Most conventional definitions of entrepreneurship miss the contours of corporate entrepreneurship. This dimension of entrepreneurship is sometimes covered in the term: intrapreneurship.
An intrapreneur is a person who takes the entrepreneurial initiative within an organisation. Such behaviour can be a competitive advantage and sometimes a key differentiator between firms, yet too often businesses rigid structure can limit employees creativity and ability to strive outside of the accepted limits.
The company 3M is an exemplary example demonstrating what companies can achieve – if they choose to embrace this different side of employee productivity. As one of the very few ambidextrous organisations in the world that allow “organisational slack”, employees spend 15 per cent of their time on their “pet projects” and are rewarded for their innovations. Entrepreneurship and innovation does not necessarily need to be a one-off big bang mind-blowing invention. It can be a small incremental change, which is nevertheless revolutionary and undoubtedly creative and useful, such as the post-it note!
While it is challenging for large dinosaur-like organisations to keep the intrapreneurial flavour in the organisation, it is imperative for them to infuse new talent. Further, generation Y are eager and ready to constantly seek challenges at work.
Some big organisations have responded to this rising challenge by introducing entrepreneurial contests that in some ways answer to the generation Y’s yen for risk and thoughtful adventure. Entrepreneurial firms not only do themselves a favour by employing such self-motivated and performing talents, but they also contribute to society since the challenges contestants bring to bear on their work and the productive labour it yields spur economic growth. Entrepreneurship, viewed in this light, is a trait that applies only to organisations or to certain types of individuals.
Different organisations follow widely varying strategies in order to be effectively entrepreneurial. Some follow the SCAMPER model as a starter to generate ideas among its employees. The SCAMPER mnemonic stands for: substitute, combine, adapt, modify, put to another use, eliminate, reverse, and obviously works best when representatives from all departments are present and participate actively at brainstorming sessions. Some other organizations harness what they call “innovation radar”. This tool displays twelve dimensions of business innovation anchored by the offerings a company creates. This is often used by companies to benchmark competitors who reveal the relative strengths and weaknesses of each company.
It is not unusual for many companies to look up to the middle manager as the entrepreneurial person. However, middle managers can be inflexible, and are often the intractable bureaucrats who prefer the tried-and-tested status quo. Companies need to identify the entrepreneurial middle manager and hone their innovative skills to keep them engaged with the company. Otherwise, such middle managers may either lose their interest or worse, turn “rogue managers” whose behaviour may become detrimental to colleagues.
Considering all of this, it is more important than ever to follow methodical steps and measures in order to build sustainable corporate entrepreneurship. Breaking all the silos that exist within the departments perhaps comes first. Identifying and fostering appropriate talents is equally essential. But it is creating the right environment for budding intrapreneurs that is the most important step in the process. It involves taking calculated and imaginative risks, and even then success is not guaranteed. Companies need to continually assess the environment in order to keep the creative juices flowing. Get all of this right, and the organisation will certainly reap the creative benefits.
Entrepreneurship and innovation are the only ways for business to survive meaningfully in this fiercely competitive environment. With more start-ups than ever, all buzzing and determined to succeed, companies need to reform their internal outlook and engender a creative, flexible intrapreneurial attitude. It’s only then that the real results can be seen.
Hemant Chandran is a finance professional and MBA from Strathclyde Business School. He has more than 5 years of experience in U.S. real estate and securitization. He is also an AMBA Global AMBAssador