Intrapreneurship: a device to be used in moderation

For several years a growing number of companies have been using intrapreneurship as a tool for motivation and commitment.

Allowing employees to build their ” business inside the business, beside their work, sometimes even almost full time, is seen as a first choice lever of engagement and motivation. And in general, the employees concerned by such schemes say only good things about them.

But behind the show apartment there are realities that suggest to handle the principle with some precautions.

Intrapreneurship and entrepreneurial culture are not the same thing

The first pitfall to avoid is to confuse intrapreneurship with entrapreneurial culture.

The first generally qualifies a marked out, organized program, which allows an employee to set up an activity within the company. This will often be the design and then launch of a new product or service or a program with an internal purpose. Time and resources are allocated by the company to achieve a defined objective. In the end, the employee can return to his former job on a full-time basis, see his work valued and his proven skills promoted, continue to manage his now official “full-time” project, or even find himself at the head of a small business in the context of a “spin-off”.

The second qualifies a state of mind and posture. One cannot be an intrapreneur without an entrepreneurial culture, but a company can claim, rightly or wrongly, an entrepreneurial culture without an intrapreneurship program. This generally means that everyone is asked to behave like an entrepreneur within the framework of his or her duties and not only within the framework of a program defined alongside his or her duties. It means acting autonomously, responsibly, showing initiative, having a reasonable sense of risk-taking.

An intrapreneurship program can deceive when promises are not kept. When the promised means are not there, when the investment and success are not valued afterwards or simply when in fact the candidacy is encouraged without ever being followed up.

An entrepreneurial culture can be misleading in two ways.

Tout d’abord lorsqu’il ne s’agit que d’un discours de façade pour attirer des collaborateurs ambitieux. On promet à chacun (ou presque) de pouvoir être en partie mettre de son destin, de pouvoir avoir un vrai impact et à la fin le collaborateur trouve un environnement frileux en mode command and control ou alors une entreprise qui si elle favorise la prise d’initiative punit sévèrement l’échec ou enfin une organisation qui tire profit des initiatives des collaborateurs sans rien leur donner en retour.

First of all, when it’s just a façade to attract ambitious employees. One promises to each (or almost everyone) to be able to be part of his or her destiny, to be able to have a real impact, and in the end the employee finds a frightening environment in command and control mode, or a company that if it favors taking initiative severely punishes failure, or finally an organization that takes advantage of employees’ initiatives without giving them anything in return.

Then there is the entrepreneurial culture of “hiding misery”, which can be found in particular in managerial or executive positions, often in the services sector, in businesses eager to develop without risk or too much investment. It simply means “you will be alone, you will have no or few means, you will manage to build your offer and find customers, the only thing we give you to help you is our brand”. In case of failure the outcome is fatal, in case of success the company will gladly “come to the rescue of victory”, as the saying goes. In other words, you will only get attention and means once you prove that you don’t need them.

Beware of the bandwidth!

Regardless of the approach chosen, many companies admit that they love profiles capable of excelling in one or the other of the models because, if well piloted, both allow a win-win deal between the company and the employee. One invests in something he likes and sees his career progress rapidly, the other identifies his future leaders and launches products or services at a lower cost that may make his future.

But beware of the temptation to favor only this type of profile and to want to recruit armies of clones.

A long time ago, I was working with the sales director of a large French company who wanted to set up a system likely to identify and value such profiles as well as those, often unknown, who make a strong and unknown contribution to the collective (be careful, they are neither the same people nor the same profiles, but a company needs both).

The main concern of his close staff was that the initiative would fail. That in the end few employees would come forward, participate and put themselves forward. They thought the success of the system in quantitative terms.

The director, for his part, gave a speech that surprised them at first. For him “Precisely if we don’t have too many people it’s excellent news. I prefer to have few people but take them far away. In any case, if there are too many people, I don’t have enough tracks to run many trains”.

This brings us back to the disappointing side of the company which cannot keep this type of promise on a large scale or in any case which starts on a logic of volume by saying that the more volunteers there are, the more successful the initiative will be, only to realize afterwards that it does not have the means to take good care of everyone.

The real challenge of intrapreneurship is not to be able to take a lot of people at a time, but to take them far away.

Photo : intrapreneur by Who is Danny via shutterstock

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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