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit last year, the call for more focus on raising entrepreneurs is further hyped up. Strongly linked to entrepreneurship are innovation, resources and risk appetite – what I’d like to term the “Entrepreneur’s Trinity”.
The thing is this, while being equipped with this ‘E-Trinity’ is ideal for growing any business, we often find many within an organisation who are excited about innovation but may have limited resources and a medium risk appetite.
Thus, organisations should really start looking at growing their business through intrapreneurs within their company who can be their source of innovation and growth, while supporting them in different ways.
I remember some years back when I shared a profitable idea with the organisation I worked for.
It was an idea that had nothing to do with my job, yet would have fitted very well into the organisation’s strings of businesses. It was welcomed with much enthusiasm by my mentor, the HR (human resources) people and some key stakeholders.
Unfortunately, the idea came to a major roadblock when they requested for resources to be borne by me.
Hence, while I was innovative, I did not possess enough resources to run my idea, nor was I in a place to take the risk of leaving salaried employment – an obvious case of the absence of ‘E-Trinity’.
With that experience, I wondered if organisations and employees would grow faster and have more satisfaction if intrapreneurship was encouraged.
The intrapreneur champions
Every other management guru today talks about the lack of innovation in organisations. Among those who have successfully cultivated such culture are companies like Google, LinkedIn, and 3M.
Coincidentally these are also organisations known for their support and active development of intrapreneurs.
For those new to this term, and have yet to Google it since you started reading this article, in the simplest way possible, intrapreneurs refer to those working in an organisation who think of how to grow the business by monetising ideas, regardless if it is officially part of their job.
The late Steve Jobs describes his intrapreneurial team in Macintosh as “… a group of people, going, in essence, back to the garage, but in a large company.”
Stepping up the intrapreneuring game
Here are some thoughts I’d like to leave with you about stepping up your game in growing your organisation through an often neglected group of employees in Malaysia.
- Be intrapreneurs ourselves!
Oftentimes, HR hides behind the workload of processes, recruitments and endless operational functions. Although we have grown to be ‘strategic’ in our approach through organisation development, let’s go one step further to consider how HR can have or grow profitable ideas through the intrapreneurs that we will select, enhance, embrace, support and leverage.
- Redefine talents.
HR practitioners should go beyond just focusing on high performers – those who exceed their key performance indicators (KPIs). Instead, can we also look at the intrapreneurs within the organisation that may or may not be exceeding their KPIs but have great ideas brewing that can be turned into profitable projects but have nowhere to nurture it?
- Actively search for intrapreneurs in our midst!
Create a culture that encourages ideas to be brought forward. Google allows their intrapreneurs 20% of their work hours to just chill and spill ideas! Make it a safe place for crazy, wild and silly ideas to be thrown around. The only requirement: it must be profitable. Get these budding intrapreneurs to pitch their ideas to a select committee before agreeing to support it.
- Motivate intrapreneurs to be intrapreneurs!
While these potential entrepreneurs have great ideas, there are definitely reasons why they are still in your organisation and not out there making their ideas happen for themselves! Some of them may not be big risk takers or cannot afford to take the risk with their given situation. So, create that platform for them to explore and make mistakes, but, at the same time, hold them accountable for the ideas presented and resources invested from the organisation.
As Richard Branson says it cleverly, companies should have intrapreneurs – employees who are “… given freedom and financial support to create new products, services and systems, who do not have to follow the company’s usual routines or protocols.” The idea perceived as most profitable should be given an opportunity to be seeded, watered and grown.
- Fund your intrapreneurs!
One of the other reasons that your intrapreneurs are still with you would be that they do not have the resources required. Some experts recommend that each organisation have an annual ‘Intrapreneur Budget’ to support the selected projects to reduce the approval – implementation gap. Take a chance on them!
- Reward your intrapreneurs like how entrepreneurs would be rewarded!
Here’s the real challenge! Give them a share of profits in the ideas that have been originated and executed by them. If it makes money, let them have a stake in it! This way, they would have a sense of ownership of this idea to ensure that it is successful. Don’t be afraid to let them be financially rewarded – this will encourage more intrapreneurs to step up as well.
If you’re in doubt, just try to imagine a world without intrapreneurs. That would mean no PlayStation, no Post-its, no Virgin Atlantic (which means no inspiration for AirAsia) and no GMail.
Would you search, support, fund and reward the next person who may change the way of life for millions? Think about it…
Elisa is married to an entrepreneur whose idea bank never seems to exhaust. She strongly believes everyone with a great idea should have the opportunity to have someone believe in their ideas enough to invest and grow it! Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more leadership content, visit www.leaderonomics.com
First published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 29 November 2014
Lay Hsuan was part of the content curation team for Leaderonomics.com, playing the role of a content gatekeeper as well as ensuring the integrity of stories that came in. She was an occasional writer for the team and was previously the caretaker for Leaderonomics social media channels. She is still happiest when you leave comments on the website, or subscribe to Leader’s Digest, or share Leaderonomics content on social media.