Intrapreneurship: a smart, forward-looking catalyst to help corporations fast track new offerings and explore innovation opportunities, or an untested art form destined to fail in large companies?
This increasingly vocal debate is precisely what Andrew Simon, serial entrepreneur and partner at Simon Associates Management Partners (SAMC) examines in his latest article, “Intrapreneurs: A great idea but inside a big company, can they possibly succeed?,” recently published by BPI Network.
Helping fuel the discussion, Simon explains, is an article by Gbemisola Akande, “3 Reasons Why Companies Fail at Intrapreneurship and How to Succeed,” in which the author suggests three reasons why intrapreneurship has failed in large companies:
1. Intrapreneurship is currently viewed as an art form. Until these people and activities are managed in the same way as the rest of the business ― meaning, with thorough analysis — intrapreneurship will encounter tough sledding inside corporations. This means putting benchmarks into place, instituting planning and scheduling, and agreeing upon outputs.
2. Nowhere in the job description does one find the words “creating a job vision.” The author says this means eliminating the description of daily activities and creating the vision of the service or product that fosters intrapreneurship.
3. Using small little bits of knowledge to make decisions. Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Blink, talks about using “thin slicing” to make decisions. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries talks about making decisions on limited data. Rapid prototyping is also an appropriate way to look at the world.
The uncertainty of acting as an intrapreneur is not for everyone
You can set up the appropriate environments but, at the end of the day, some people are comfortable in certain roles and some are not, advises Simon. To underscore his point, he offers the following:
1. The culture of a large corporation is very different and difficult for innovators or intrapreneurs. But, you say, what about organizations like Apple? And here is the “yes, but.” Until recently, the intrapreneur inside Apple was the entrepreneur, Steve Jobs, who started the company. So it was really his culture and his company, and that allowed him to operate the way he wished. And it will be a long time down the road before we can make a value judgment regarding the ability of his predecessors to establish an environment in which intrapreneurs can operate.
The nature or makeup of the entrepreneur or, pardon me, the intrapreneur, makes it very difficult to abide by the rules of the large corporation. His or her thinking is not linear, not even necessarily logical, to outsiders, and even the logic that allows this person to come to the necessary recommendation is often unclear. However, in hind sight, it becomes very clear. So how are you going to turn this “thing” into a science if it moves in non-linear ways? At what point do you judge success or failure, go or no go, when either condition is always just around the bend?
2. Let’s talk about the career path for those intrapreneurs within large corporations. How do you identify and select? Would you pick someone who is coming up through the ranks and plays well in a traditional role? Or the reverse.
If an intrapreneur is given the freedom to explore ideas that have never been considered before, it could yield true progress
As far as the long-term future of intrapreneurialism, Simon observes, a prediction is difficult to make right now: “I am an entrepreneur. I started a company, and had some pretty good ideas outside the box. As we grew, I had to spend more time running the company, so, in essence, I de facto retired my intrapreneur’s hat. I also found it difficult to find someone to take my place in this role, because we had grown into a very different company than the one we started. Why? Because during the startup stage, almost 100 percent of my time was in the entrepreneur’s or intrapreneur’s role.”
Further along, we were not sufficiently funded to allow someone to totally operate in the intrapreneur’s role without other responsibilities, too.
Intrapreneurs need to have their feet in two separate buckets: specific daily activities and vision activities
The mind map of entrepreneurs or those inside a corporation, the intrapreneurs, by the nature of the requirements of the tasks, is very different, writes Simon.
“Where do you get the experience to fit into this role? Where are the role models that allow for success in these areas? Finally, it is all about people. In order to have the intrapreneur in a company ‘make it,’ you need to modify basic behavior of the entire company. If you believe you can really do that, then find your intrapreneur and institute the changes that make sense. If not, then forget about hiring an intrapreneur, and find other ways to come up with new approaches,” he says.
Either way, in order to succeed in this economy, you will need to grow and change, at least incrementally. Indeed, intrapreneurship just might be the smartest way to do it.
To read Andrew Simon’s article in BPI Network in its entirety, click here.