The Rise of the Intrapreneur: Innovation and the Enterprise

Filed Under Innovation

Arwen Petty

November 26, 2013

Amongst all the talk about why innovation is important, or how every CEO worth the title is “placing a premium” on innovating, it’s increasingly difficult to unearth nuggets of applicable information and strategy.

This is especially true when we talk about connecting efforts with the enterprise. And it isn’t that organizations can’t come up with enough innovative ideas — they are, in droves. But why is there such a disconnect between great ideas and the bottom line? How can companies move past execution hurdles, put the right tools in place, and stop scrambling for competitive advantage?

Identifying “Intrapreneurs”

The entrepreneurial spirit is pretty synonymous with innovation. At minimum, entrepreneurs make a habit of disrupting stuff and executing unique concepts. Bringing that perspective into the fold of an organization requires the identification of ‘intrapreneurs’ — people already part of the company and familiar with its practices and output — that have the potential to act as innovation catalysts. Here’s what you’re looking for:

Fearlessness. Intrapreneurs understand that playing it safe is an excellent way to keep things exactly as they are, and as a result, are willing to take risks.

Willingness to fail. They live and breathe the agile motto: “Go ahead and fail, but never do it the same way twice.”

Articulated passion. They have a vision, they can define it clearly, and the promise of obstacles never dampens their enthusiasm.

Tenacity. When those promised obstacles appear, intrapreneurs work through them, whatever it takes.

Transparency. Communication is never an issue; questions are welcome, suggestions are considered, and needs and milestones are frequently discussed.

Once these inno-champions are vetted, their power to drive meaningful conversations, support teams, and positively impact overall efforts. But to do that, they need the right environment.

A Structure for Stimulation

Alongside finding a tool that facilitates and helps manage innovation (we make one of those, by the way), there are some key things to keep in mind when dealing with your newfound intrapreneurs:

Be (very) specific. We can’t emphasize this enough — innovations become executable when they are tied to clearly defined business or market challenges. It’s not like line fishing, where you cast about blindly hoping to reel in the next big thing. It is like target shooting, where the person taking the shot has a definitive objective. The key? Business leaders throughout the organization must be willing to share their most important issues.

Give them a public space to discuss. Like SpigitEngage, our innovation management platform that helps surface the best ideas through mathematically supported idea graduation and voting processes. This is important because it allows conversations and innovations to be openly assessed, widening potential but minimizing the difficulty of handling multiple ideas and steps.

Allow them to bring together the right skill sets. If your intrapreneurs are to act as true catalysts, they must also be trusted to recognize complementary skill sets, personalities, and organizational needs. They’ll need to be comfortable speaking up when it’s not working, too.

Attract the E-Suite. Executive air cover is beyond important. It facilitates recognition, validation, and the use of resources. Be sure that your chosen intrapreneurs get on the radar for their efforts, and are receiving feedback.

Test, test, test. Repeat. Always plan to establish success metrics and provide proof-of-concept info. It’s not only smart, it helps you track patterns and prevents people from making the same mistake twice.

With the right tools, processes, and people brought together, it’s safe to say that making a purposeful impact on innovation — rather than a lucky one — will be far more effective at helping your company break barriers than just crossing your fingers and shouting buzzwords. If you’d like to learn more, join us for our upcoming Innovation Cafe, “Adding Innovation to Your Organizational DNA.”