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INTRAPRENEURSHIP AND INNOVATION: DISCOVERING THE IMPORTANCE OF INTRAPRENEURSHIP TO ACCELERATE CORPORATE INNOVATION

As today’s businesses face a combination of technological advancements, environmental instability and new challenges associated with the ongoing pandemic, embracing innovation and supporting entrepreneurial talent will play an important role in how they can adapt to change and realign their focus.

Whether it’s using remote working to build collaborative teams, applying AI to look ahead into the future, or reorganising your corporate structure to foster a culture of innovation, your organisation must find creative ways to overcome hurdles.

Crucially, corporate innovation and internal entrepreneurship will play a fundamental role in helping organisations implement agile solutions and steer the ship towards calmer seas. The former CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt believes businesses must upskill their workforce with entrepreneurial skills to thrive in a continuously changing world.

With over 582 million entrepreneurs worldwide, entrepreneurship is something most people understand. However, you might not hear the word ‘intrapreneurship’ as often during your daily meetings. 

Here at Studio Zao, we’re invested in supporting internal entrepreneurship or ‘intrapreneurship’ to kickstart innovative projects through these testing times. After working with high-profile clients across a broad spectrum of industries, we’ve observed the pressing need for organisations to support internal entrepreneurs and empower their skills to help them along their intrapreneurial journey.

Whether it’s generating new revenue streams or building the infrastructure for innovation to flourish, Studio Zao specialises in running innovation hacks that fuse Design Thinking, Lean Startup and Entrepreneurial Psychology to deliver impactful outcomes alongside culture change.

This article explores how intrapreneurs can devise future scenarios, formulate high-impact strategies, create new propositions, build prototypes and validate ventures to change the face of corporate innovation.

THE RISE OF INTRAPRENEURSHIP & CORPORATE INNOVATION PROGRAMS

Organisations that foster corporate innovation and internal entrepreneurship will have the foundations to leverage these technologies and champion off-the-wall thinking to overcome new challenges.

Why Is Innovation Important in a Changing World

As the world faces unprecedented times, the global landscape is changing and businesses must tackle a host of new challenges. Growing uncertainty, disrupted markets, and constant change require organisations to champion off-the-wall thinking and adapt to a new era of work.

Intrapreneurs are able to take the peculiar human capability of connecting the dots and mobilising energy to the next level, to help future proof the organisations they work for. Intrapreneurs deeply understand customers and stakeholders, see their frustrations, use insights to identify opportunities, creatively devise clever solutions and finally mobilise resources to make their vision a reality.

The broader landscape change has been influenced by a number of factors, including Artificial Intelligence, automation of work and most recently the COVID-19 outbreak. These elements form a perfect storm, where businesses must adapt to remain competitive.

What is an Intrapreneur?

An intrapreneur is an employee within an organisation who drives value-generating opportunities to give their company a competitive edge. Whether it’s launching a new product to enhance customer experiences or finding an innovative solution to cut production costs, intrapreneurs are always looking for imaginative ways to add value to their business.

Read more about the difference between entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship here.

What Are Intrapreneurial Skills?

Intrapreneurial skills refer to an employee’s ability to think ‘outside the box’, to be a driver of change and to apply creative thinking when faced with a new challenge.

As we’ve seen in the evolving technological context and the current uncertain scenario, individuals with intrapreneurial skills have a huge competitive advantage. For example, in the face of the incumbent rise of AI, while computers can be programmed to process complex tasks, intrapreneurs will still win at lateral thinking, connecting the dots and motivating teams.

THE ROLE OF INTRAPRENEURSHIP IN CORPORATE INNOVATION

As COVID-19 continues to sow the seeds for the next global debt crisis, executive leaders are responsible for finding the best line of attack to maintain healthy balanced sheets and promote positive long-term growth. Organisations must use recent events as a stimulus to build highly-adaptive teams who are prepared for uncertain times in the future.

Corporate Innovation in 2020 and Beyond

As the global economy spirals towards the next global recession, executive leaders are responsible for finding the best line of attack to maintain healthy balance sheets and promote positive long-term growth. Organisations must use recent events as a stimulus to build highly-adaptive teams who are prepared for uncertain times in the future.

