Assuming that the main goal is to fulfill the duties of their job to the best of their ability, associates and managers may not feel motivated to innovate, take risks, or think of new ways to create value.
Working for a large organization has its benefits—a shared reputation, a level of job security, plus resources and institutional knowledge to draw from—but it may discourage individual employees from taking an entrepreneurial approach to their work. Assuming that the main goal is to fulfill the duties of their job to the best of their ability, associates and managers may not feel motivated to innovate, take risks, or think of new ways to create value.
In addition to the lack of incentive to try something new and untested, some organizations already have teams of dedicated innovators tasked with improving systems or products and coming up with fresh ideas. So why would an employee already outside of the innovation domain suddenly decide to step inside?
Innovation is certainly a top priority for myriad industries. A survey from the fifth annual International Women’s Day hosted by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (DTTL) indicates that innovation and idea generation are two of the greatest benefits of gender-diverse leadership. Increased employee engagement was yet another, demonstrating the potential magnitude of the intrapreneurial attitude.
Everyone stands to gain knowledge and insight when employees at all levels think more innovatively as individuals. So instead of assigning one person or group to do all the innovating, what if each employee was considered an intrapreneur?
A recent study conducted by Dan Schawbel—author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success—and American Express indicates that 58 percent of managers are very willing to support employees who are looking to pursue a new business opportunity within the company. If so many higher-ups are in favor of the intrapreneurial ethos, then junior employees should be equally willing to work above their pay grade and strive to differentiate themselves within the company.
One of the better known success stories of mid-level employees taking an intrapreneurial approach is that of Spencer Silver and Art Fry at 3M. The company’s “bootlegging policy” encouraged Silver and Fry to spend up to 15 percent of their time on outside projects. In this case, the result was Post-it® Notes. More recently, organizations like Atlassian grant employees blocks of paid time off known as “ShipIt Days” for experimenting and problem solving with the expectation that creative outcomes will be presented for judging the very next day. The Australian software company is always curious to see what staff will come up with when they’re not preoccupied with their regular jobs.
Intrepreneurs typically engage in a healthy amount of risk taking, thinking outside the box, and being comfortable with uncertainty. It’s essentially like working for a start-up or launching a new business. Taking the initiative to think of how to do the job better is a resourceful and bottom-up approach that can help a brand develop a new product, establish itself in an untapped market, or simply improve upon existing systems.
For all the same reasons that working within a large organization can be advantageous to the individual—security, resources, shared risk—acting as an intrapreneur can reap great rewards. One can take advantage of infrastructure and existing assets to conceive and test new ideas. And such a proactive approach can lend an employee the reputation for being a team player, or—even better—help establish that person as a leader for pursuing solutions and problem solving without being asked to do so.
Even for companies considered highly innovative such as Apple and Google, there’s growing concern among business leaders that innovation isn’t proceeding apace. What’s more, the next generation believes that most corporations are doing little to foster a culture of innovation. According to Deloitte’s 2013 Millennial Survey, only one-fourth of young adults view their current organization’s leadership as promoting intrapreneurial undertakings.
Such a low statistic isn’t consistent with the supposed 58 percent of managers who claim to be willing to support a more intrapreneurial work environment. So the question remains: What are you doing to convince your employees that you’re part of the 58 percent?