The Power Of Intrapreneurship In Driving Innovation12 December, 2016 / Articles
The concept of intrapreneurship is one that has been around for some time, but it is one that is growing at quite a pace as organizations attempt to leverage and empower employees to create and innovate.
There has been an understandable focus in recent years on open innovation, whereby insights, ideas and technologies are sought from external sources through partnerships, crowdsourcing, licensing and so on. The concept rests on the notion that the smartest people will nearly always be employed somewhere else.
Intrapreneurship is a different beast however, and places employees in charge of new projects within the firm. They typically receive a large dose of autonomy and therefore take ownership of its success.
Despite the apparent distinction between the two, I argued in a recent whitepaper that there are many ways in which open innovation and intrapreneurship align.
Scaling Up Internal Startups
For instance, a 2014 study from Wharton found that the most important factor in scaling up a startup is in the connections and networks the team can form.
This has been built on further by the work of Sherry Couto. She identifies five distinct challenges to achieving high levels of growth with a new project:
- Finding the right skill mix for the project
- Ensuring they have the right leadership skills
- Accessing customers in other markets/home market
- Accessing the right combination of finance
- Navigating infrastructure
It’s clear that considerable support is required to take a nascent idea to something fit for market, and much peril lies in the way of this journey. For instance, a recent study from Cornell found that creative individuals were often viewed as having less leadership potential than their more stoic and conventional peers.
In my paper, I argue that a useful method of overcoming the hurdles required to grow an internal startup is the development of strong employee innovation networks. We argue that such networks have a number of benefits, including:
- Engaging employees who wish to innovate
- Leverage the impact of small innovation programs across large,globally disbursed organizations
- Provide a pool of employees that can be directed towards existing innovation activities, in order to spur interest and positive results
- Direct these employees to achieve specific innovation tasks that enhance ROI
- Shape the culture of the organization to value innovation in the long term
- Help identify and nurture high-potential employees who may not fit within the standard success model
One organization that has achieved a degree of success with their intrapreneurship efforts is the Korean tech giant Samsung. I spoke recently with Robin Bienfait, Chief Enterprise Innovation Officer – Senior Advisor at Samsung, ahead of her presentation at the Chief Innovation Officer Summit.
“I have one of the best roles. I work directly with enterprise customers to help them align their strategy with innovation,” she told me.
How To Drive Innovation Management
Whilst achieving innovation successfully is undoubtedly a challenge, it can be done, especially if the following factors are adhered to:
- Provide a collaborative environment, whether through technologies that allow knowledge to be easily shared, or workplaces that encourage serendipitous encounters.
- Actively seeking positive deviants. Science fiction author William Gibson famously opined that the future already exists, but that it is unevenly distributed. This notion, that in any field there are pockets of forward-thinking, was popularized by Richard Pascale’s work around positive deviance. In a corporate context, this theory can be seen as process of using hidden innovators to help scale-up innovation activities more widely.
- Understand how the role of managers is changing. Middle managers have traditionally been seen as blockers of innovation. In the modern world however they have to be key facilitators of both knowledge flow and resource management for internal startups.
- Connecting the dots. Innovation leaders are often seeking to include influential “connectors” within their Employee Innovation Networks, so that they can help drive OI efforts, as these individuals can help drive the success of new ideas as they seek support within the organization.
Innovation is notoriously difficult, but a recent study from EY revealed that over 80% of executives believe it is crucial to organizational success.
With global competition increasingly fierce, it is crucial to be as agile as possible to drive growth. An institutional approach to intrapreneurship, whereby innovation is central to the operations of the company, can both drive growth in new markets and defend strong positions against incumbents.