Embracing experimentation and innovation will give your business the flexibility to react to new opportunities and ride the wave of the latest trends.

The Lean Startup Methodology applied to Corporate Environment: Innovation Portfolios and Experimentation

We like to break down innovation into four discrete categories:

  • Incremental innovation involves increasing the value of your existing technology to enhance user experiences for your customers.
  • Disruptive innovation involves introducing new technologies and processes to create innovative products/services for your existing market. 
  • Architectural innovation involves adapting your existing technologies or processes to fill a gap in a new market.
  • Radical innovation is really exciting stuff. Giving birth to completely new ideas and developing revolutionary technologies can give your business a competitive advantage like no other.

While the ultimate aim is to combine all of the above into your innovation strategy, implementing incremental innovations can help your business stay ahead of the game in these testing times. Depending on the industry context and your business situation, incremental innovations may also provide fast and actionable steps to nudge your business in the right direction.

After having worked with high-profile clients across a range of industries, we have been able to adapt the key principles of Lean entrepreneurship into a framework named ‘Lean Corporate Innovation’. There are four core pillars of implementing Lean Corporate Innovation:

  • Know why you need to be lean and innovate now.
  • Formulate an innovation thesis and lean framework.
  • Visualise a strategic roadmap.
  • Be ambidextrous in your innovation efforts.

The Two Types of Intrapreneurship

Many consider intrapreneurship as a form of research and development within a business. Intrapreneurs experiment with new ideas and push creative boundaries.

These experimental projects usually follow one of two directions:

Spin-Offs

Some intrapreneurs focus on side ventures which allow the company to enter new markets and diversify their product offerings. Creating spin-off ventures can build upon existing brand identities, established audiences, and economies of scope to enter new markets.

Linear Growth

Linear growth intrapreneurship involves boosting operational efficiency, refining product design and enriching customer experiences to make incremental improvements.

Impact on Innovation – Why Are Entrepreneurial Skills Important for Innovation?

The future of work will require organisations to develop teams of independent thinkers who can exercise creative ideas and entrepreneurial spirit from within. Intrapreneurs can have a dramatic impact on the DNA of a business by empowering internal innovation and adopting a proactive approach to internal decision-making.

Upskilling your workforce to combine intrapreneurial skills with technical know-how will open doors to an entire universe of exciting growth opportunities. Let’s take a look at the four dimensions of how intrapreneurship can impact innovation in an organisation:

  • Intrapreneurship Helps Achieve Ambitious Goals

    Internal entrepreneurship presents managers with an opportunity to set their sights on game-changing goals. While traditional management structures tend to focus on meeting targets in the here and now, intrapreneurship involves assigning individuals or entire teams with long-term problems that need solving.

  • Intrapreneurship Leverages Internal Resources

    Intrapreneurs are empowered by an entire army of skilled employees, trusted partners, technical resources and financial support.

    Corporates provide more regulatory cover, larger amounts of data and potentially easier routes to market, which put these new ventures at a great advantage, compared to similar startups that don’t have the backing of a bigger company.

    Utilising these often untapped resources in the right way can give intrapreneurs the momentum they need to gain traction much faster.

  • Intrapreneurship Reframes Failure into Learning

    Intrapreneurs can reframe failures as successful experiments that disprove a hypothesis. Both eventualities yield valuable data and insights as to why it was disproved or proved. Intrapreneurs can use these insights to improve subsequent experiments and share with other departments of their organisation.

    For example, the data gathered from an innovation experiment could be useful for your marketing department when they create new promotion campaigns.

  • Intrapreneurship Increases Accountability

    Instead of limiting employees through rigid management structures that struggle to cope with uncertainty and fast evolving contexts, intrapreneurship opens the door to an approach where individual responsibility is key to drive the company forward.

HOW TO IDENTIFY CHARACTERISTICS OF INNOVATORS AND NURTURE INTRAPRENEURIAL TALENT

In a time of constant disruption, talented employees with entrepreneurial attitudes and mindsets are increasingly important for organisations. These intrapreneurs operate with the same talents as entrepreneurs, but from within established organisations.

