When a company´s growth begins to dwindle, boardroom meetings grow strained and the finger pointing starts.
Executives cry out, "We need a new strategy! We need to hire better people! Our culture is to blame! Our compensation is wrong!"
The founder, if he or she is still around, sadly states, "We have more people, resources, and money than ever. But now we are so big we can´t even get out of our own way!"
Embarrassed, a politically perceptive staffer serves up a popular buzzword. "Intrapreneurs! What our company needs are Intrapreneurs!"
The "hip" executive explains that Intrapreneurs are "Inside Entrepreneurs" who will follow their founder´s example. The Intrapreneur, he or she promises, will buck the corporate malaise, risk his or her career to get things done and, is willing to "do the right thing to serve the customer".
As everyone looks around the room for this potential savior of growth, what do they see?
Executives´ eyes around the table react in three different ways:
- Most managers´ eyes look down hoping this latest idea dies before making them change or take chances.
- The owner´s eyes look up and out the window reminiscing about the "good old days" when he or she ran a much smaller and focused company. Back then, everyone was an Intrapreneur with "fire in their bellies."
- One or maybe two sets of younger, brighter eyes sparkle, expressing hope that their time has come to break suffocating company rules and politics stifling opportunities they see but cannot pursue. Optimistically, but sometimes fatally, these people seize the moment and volunteer as "champions" of this new company initiative.
What happens? Management chooses an Intrapreneur hoping that this "champion" is victorious. If successful, will this person become the company´s leader? On the other hand, will he or she leave and become an Entrepreneur? Too often, the budding Intrapreneur is "beaten" into submission by, and is "forced" to rejoin the first group.
Despite their righteousness, why don´t more Intrapreneurs succeed?
Because in doing what is right, Intrapreneurs hold a mirror up to their peers, forcing them to confront what they and their company have become. Just like a middle-aged, weekend warrior exercising after years of complacency, when a staid company tries to perform like a growth business, the picture is not very pretty.
Through my years in Corporate America and now as a consultant, I have both served as or have coached many Intrapreneurs in developing products, markets, distribution channels, and applications. For business owners attempting to create Intrapreneurs in their companies here is what succeeds and what fails.
Intrapreneurs succeed when you as the owner...
- Walk your own talk: Devote yourself to champions who have the passion, self-confidence, and conviction to buck the rest of your staff. If you believe they have the right stuff, ignore any other quirk they have and shield them from their peers´ backlash.
- Select people with more breadth than depth. To be a successful change agent, the Intrapreneur must understand and integrate many disparate parts of a company, marketplace, and project. Let others button down the final details later.
- Pick champions with marketplace, distribution, product, and technology expertise. You don´t need another politico or desk jockey if you are looking for business growth. Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs alike must know their markets if they are to succeed.
- Choose "dooers" who are talked about. Pick and reward passionate, busy people before loyal, subservient workers. Your company knows which staff gets things done. Effectiveness matters more than "fit".
- Don´t lead your good people to a slaughter. Differentiate between good people with great ideas from bad timing and under-resourced efforts. Do not throw your babies out with your bathwater.
- Don´t ask your Intrapreneur to fix your entire sales, marketing or organization plan. That is your job. Together with your executive committee and outside experts, audit and refocus your firm´s best and highest use around the target market it serves, and the customer needs it meets.
Intrapreneurs fail when you as the owner tolerate…
- Leadership lip service. Your unwillingness to invest your time, money, or personal credibility will doom your Intrapreneur´s efforts. Nothing is more of a wet blanket than a leader who says one thing and does another.
- Insurmountable politics. When your executives cannot look beyond their own departments to make their company work together, success is rare. The Intrapreneur needs to be effective across departments. While he or she must overcome conflicting agendas through their personal power, they are not miracle workers.
- A dysfunctional culture. If the company culture is not healthy, rarely can one individual turn it around. Changing culture means changing the four "S´s"; Systems, Structure, Staff, and Salary. If your company requires massive surgery, you must drive this yourself. Intrapreneurs can handle an initiative, but not lead a coup d´etat.
When You Are The Intrapreneur, What Should You Do?
If you, the Intrapreneur, are offered such a firm-changing opportunity, consider this. You may have the change to take your career to new heights by helping to drive the future of your company. Whether you are asked to develop a product, service, channel, or application, will you make your mark or seal your fate? Should you seize the moment, pass on the opportunity or leave to become an entrepreneur?
Seize the moment when:
- Your corporate and salaried people do not feel empowered to make needed changes but you do.
- Your hourly people do not connect the quality of quantity of their work to the success of your company or an increase in their pay but you do.
- No one in your company, including your sales force, has really had to sell an idea, product, or service to make a mortgage payment but you have.
- You see your organization going along to get along but you can´t.
- Pass on the opportunity (and perhaps become an Entrepreneur) when you see:
- Your owners are motivated more by protecting their wealth then they are by creating new value.
- Your owners are threatened, weak and don´t really want to change.
- Insiders protecting the status quo control your organization.
- The pain of your organization changing is greater than the pain of your organization not changing.
Entrepreneurs vs. Intrapreneurs
Let´s face it, when under pressure to grow, organizations of all kinds look to their roots and their previous successes for answers. Rekindling business growth inside an organization often represents the toughest challenge to a maturing organization. Can it regain its entrepreneurial spirit and continue to thrive despite its mature culture? By turning to Intrapreneurs, the company hopes it can have the best of both worlds. It can work if owners follow the above steps.
Intrapreneurs, by definition, embody the same characteristics as the Entrepreneur, conviction, passion, and drive. The more the Intrapreneur expresses himself, the more the company is forced to confront its own effectiveness. If the company is supportive, the Intrapreneur succeeds. When the organization is not, the Intrapreneur usually fails or leaves to start a new company.
In closing, every effective worker has Intrapreneurial traits that may or may not culminate in an Entrepreneurial life. Ask yourself how close are you to becoming an Entrepreneur? Your answer will help you to decide whether you should stay or go!