When your start-up grows rapidly, all too often it loose that magic culture that made everyone love it. Instead of the innovative team of people who fire off each other and inspire each other, fast hiring for expanding teams often transform them into a disconnected group of employees just doing their jobs. Founders can then fall into the trap of starting to tell people what to do while simultaneously wondering why people can’t think as they do. Intrapreneurs, something many large corporations have adopted, are a potential solution to this growth conundrum.
Founders fall into is hiring teams that are similar to themselves. It feels comfortable. At first glance, it might sound as if that is what intrapreneurs are. But you are not looking for people who want to “walk like you, talk like you.” Instead, you are looking for individuals who are very much their own people who enjoy doing things their way. Defined as people who act like an entrepreneur but work for someone else, intrapreneurs often go on to have companies of their own, stronger for what they have learned and they are nobody’s clone.
They are often associated with corporations, less so in SME’s. Large companies create specific intrapreneurship positions to encourage the innovative, start-up thinking. Intrapreneurs are offered the opportunity of taking on specific development projects that benefit from out-of-the-box thinking and a new approach. The role is sometimes full-time, and a replacement for whatever they have done in the past and offers someone the challenge of making a real difference to the strategic future of the company while being given more freedom to act autonomously. Creating full-time intrapreneurship positions may be impossible. Appointing them for side projects can test people’s suitability on a side project or two may be more practical. And for a growing company, project teams led by intrapreneurs can introduce the missing element of start-up magic that may be less apparent in the larger group than it used to be.
It helps to understand the type of person most suited to being an intrapreneur, as it certainly isn’t for everyone. They are, necessarily, high-performing people who are ambitious. They want to take on tasks that will shine the light of attention onto them from the powers that be. But there are other specific elements that make people suited to be an intrapreneur.
Intrapreneurs are self-motivated problem solvers who seek out challenges. They love taking charge of a project in its entirety and having responsibility for it. They thrive on freedom and autonomy and are more comfortable with risks, seeing them more as an entrepreneur would, a necessary step to progress. They are action people who think outside the box without losing sight of the goal and enjoy testing their ideas, natural innovators and problem solvers. They are strategic, visionary thinkers with a sound understanding of both markets and how the company operates, so the solutions might be whacky but are based on that genuine knowledge. They are organizers, strong in project management.
While founders do not always have the patience for inter-company politics, the intrapreneur is adept at working their way through the system and is more diplomatic. One thing that enables them to do this successfully is that they are networkers who will have built up relationships with diverse people within the company that they can draw on to support them in their task, be it practically or backing. They have people skills to pull a diverse mix together and team players who ensure everyone gets the credit. They have the grit to persevere when things get rough to see their vision through. Many millennials, with their love of autonomy and passion to succeed, thrive as an intrapreneur.
Above all, these people love to challenge the status quo in much the same way as a start-up founder does. For whatever reason, they may never want to start their own company, or certainly not at this moment. However, being an intrapreneur is the perfect testing ground, where they can develop entrepreneurial skills with the safe financial backing and more extensive resources to draw on. They have the balance of being able to improve their business skills safely but with the freedom to make their own decisions.
By giving people with this profile the freedom to move and develop, you will retain their talent for longer. Without it, they will move on to somewhere they don’t feel stultified. In addition, the company benefits by having mini-entrepreneurs taking responsibility and bringing new ideas and solutions. It gains improved products, ways of staying ahead in the market, and any number of projects that require innovation. Both sides gain.
By actively seeking out intrapreneurs as you grow a start-up, you create not clones but an in-house network of people who are halfway to being entrepreneurs and happy being accountable. They make the company stronger. Recognizing and encouraging intrapreneurship should definitely not just be for corporations but part of the leadership development strategy of any growing company.