Business Transformation

5 ways to encourage intrapreneurship at work

Alan Manly

Entrepreneurs are credited with being the driving force of innovation. So how does an entrepreneur scale up their entrepreneurial capacity other than work themselves into an early grave?  With great difficulty, is the first response. It seems counterintuitive that an entrepreneur would delegate the authority to implement great new ideas while still baring the financial risk themselves.

Not to mention that they will need to delegate the credit for great new ideas. Another big ask!

However, businesses large and small are fast realising that doing so is a must if that are to thrive more than simply survive. Every idea should be fostered, valued and analysed on its merits – no matter where in the hierarchy it comes from.

And so, we arrive at intrapreneurship.

According to Investopedia, intrapreneurship “refers to a system that allows an employee to act like an entrepreneur within a company or other organisation”.

Effectively, intrapreneurs are tasked with using the company’s resources to drive innovation, while entrepreneurs use their own.

Here are five things you’ll need to do to get the intrapreneur ball rolling:

  1. Embrace change
    Entrepreneurs know the value of change in shaking up a tired industry and serving customers smarter, cheaper, more conveniently. Yet change within their own business is far less easy to embrace. But crucial nevertheless.  Understand the meaning of the quote attributed to Greek philosopher Heraclitus some 500 BCE: “The only thing that is constant is change.” The major commonality of entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship is the enthusiasm to embrace change. Even – or perhaps especially – when it makes us uncomfortable.
  2. Leverage the difference
    Intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship are indeed very similar, but with one main difference: only one (entrepreneurship) has personal financial risk, but both have emotional and career risks.  And the latter makes both worthy of the contribution they can make to a company.  It can be powerful leverage to embrace new ideas that aren’t borne under the pressures of personal financial responsibility!
  3. Be brave
    Crazy Brave. When the crowd says no, give it a go.  Innovators will always be lonely. Management needs the confidence to support risk-taking within their ranks and let those that fail live to tell the tale.  Why? Because a failure that is accepted without punishment provides valuable lessons for the future and will inspire the next generation of great new ideas within the company.
  4. Get out more often
    Ensure that staff know what is “out there”, what the competition is doing as well as what other industries are doing too.  Encourage them to identify new innovations outside of your business, and to analyse how fast that change is happening. The key is to identify the next trend and how your companies’ resources can be used to better that idea.  Trade shows and events (when they return post-COVID) are a great way of exploring the outside business world.
  5. Customers come first
    This is perhaps the most valuable aspect of intrapreneurship – customer-facing interactions. As your business grows, you’re less likely to be customer facing. That creates a critical knowledge deficit – if you let it happen.  Encourage frontline staff to ideate tweaks and changes that would improve the customer relationship. Address every detail of every idea put forward.  Not only does this give you intel from the ground, doing so gives team members experience and confidence in improving the service of product to customers.

A word of caution: Once this culture is established, be prepared! Those shy folks are very likely to become demanding innovators pushing management – and you – to the limit.

But with any luck, increased profits will be forthcoming as you streak ahead of your competition.


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Alan Manly
Alan Manly is the founder of Group Colleges Australia. He is also the author of When There Are Too Many Lawyers … There Is No Justice ($24.95). Alan Manly is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on LinkedIn.
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