How to Identify Intrapreneurial Talent

In the book Born to Build, Jim Clifton and Sangeeta Badal use the term ‘builders’ as the inclusive shorthand for both entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs who specialise in delivering economic energy and impact.

Clifton and Badal cite ten innate psychological characteristics of typical builders:

  • Confidence
  • Delegator
  • Determination
  • Disruptor
  • Independence
  • Knowledge
  • Profitability
  • Relationship
  • Risk
  • Selling

Looking for individuals who exhibit these ten characteristics can help organisations to step out of their current operational focus and onto the path to developing a team of ‘builders’ for the future.

How to Develop a Culture of Innovation

Nurturing an intrapreneurial culture is a five-step process:

  1. Form Blended Teams

Ideas can develop from both the bottom-up and the top-down. Bringing cross-functional teams together will generate fresh ideas and unlock entrepreneurial talent. 

  1. Align Innovation With Strategic Direction

When starting your innovation journey, it is extremely important to involve senior executives and align any innovation programme to tackle key business objectives.

  1. Select and Create a Risk-Taking Workforce

Corporate innovation requires stepping out of your comfort zone, exploring uncharted paths and preparing for pitfalls.

  1. Define a Set of Shared Values

To have an internal formalised framework of values is extremely important to allow internal entrepreneurs to be agile and flexible enough to make innovation happen.

  1. Celebrate Innovation Success and Learnings

Setting incentives and rewards for entrepreneurial activities helps to deliver a positive message to aspiring intrapreneurs.

HOW TO BECOME AN INTRAPRENEUR

In any established organisation, there are internal stakeholders who drive for innovative change, create new products, and lead entirely new spin-off ventures.

How to Succeed as an Intrapreneur

Through our experience, we’ve identified five rules of thumb that every corporate intrapreneur and innovation manager should follow:

  1. Create an Internal Movement 

Instead of updating processes, protocols and digital transformations, you should start by encouraging clients to change the way they think and leading by example with small groups. This way, a shift in mindset is more likely to spread through the whole organisation, especially if supported by positive results and quick wins.

  1. Find a Mentor

Just as startups need mentors and advisors to gain expertise and build credibility, corporate entrepreneurs need mentors to navigate internal politics, master the expectations of executives, align with key company metrics and, last but not least, gain access to the vast resources available within a large organisation.

  1. Embrace the Responsibility That Comes With Autonomy

When large companies eventually give intrapreneurs the autonomy and resources to delve into new ventures, corporate entrepreneurs are allowed to realise their entrepreneurial ambitions in a safer environment.

  1. Own the Narrative Upwards

Having the ear and trust of senior management means you can explore the full potential of the opportunity at hand, and drive it in the direction that’s best for your company. It’s important to own your narrative and understand the strategic value of your intentions for your organisation.

  1. Carve Out Your Own Product Environment

Depending on the size of your organisation and type of industry you’re working in, reducing dependency on the central systems can be difficult and sometimes not even possible. That said, the principle of striving towards being self-sustaining can be the difference between getting the market traction needed to validate the proposition, or not.

Final Takeaways on Intrapreneurship and Innovation

An organisation wanting to innovate should understand the importance of intrapreneurship. A corporate entrepreneurship strategy empowers, enables, nurtures and rewards those who have the ability and willingness to explore, test and validate new ideas.

If you’re looking to embrace intrapreneurship in your organisation and boost corporate innovation, start by asking the following questions:

  • What steps can you take to nurture internal talent and empower individuals to become independent thinkers?
  • How can you reward employees to incentivise internal risk-taking and off-the-wall thinking?
  • Where is innovation required in your business to overcome challenges presented by the automation of work, Artificial Intelligence and COVID-19?

Despite the many processes, frameworks, tools and models that underpin innovation activities, the individual employees who strive for positive change are the beating heart of forward-thinking corporations. Whether it’s running innovation bootcamps to brainstorm ideas or refining your business proposition to overcome new challenges, unlocking internal talent holds the secret to embracing successful corporate innovation.