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Dawn of the intrapreneur

Everyone knows the word ‘entrepreneur’ and its meaning; but what about the word ‘intrapreneur’, or better still the expression ‘retail intrapreneurship’ ?

We live in a generation where retailing is very tough business, and more and more retailers are vanishing from the marketplace due to increased competition, unstable global economic conditions, and poor leadership practices within the organisation.

I believe the survival of retail will be very reliant on effective leadership of its people, increased innovation, and building an entrepreneurial culture within the workplace to fuel growth.

For retailer owners this means hiring and managing people with entrepreneurial characteristics (ie. ‘intrapreneurs’), and allowing them to foster new ideas, challenge the status quo, and push the boundaries of the organisation to stimulate growth and increase the competitiveness of the organisation. This methodology is simply known as ‘retail intrapreneurship’.

In Australia, the term ‘intrapreneurship’ is quite foreign to most retailers. Worse still, it is often neglected and perceived by business owners, as irrelevant or even harmful to the success of the company as a whole. Unfortunately, this narrow perspective is severely harming the future of business and retail in the Australian marketplace.

The History of Intrapreneurship

‘Intrapreneurship’ has existed since the 1970’s. It is believed to have officially originated from the US, and pioneered and tested by entrepreneurs of that era including Warren Buffett, Donald Trump, Bill Gates, and even the young Richard Branson.

Today, intrapreneurship has been widely endorsed and practiced by world leaders throughout the US and the UK, and other fast emerging nations. They boldly claim that a healthy entrepreneurial culture within the organisation is the single most important factor for the success and survival of any business in the 21st century !

In Australia however, this trend appears to be faltering and ignored by many business owners and leaders of SME’s.

Understanding ‘Retail Intrapreneuship’

The oxford (online) dictionary defines an ‘intrapreneur’ as:

“A manager within a company who promotes innovative product development and marketing.”

Personally, I find this definition quite ordinary and not reflective of the true nature and potential of intrapreneurship, and the extreme value this can have for any business, including retailers.

I can therefore define an ‘intrapreneur’ 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.”

Ambassadors of ‘Retail Intrapreneursip’

In Australia, it is worth noting that well known entrepreneurs like Janine Allis (Boost Juice) and Carolyn Cresswell (Carman’s Fine Foods), are strong advocates or ambassadors of intrapreneurship.

Janine was once quoted saying:

“The success of every business is based on the quality of people who are hired, that have the right [entrepreneurial] attitude and on the path that you want them to be on. If you haven’t got the right culture or working environment you won’t attract the right people. ^1

Carolyn Cresswell once said:

“I think culture is so important to a business….. [Success] really comes down to my employees” ^2

It is obvious from these two examples that employee culture and entrepreneurial leadership is paramount and directly linked to the success of an organisation.

So why are entrepreneurial practices within the workplace still being largely ignored by many retail business owners or managers ?

The Myth of the Intrapreneur:

Unfortunately, the intrapreneur has been frequently stereotyped or labelled as a ‘difficult employee’ to manage.

This misconception is based on the belief that they are primarily motivated by their own goals and ambitions; they often challenge the status quo, ignoring the guidelines or financial parameters of the company; as well as being risk takers, willing to push the boundaries until their objectives are reached.

The Benefits of Hiring Intrapreneurs:

Without a doubt, the work ethic and ‘code of conduct’ of an intrapreneur differs significantly to the conventional employee.

Intrapreneurs are passionate individuals, with a strong desire for innovation, change, growth, and entrepreneurial success. They are fuelled by new ideas and their desire to be competitive in the marketplace. They will therefore challenge the status quo, but contribute a lot of positives including their enthusiastic attitude, creative thoughts, and pioneering ideas.

SME’s need to embrace and encourage this mindset more proactively within their organisation, so that a dynamic entrepreneurial culture can be encouraged amongst all personnel.

This can be achieved by adopting any of the suggestions below:

1.   Develop a forum or a regular meeting placewhere new ideas can be discussed amongst the team and formerly acknowledged;

2.   Provide positive / encouraging feedbackfor ‘outside the square’ ideas, without dismissing the feasibility of the idea too prematurely;

3.   Avoid micro-managementof the intrapreneur, by providing a higher degree of autonomy.  This will foster trust and build stronger relations;

4.   Avoid ‘red-tape’ and other bureaucratic excuses, which may discourage innovation and prevent anything new from developing;

5.    Reward the high achievers and officially acknowledge their efforts.  Make an extra effort to formerly acknowledge their ‘entrepreneurial’ pursuits;

Gone is the era where the business owner makes all the decisions, and the employee follows strict directives. 

In today’s competitive world, where social media, technology, and consumer trends are changing at an increasing pace, retailers need more entrepreneurial employees or ‘retail intrapeneurs’ to fuel growth, who are willing to co-share decision-making and leadership with their employer.

(Article written by Federico Re and exclusively published for ‘Inside Retail’ Magazine (April/May Edition)

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