Entrepreneurs are the celebrated darlings of business. In most cases, they took a spark of an idea and pulled together the resources to build that into a company. They have conferences, magazines, awards, and this website to serve them.
Of course, any entrepreneur worth his or her salt will tell you that the right team is critical for success. And to take it one step further, a team with entrepreneurial individuals who take ownership of innovation and growing their divisions to push the company forward is a game-changer. These folks aren't just expanding on their current responsibilities - they are creating something completely new from the ground up.
In many organizations, that fresh energy is exactly what the company needs to enact innovation and combat organizational fatigue.
Some call these internal entrepreneurs "intrapreneurs" - they don't work for themselves or gamble with their own money, but they take on the challenge of launching new products or services with gusto to rival that of any founder.
What drives an intrapreneur? They are typically motivated to make an impact and build profitable growth, but due to risk tolerance, life circumstances, or just personal preference, are not in a position to do so on their own. They may be trying their hand at entrepreneurship while they still have the protection of a full-time salary, understanding that their in-house venture will require extra hours and may or may not turn into a financial opportunity.
Supporting these valuable people is critical as what they are undertaking is not easy.
To set them up to succeed, create a culture of empowerment where failure is accepted and pushing the boundaries of status quo is the norm. Here are some ways to lay the foundation for a strong team of intrapreneurs.
Proactively encourage entrepreneurial thinking in one-to-ones and in company-wide communication.
Intrapreneurs are strong problem solvers who challenge "business as usual" and bring new vision to their area of focus. Some employees who have the qualities and desire to launch and grow new business within the company may come from backgrounds that lead them to believe they can't take that on, so give them a gentle nudge and a nod of support.
A regular innovation meeting is a good way to jump-start creative problem solving and identify champions for new areas of growth.
Encourage your leadership team to work with their staff to develop ideas on possible new product or service areas. When you meet with your leadership team to hear the results, write the ideas on a whiteboard or post-it sheets as they are presented. The team can then focus in on the most viable ideas using criteria like strategic alignment, impact to the business, resources required, time to implement, and so on.
Reduce the bureaucracy around new ideas.
If the old guard (who may be threatened or just not want to deal with the extra work) stands between a strong intrapreneur and the C-suite, the intrapreneur may lose enthusiasm. A directive to support this person's initiative needs to come directly from the top. You may also consider a modified reporting structure with the intrapreneur reporting directly to you on the initiative he or she is building.
Reward the successful intrapreneur quickly.
Promoting this person demonstrates the importance of innovation and nurturing growth within the company while also recognizing the impact of their efforts. This also builds your bench for succession planning - chances are your intrapreneur has many of the qualities (leadership, team-building, vision, communication) that may one day make him or her a candidate for your senior team, or even for your position should you leave.
Don't let your own ego get in the way of supporting these business-builders. Give credit where credit is due and embrace that they are helping you build, not competing with you. A strong group of intrapreneurs can amplify the execution of your own vision exponentially.