While there has been much talk of entrepreneurs, there is also the organizational culture of retaining and attracting intrapreneurs. As organizations become larger and more complex, and as business becomes more diversified, it is more difficult for organizations to innovate dynamically. The very entrepreneurs that began the organization may now be caught by a series of innovation traps and the "too large to manage" phenomena that inhibit the capacity of the organization to move ahead.

The combination of innovation traps and being too large to manage stultifies creative forward movement by inhibiting intrapreneurship. That is, internal innovation, internal ingenuity, or what is known as "intrapreneurship" becomes stifled, forcing, or at minimum, enticing many of the most creative people to go out on their own.

In one Fortune 50 corporation with which we recently worked, we met a number of intrapreneurs who felt forced to leave and start their own startups that were in turn later acquired by the same organizations they left.

Sometimes this cycle occurs because of the specific strategic intent on the part of the organization. However, most organizations cannot afford this serial process. Most organizations must not simply encourage internal intrapreneurship, but sustain it. The problem is that in many instances, organizations do not have the resources, knowledge, or the time to do that.

A young organization may be so focused on a particular set of ideas or customer needs that internal intrapreneurship, while seen as important, is never really sustained. The challenge is clear: How do you do what you do well, while putting in processes that assist the internal intrapreneur?

In our recent efforts working with a number of organizations to create programs to retain internal intrapreneurs, we found a several issues to be paramount:

  1. Make internal intrapreneurship part of the evaluation and reward process. All too often, intrapreneurship is celebrated in speeches, but not recognized in day-to-day behavior. Intrapreneurship must be seen as important not only as a value statement, but also by the metrics by which individuals are held accountable. It does not have to be a huge part of the metrics, but if intrapreneurship is part and parcel of what the organization values, it must become part of the evaluation and reward process.
  2. Assure there are seed funds to support scavenger activities. Intrapreneurs by their nature have to juggle two priorities. First they have to be concerned with doing their immediate work, which is usually focused on customer needs, cost efficiency, and short-term deliverability. On the other hand, they are reduced to scavenging necessary resources to develop and push new, experiential ideas forward. Scavenging is part of the life of the intrapreneur. But, that said, it is important for organizations to create a mechanism by which seed funds are available. We have found that the combination of scavenging activity and formal seed money creates a high level of motivation and commitment. Scavenging is a motivated individual activity, while seed money shows the organization's commitment to those activities.
  3. Be clear about the criteria and standards by which intrapreneurial ideas will be judged. Intrapreneurs come up with various ideas, and while the organization may appreciate the idea, they will not take it to the next level. For example, in one instance, an individual came up with a specific idea, and because the projected revenue was less than $40M for the first year, the idea was dropped. The problem is not simply that the criteria was originally ambiguous, but also that the very intrapreneurial spirit of this individual was destroyed. This intraprenuer retreated into a "why try?" mindset.
  4. Give intrapreneurs the behavioral skills they need. In developing a program of intrapreneurial skills for one organization, it became clear to us how certain behavioral skills were necessary for intrapreneurs to succeed. They may know the business, but they need to learn the political skills that will enable them to take ideas and move them up the organization. These skills include the ability to anticipate resistance and form internal coalitions. Intrapreneurs may be innovators, but it is the organization’s responsibility to assure the specific behavioral skills to move agendas ahead become part of the leadership repertoire of the entrepreneur. These skills can be taught, practiced, and delivered with onsite or virtual training.
  5. Focus on the right organizational design. Sterile, rigid bureaucracy is an intrapreneurial killer. While accountability and hierarchy are essential for quality control, there needs to be some component of agility in the organizational structure. That means that certain elements of the organizational structure must give individuals the capacity to work in real time, rather than worrying all the time about bureaucratic approval. Intrapreneurial structures can exist parallel to bureaucratic structures, but without them, intrapreneurship will be stifled.

The basic challenge faced by all organizations as they become dependent on internal innovation, is that intrapreneurs stay committed, excited, and motivated. As the entrepreneurs who started the organization become organizational leaders, the shadows of size, resources, ambiguous criteria, and stifling bureaucracies create the inertia that destroys the very passion of the intrapreneur. Without intrapreneurs, your organization will soon become history.