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How Entrepreneurs need to manage Intrapreneurs

Published on 29/04/2014

Federico Re is an Entrepreneurial Coach and founder of  For nearly two decades, Federico has assisted an array of fast growing SME’s in Australia, focusing on entrepreneurial leadership and innovation.

Federico will uncover how Entrepreneurs should manage their entrepreneurial employees (intrapreneurs) for the future prosperity and growth of the company as a whole.

We all know that entrepreneurs are passionate individuals, with a zest for life, and a willingness to conquer the unknown despite the risks. 

We also know that entrepreneurs typically operate outside of their comfort zone to pursue opportunity; they challenge the status quo; whilst dealing with failure, plenty of sceptics, and an avalanche of issues on a day to day.

Another core challenge for the entrepreneur is how to effectively manage their personnel, and ensure that the entrepreneurial spirit continues to manifest throughout the workplace. 

Even more challenging is keeping a harmonious relationship between the business owner (the ‘entrepreneur’) and the entrepreneurial employee (the ‘intrapreneur’).

Co-existence between Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs

So what happens when you amalgamate entrepreneurs with intrapreneurs in the one workplace environment ?  A good but simple analogy is to ask what would happen when you throw a lion in a cage with a hippopotamus ?

My guess is that there will be bloodshed ! This is because both animals are powerful, determined, competitive, hungry, and perhaps even fearless.  In other words, they possess very dominating characteristics and habits that would suggest they are better suited living on their own, rather than co-existing with other animal or breeds.

If we use this analogy and we come back to the entrepreneur and intrapreneur, my experience has taught me that when entrepreneurs co-exist with intrapreneurs in the one environment, the chances are that it will be a volatile mix of emotion, there will be plenty to fight over, and the end result can be either constructive or very destructive.

The Mindset of Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs

Entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs can be stereotyped as being passionate, independent, imaginative, risk takers, fearless, competitive, persistent, and simply never give up in order for them to pursue their goals or dreams.

So, how can entrepreneurial business owners employ people with intrapreneurial characteristics or work habits to fuel growth, without the relationship ending in bloodshed ?

Let’s firstly look at the definition and mindset of the intrapreneur.  Most popular dictionaries define the intrapreneur something like - ‘a person that operates within an organisation and embraces innovation to pursue opportunity’

Personally, I find this definition quite ordinary and simplistic.  A better definition would be - ‘a person that drives growth through innovation, creative imagination, and pioneering of new ideas; an entrepreneurial employee that exploits the opportunity at hand for the well being of the company and its stakeholders’.

The truth of the matter is that the intrapreneur is very similar in mindset to the entrepreneur, but very different to the conventional (non-entrepreneurial) employee.  Because of these traits, intrapreneurs need to be handled with special care and with a different set of rules.

Effective Leadership of Intrapreneurs:

To successfully manage intrapreneurs, the business owner or leader (ie. the ‘entrepreneur’) should consider the following strategies:

1.            Develop Company Culture:

The entrepreneur needs to ensure an entrepreneurial culture is developed within the organisation from the roots up and across all divisions / areas of the company.  This means that the entrepreneur himself needs to embrace healthy / regular entrepreneurial habits, and effectively communicate the right values and beliefs to its people. 

This may involve encouraging innovation; thinking outside the square; encouraging autonomy, but equally establishing regular meetings amongst the team; pioneering of new ideas; challenging the status quo, etc.     

By establishing these work habits, the entrepreneurial spirit will gradually manifest and spread amongst all its people.

2.            Let Employees know Who’s the Boss:

What happens if company protocol is ignored, the boundaries are pushed too far, and ego gets in the way ? A similar question would be ‘how do you control or tame a wild dog to obey its Master ?’  The simple answer is ‘let the dog know who’s the boss !

Let’s face it.  The entrepreneur typically takes all the risks, especially financially.  The intrapreneur may suggest great ideas or identify an opportunity at hand, but the truth is that they can typically walk away if the plan fails.  The entrepreneur, on the other hand, has to pick up the pieces and face the consequences of an idea not going to fruition, and the financial consequences.

Therefore, intrapreneurs need to be more mindful and respectful of this reality, and understand the ongoing risks entrepreneurs need to regularly face.

3.    Understand the Difference in Mindset

So far we have identified many similar traits between the entrepreneur and intrapreneur.  In contrast, how do their mindsets differ, and how do entrepreneurs co-exist with their entrepreneurial employees to achieve a win-win situation and overall harmony ?

Firstly, let’s stress one key point. Intrapreneurs prefer to work within an organisation, as compared to entrepreneurs choosing to own their own business and literally be their own boss.  For me, this implies that intrapreneurs tend to be more risk averse, or require a higher degree of certainty, support, or guidance (from their employer).

If we come back to our previous analogy of the animal kingdom, not all animals are alike. In fact, not all lions are the same.  There is a big difference in habits or even mindset between the wild lion compared to the lion held in captivity (ie. within a protected zoo environment).   The primary difference is their ability to fend for themselves and ability to stay alive regardless of the resources or risks present.

So, intrapreneurs are less capable of surviving completely on their own, as compared to entrepreneurs.  The bottom line is that intrapreneurs need to be aware of this difference and respect the authority and brave nature of entrepreneurs who can better cope in the wild / hostile environment of business. 

4.    Embrace Fast, Effective Decision-making without the Angst

In a fast paced entrepreneurial environment, time means money.  In other words, issues need to be resolved promptly, and opportunities need to be materialised swiftly, in order for growth to occur.

Even-though intrapreneurs are good for pioneering of new ideas, and embracing innovation, they often lack effective decisionship.  They often spend too much time perfecting the idea, rather than simply bringing the product to market, earlier than expected.

If pushed, intrapreneurs will find the experience too challenging and even discouraging, creating angst.

Entrepreneurs need to therefore better manage this anxiety and encourage decision-making to occur more effectively.  This can be best achieved by formulating a regular meeting place, or hub, where issues can be openly discussed, and experiences and wisdom of individual staff can be shared throughout various divisions of the organisation. 

Sharing of knowledge and relying on a databank of knowledge is a powerful antidote for fast, effective decision-making.

(Authored by Federico Re and exclusively written for 'Wealth Creator Magazine' - Winter Issue 2014)







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