INTRAPRENEURSHIP



Coined by Gifford Pinchott in 1986, "intrapreneur" refers to someone who possesses entrepreneurial skills and uses them within a company, instead of using them to launch a new business. Intrapreneurs—also called corporate entrepreneurs—can help established companies implement innovative policies and procedures or introduce innovative products or services. Intrapreneurs, however, must have a fair amount of latitude within a company in order to effect any significant changes. Workers who earn the title "intrapreneur" usually go well beyond their narrow job descriptions, providing invaluable help in innovating some aspect of their companies.

Intrapreneurship differs from entrepreneurship in that intrapreneurs constantly must overcome barriers and negotiate obstacles and have opportunities to work with greater financial, technological, and human resources offered by an established company. In contrast, entrepreneurs largely work independently and often lack the resources of large companies. People with entrepreneurial skills also may choose to work within a company because they value job security, would like to practice launching a new business inside a company before launching one outside, and wish to take advantage of a company's established marketing channels.

Companies benefit from intrapreneurship because it can function as a means of overcoming aspects of corporate bureaucracy that impede innovation, allowing companies to remain creative and hence competitive. Moreover, intrapreneurship can remedy the loss of challenging and rewarding jobs, which can lead to greater job satisfaction and productivity.

Workers who are given freedom to experiment are often associated with the innovation process and the development of new products, services, or businesses within corporations. Intrapreneurship researchers refer to this freedom to experiment as innovative culture. According to Howard Oden in Managing Corporate Culture, Innovation, and Intrapreneurship, research indicates that intrapreneurship succeeds when companies provide their innovators with support, encouragement, and an atmosphere that promotes innovation. Specifically, Oden enumerated a host of attributes often found in innovative cultures, including:

  1. Long-term strategic and cultural leadership: upper-level management provides long-term strategies and challenging goals for the company's innovation.
  2. Promotion of innovation and intrapreneurship: the company encourages new ideas and new ways of doing things at all levels and promotes risk taking.
  3. Flexibility and adaptability: the company does not have a hierarchical structure, rather a flat structure, and the innovation process involves different teams of workers, not different levels of management.
  4. Collaboration and teamwork: the company encourages teamwork and collaborative innovation.
  5. Ongoing learning: workers are expected to improve their skills and learn new ones continuously.
  6. Toleration of failure: since some innovations fail to bear fruit, companies must accept failure as part of the innovation process in order to keep intrapreneurs free from the fear of failure.

Companies that foster innovation usually possess these and other related characteristics that allow intrapreneurs to seek solutions and generate new ideas, processes, products, or services, while not disrupting the regular flow of business. Although innovation can and does occur in any environment, too rigid and authoritarian corporate cultures definitely can stifle the initiative and creativity of intrapreneurs.

Intrapreneurs must possess a variety of skills themselves in order to be innovative—no matter what the corporate culture is like. In general, intrapreneurs have many of the skills that entrepreneurs have—such as market savvy, intuitiveness, creativity, leadership skills, and the ability to work independently and collaboratively. They notice opportunities—for new products, services, businesses, and so forth—and they pursue them. In addition, they also must have a certain amount of political savvy and be able to negotiate agreements with resistant or skeptical coworkers and managers, according to Lakshmanan Prasad in SAM Advanced Management Journal. Intrapreneurs must play organizational politics and reconcile the interests of different company teams or departments in order to bring about their innovations.

While many workers can develop technical plans for innovations, far fewer can have them implemented. Hence, intrapreneurs must possess strong social skills and knowledge of company politics and power, which entails identifying influential coworkers, managers, and groups within a company, evaluating their likely responses, and developing strategies to influence them.

The intrapreneurial process begins with a new idea or an innovation, and follows the steps of development, implementation, and modification. Intrapreneurs may conceive of an innovation serendipitously or deliberately. Either way, after intrapreneurs have an idea for an innovation they must begin to develop it—whether a product, service, procedure, or company—by determining its feasibility. They assess the market and need for the innovation to determine if implementing it will pay off. Once intrapreneurs are certain they can feasibly introduce the innovation, they make general plans to execute the innovation, develop the innovation, and test it.

If the innovation withstands development and testing, then intrapreneurs implement the innovation. To ensure that the innovation will be successful, however, intrapreneurs gather feedback and make any necessary modifications to the innovation in order to improve it.

INTRAPRENEURIAL TECHNIQUES

Oden identified a number of strategies or techniques for intrapreneurs, which allow them to be innovative and creative while functioning inside a corporation. Wall Street Journal columnist Timothy D. Schellhardt included some of these techniques in his article "Small Business: David in Goliath," where he referred to them as part of his "Intrapreneur's Ten Commandments":

  1. Seek approvals creatively: ask managers for small decisions, to keep the importance of the decisions minimal and to help ensure approval. In addition, use customers and suppliers interested in the potential innovation for leverage in obtaining approval.
  2. Find and use allies: recruit the support of employees within the company, especially ones with knowledge and skills relevant to the innovation as well as ones with considerable influence in the company.
  3. Establish coalitions: intrapreneurs can realize their goals by forming coalitions to support their innovations. Coalitions involve both supportive coworkers and managers or executives.
  4. Persuade management to be flexible: with the help of customers, allies, and coalitions, intrapreneurs should strive to change rigid company policies in order to facilitate innovation and they should point out to senior-level managers that the policies and procedures that work for a mature company, product, or service are not necessarily suitable for a budding company, product, or service.
  5. Share credit: intrapreneurs should recognize all those who participate in an innovative project to promote further collaboration in the innovation process.
  6. Control time expectations: keep projects low profile until research and development is completed and the innovation is nearly ready for the market.

[ Karl Hell ]

FURTHER READING:

Bygrave, William D. The Portable MBA in Entrepreneurship. New York: Wiley, 1994.

Kuratko, Donald F., and Ray V. Montagno. "The Intrapreneurial Spirit." Training and Development, October 1989, 83.

Oden, Howard W. Managing Corporate Culture, Innovation, and Intrapreneurship. Westport, CT: Quorum Books, 1997.

Prasad, Lakshmanan. "The Etiology of Organizational Politics: Implications for the Intrapreneur." SAM Advanced Management Journal, summer 1993, 35.

Schellhardt, Timothy D. "Small Business: David in Goliath." Wall Street Journal, 23 May 1996.



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