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The Myth of the Intrapreneur


Published on 31/03/2014

Federico Re is an Entrepreneurial Coach and founder of creativeentrepreneur.com.au.  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 why you should hire entrepreneurial employees (or intrapreneurs) within your organisation to remain competitive, as well as ensure long term survival.

It’s been approximately 25 years since the first edition of the “E-myth” (a book authored by Michael E. Gerber), was first released.

This book was an instant success and voted the best-selling book of its time, with over 5 million copies sold in 29 languages. 

The ground-breaking ‘entrepreneurial’ methodology, developed by Michael himself, is now taught in 118 universities worldwide. ^1  The key objective of this book was to teach business owners the modern / entrepreneurial approach to business building, to help them build a thriving business and secure long term survival, as companies moved into the 21st century.

It is therefore no surprise that the word ‘entrepreneur’, and the relevance this has in the business world, is widely known and generally understood by the SME community.  

The understanding and meaning of entrepreneurship can also be largely attributed to pioneers or ambassadors of entrepreneurship like Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, etc.  I can therefore guesstimate that 99% of business owners in Australia can provide a fairly accurate definition and meaning to the word – ‘Entrepreneur’.

The Definition of Intrapreneurship:

What continues to surprise me is that the definition to the word ‘intrapreneur’ remains largely unknown to most Australians. 

More alarmingly, SME business owners appear quite ignorant of the term intrapreneurship and the relevance this can have for their own business practice.  Further still, they appear sceptic or even dubious of the integrity and value of how intrapreneurs can benefit their business, compared to the average (non-entrepreneurially minded) employee.

Again, I can again guesstimate that only 5% of business owners can accurately define the meaning of ‘intrapreneurship’, as well as say that they are pro-actively building an entrepreneurial culture within their own practice.

This fact is truly a sad reality, considering how important intrapreneurship within the workplace really is.

The History of Intrapreneurship:

It is worth noting two important facts.

Firstly, the word ‘intrapreneur’ has been in the dictionary since the 1990’s.  The dictionary defines ‘intrapreneurship’ as follows:

“A person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation” ^2

I would like to personally define an intrapreneur simply as:

an entrepreneurial employee; someone who thinks and acts like an entrepreneur, but prefers to work within an organisation instead of having their own enterprise.”

The second point worth noting is that the intrapreneurial methodology has been widely acknowledged and endorsed by business leaders across the world for well over two decades, especially across America and the UK.  They openly claim that it is one of the most important factors to the survival of any organisation, as well as a key contributor to future innovation and entrepreneurial leadership, especially in the 21st century.

For instance, Richard Branson was once quoted saying for ‘Entrepreneur’ magazine:  “Virgin could never have grown into the more than 200 companies it is now, were it not for a steady stream of intrapreneurs who looked for and developed opportunities, often leading efforts that went against the grain”.

Further, intrapreneurship has been labelled the “secret weapon for success”. It has been used in high tech firms such as Google, Apple, 3M, Lockheed, Sony, Texas Instruments, Toyota, and other enterprising firms.

The conclusion is that without fostering an entrepreneurial spirit amongst staff, or an entrepreneurial culture across all levels of the organisation, it is likely that the firm will remain uncompetitive, stagnant, and unable to tackle the challenges that the 21st century presents. 

A classic example is the need for commercial airlines to take into account environmental issues or factors that may prevent future growth, or jeopardise their reputation across the environmentally conscious community. 

The intrapraneur will be the first to challenge the status quo, and likely to propose alternative, often outside the square, solutions to tackle such problems.  They may even suggest a solar powered aeroplane even-though, at face value, it may appear a non-viable option to begin with !

However, there is more benefit than harm to suggest such an idea, as this will breed new ideas amongst the team, creating possible new opportunities

The Intrapreneurial Myth:

So, what is stopping intrapreneurship from proliferating further amongst Australian businesses, despite it being widely embraced and adopted by serial entrepreneurs around the world ? 

Let’s explore the ‘Intrapreneurial Myth’ and uncover five possible reasons why business owners or leaders fail to willingly embrace intraprenership within the workplace:

1.   The intrapreneur can be perceived as being only motivated by his or her own objectives and ambitions, rather than primarily supporting the organisation’s mission and vision.

2.   The intrapreneur is prepared to often challenge the status quo and work outside of the standard operational guidelines, causing potential disruption and head-aches for the management team.

3.   The intrapreneur is often seen as a risk taker, prepared to push the boundaries outside of conventional practices, causing potential financial or operational risks.

4.   The intrapreneur is too focused on constant innovation, change, and pioneering of new concepts, without taking into account the financial viability of the product or service.

5.   The intrapreneur may choose to exit the employment relationship to pursue their own goals and business pursuits, once they have acquired sufficient knowledge from within the company.  This may cause a conflict of interest for the organisation.

The Truth about  Intrapreneurs:

There is truth to the fact that entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs carry a different mindset or ‘code of conduct’ to the conventional employee.

Intrapreneurs are passionate individuals, with a strong desire for change, growth, innovation, and success.  They may often push the boundaries too far, or fail to see why there are ‘protocols’ or ‘guidelines’ to follow within the organisation.

However, the benefits of hiring and managing entrepreneurial employees compared to standard employees, far outweighs the risks or problems it can potentially create. 

I can boldly say that fostering an entrepreneurial culture and encouraging intrapreneurial practices amongst staff should be ranked number one priority. 

The truth however is that Australian business owners and senior personnel continue to micro-manage their subordinates; often with a tight grip, and with a lack of trust.  This can easily prevent or kill innovation and entrepreneurial leadership from manifesting, as well as jeopardise the long term commitment, dedication, and loyalty of passionate and driven staff.

The bottom line is that a dedicated business owner or leader cannot alone build a thriving enterprise.  Instead a business requires the innovative thoughts, passion, leadership, pioneering skills and an entrepreneurial mindset of its people, for it to successfully compete in the current modern era.

(Authored by Federico Re and exclusively written for 'Think & Grow Rich' Magazine - June/July, 2014 Edition)

References:

1. http://www.inc.com/author/michael-e-gerber

2. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Intrapreneurship

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