Intrapreneurship – Is your corporate immune system killing off innovation?

| July 20, 2017

The need for corporate innovation is high on the agenda for both large and medium sized businesses. However, the corporate ‘immune response’ to change is a major barrier, entrepreneurial strategist Paul Broadfoot explains.

Corporate Entrepreneurship, or more aptly Intrapreneurship, is gaining traction, again. There are many companies quietly embracing and developing this powerful advantage. Steve Jobs credited the Macintosh team as evidence of Intrapreneurship and Richard Branson believes Intrapreneurs are necessary for healthy growth in any organisation.

The renaissance of Intrapreneurship lies in an emerging switch from Innovation 1.0, Idea generation at ‘innovation events’ like hackathons to Innovation 2.0 which must deliver traction on growth projects and proactive disruption, not reactive adaptation. Ask a random selection of employees in most organisations and they can relate a few stories of how innovation has been stifled by the corporate ‘immune response’ to change. This term was first brought into our metaphoric dictionary by number VI of Pinchot’s ‘The Intrapreneur’s Ten Commandments’- Work underground as long as you can – publicity triggers corporate immune mechanism.

According to several research based assessments by Kuratko et al over the past two decades, the conditions that foster Intrapreneurship are characterised by five factors:
(1) Management support
(2) Rewards and reinforcement
(3) Time availability
(4) Work discretion/autonomy
(5) Flexible organisational boundaries

Whilst quite intuitive, they can be hard to achieve across an organisation. What would you or your teams say about each of these if surveyed? Using assessment tools to measure the Intrapreneurial environment provides a starting point and benchmark to improve upon.

Some successful organisations are famous for particular factors. Google and 3M are well known for factor 3, time availability. Netflix prides itself on factor 4, Work discretion/autonomy. Michael Gibbs of the University of Chicago has studied organisations incentivising innovation performance (factor 2, rewards and reinforcement) to great effect.

But this isn’t the whole story at all. The interesting conundrum about the approach to Intrapreneurship for innovation is a version or the ‘nature vs nurture’ discussion. If we create these conditions for Intrapreneurship, across the whole organisation, will our whole organisation become more innovative? Or is it just those born with more entrepreneurial tendencies, the intrapreneurs, who will take advantage of this environment?

It’s a big question because creating or improving these five conditions quickly across an entire organisation would take a considerable amount of gravitas and conviction. An alternate to this is to launch some speedboats off the side of the battleship. Intrapreneur teams where new ‘organisational conditions’ can be created very quickly. Barclay’s, Britain’s second largest bank, runs an accelerator program for fintech startups. In May, they also funded an Intrapreneur Team into a new business called Nivo.

Many would agree that the need for corporate innovation is currently high because markets, buying behaviour and technology are all shifting interdependently and rapidly. At this very time when you need to be nimbler, change seems elusive. McKinsey and Harvard Business Review report that success rates of business transformations are in the realms of 30-40 per cent. You will know your version of change success in your own organisation. Intrapreneurship has the potential to bring your business future to you faster. It fosters leadership, ownership and engagement of the individual whilst launching growth and innovation projects for the business.

Two ways to resolve to improve Intrapreneurship in your organisation:
1. You can safely assume there are Intrapreneurs in your midst. In most companies, they go unidentified and can be frustrated by the lack of the 5 elements until they depart. Work to identify them, then develop them and then activate them. Try doing this in small teams, the speedboats.
2. Make sure any training to meet your leadership, innovation and change development requests is not conducted without consideration for (a) the 5 Intrapreneurship conditions above and (b) the creation of new growth areas for your company?

Let’s stop treating learning and doing as two separate endeavours. Fostering Intrapreneurship should combine learning and launching. Let’s see the corporate immune system deal with that.

Paul Broadfoot
Paul Broadfoot is an entrepreneurial strategist and the author of Xcelerate: Innovate your Business Model, Disrupt your Market and Fast-hack into the Future. He works with enterprise executives, next level leaders and intrapreneurs to identify high-growth opportunities and create new business models in times of rapid market change.

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