If one of your employees has worked out a way to negotiate a better deal with a supplier, identified a way in which your services could be streamlined or created an ingenious new product line, how would that information filter up to you?
Are you confident, 100 per cent positive, that the member of staff in question would have the courage to bring the idea(s) to you? Or do you think they see you as an unapproachable management figure who hasn’t time to listen to the ideas of his or her workforce?
Hopefully you have created an environment in your start-up where the former is the case, but if it is the latter – either by accident or design – then you could be making a huge mistake.
Some of the world’s most recognisable brands, from the Sony PlayStation to the Post-it Note, were developed via a culture of intrapreneurship. Even the ‘Like’ button on Facebook, which billions of people worldwide have used or at least are aware of, was developed by a junior member of staff at the company.
Your employees know your business – and thus your products, your services and your processes – better than anyone else. So it stands to reason that they are ideally placed to develop new ideas and facilitate improvements from the ground up in your start-up.
So how can you encourage a culture of intrapreneurship in your workplace?
Let it happen
If an employee is of the opinion that they will get into trouble for working on new projects when they should be focusing on their ‘real job’, then that is hardly the most conducive environment for intrapreneurship or creativity.
Instead, make sure it is known widely but staff at all levels that you are happy for them to work on ideas that are of benefit to the business, either directly in the shape of new products and services, or in marginal gains via increased efficiencies etc. A united front from senior staff members is a great way to encourage your employees to try new ideas.
Remove the barriers
Bureaucracy and administrative procedures are the worst enemy of creativity and intrapreneurship. If you’re making your employees jump through hoops before they can even book a meeting with senior members of staff, then it is likely they will be put off before their ideas can even get off the ground.
So make yourself available to your staff, as much as your schedule allows, and make sure they are aware of your open door policy.
Nothing can be as motivating for a member of staff as the opportunity to present new ideas to senior management, and a sense of independence is essential for keeping employees – and most pertinently those with intrapreneurial tendencies – happy and staff turnover low. Giving ownership of a project to a worker is a fantastic stroke of the go after all!
Many of the world’s finest innovations had an element of risk attached to them. Would the market take to the new product/service? Would the amount of time/resources spent on it be to no avail?
An aversion to failure can be seen consequently as an inability to take risks, and calculated risk taking is essential to commercial success. If this is the attitude of senior management, then expect this ethos to trickle down to junior members of staff too.
Rather than seeing success and failure as black and white, light and shade, why not consider these two things as fluid entities. Learning from failure can lead to great success, so ensure a spirit of innovation and experimentation is promoted in your start-up.
Identify budding intrapreneurs
Most workforces, whatever their size, have employees that just see their job as that; an opportunity to make money and pay the bills. Others see their role as much more than that, and actively embrace the identity and vision of the firm they work for. It is these personality traits that are omnipresent within the budding intrapreneur.
Harness these attributes and you will add value to your employees’ daily working lives and reap the benefits yourself commercially. Feedback forms, suggestion boxes and brainstorming meetings might just sound like bureaucracy designed to pacify staff, but these can be home to outstanding ideas or, at the very least, an opportunity to spot an intrapreneur or two in the making.
Time is precious
If your employees are working all hands on deck between the hours of nine and five, how will they have time to innovate new ideas and work on extraneous projects? That would be impossible.
So you must recognise this fact if you intend on introducing a dose of intrapreneurship into your start-up. Giving staff time to try new things outside of their work schedule, as they do at LinkedIn for example, is a fantastic way to harness their abilities.
Let’s get together
Often the seed and the root of an idea comes from the individual, but for it germinate and blossom further input and guidance is required elsewhere. Collaboration and team working can enhance intrapreneurship ten-fold, with an upturn experienced in both the quality and quantity of ideas presented. Two minds are better than one, so the old saying goes, and four minds are better than two, eight better than four, and so on. As long as networking meetings and ‘silos’ remain project-centric, rather than chats about the weather, football or workplace gossip, then you can expect some good ideas to flow.
If there is anything that motivates staff to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in it then it is celebration and reward for their efforts. It sends a message to your workforce that even attempting to innovate and enhance the company’s service offering is welcome, and that they will benefit both personally and professionally.
Intrapreneurial ventures can often require funding; that could be for materials, prototyping, testing etc. But clearly it is unlikely that your budding intrapreneur will be able to finance such items out of their own pockets, and so investment will need to be made by your company into some kind of seed fund. Of course, you must treat any applications for funding as you would any business decision; impartially and by considering the ‘risk vs return’ metric.