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The Top Five Ways to Maximize Intrapreneurship in Your Business

By Jason Ganz on November 4, 2014
Tags: Productivity

There was a time when top down management and five year plans could keep you ahead. That time is over. The world today moves too fast for these types of strategies to work.

Disrupt or be disrupted has become a common saying for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. They know that when they create a dominant new product or service, they can’t sit back and appreciate their great work.

Given the current pace of change in the business world, there’s no hope that we can determine all of the threats and opportunities for our business in advance. Rather, we must become proactive and adapt to the world as it changes. 

10 years ago, this was the hottest phone out there.

And your absolute best resource for doing that? Your employees. These are the people that know the ins and outs of your business better than anyone else.

In fact, they definitely have some great ideas for improving it. They just need an outlet. They need your help to turn them into intrapreneurs.

Intrapreneurs are people who work from within a business to bring change, normally in the form of new or altered services or products. Intrapreneurs drive innovation. They’re the best hope for any business trying to stay competitive in the modern age.

Here are our top tips for creating intrapreneurs in your own organization.

1.Collect awesome ideas through employee contests

One way to make sure everyone’s voice gets heard – employee contests. Hold an internal pitch contest. Your employees have the ideas. Now, you can get them out in the open.

This July, we had our first annual GoCanvas Shark Tank competition. We had to come up with the best way to bring new trial subscribers to GoCanvas. This goal was crucial to the contest’s success. By setting a clear target for people to hit, they’ll come up with much more immediately practical ideas.

We had great participation from all levels of the company, with enthusiastic teams battling it out for dominance. The winners received a cash prize and the ability execute on their idea

Above all, do your best to carry out the winners’ ideas. This establishes trust and ensures people continue to bring forward their ideas.

Once a few employee-generated ideas start improving your business, everyone will want in on the glory. 

2. Celebrate Honest Failure

Do you want to reward people for action? Or for fitting into the corporate mold?

If you hate innovation, feel free to follow the standardized employee review process.

Process oriented management can be helpful for normalizing employee performance. But it also removes all incentives for the types of experiments which bring companies in new and interesting directions. Because when you experiment, you might fail.

And in most companies, failure is punished.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Take Grey advertising. Their New York office awards a “Heroic Failure” trophy every year. This goes to someone who made a valiant effort that ultimately did not succeed. 

Of course, not all failure is good

At first this seems absurd. Why would you want to reward failure? But it’s actually part of a careful strategy of reviewing every aspect of the business, both positive and negatives. By removing the stigma from failed experiments, you can honestly think about what worked and what didn’t.

And maybe next time, that experiment will be a home run.

3.Try to view your company as an outsider

After a certain amount of time in any role, we all get set in our ways. As this happens on a wider scale, you can find innovation in your organization starting to slow. After all, it’s hard to look at the world with fresh eyes without making a concerted effort to do so.

“But when we catch ourselves saying, ‘We’ve never done it that way before,” or “that’s not how we do things,’ we should stop and reflect on whether we are saying this out of habit or for good reason”. At least, that’s what intrapreneuship expert Thomas Nies says in his essay, Create an Entrepreneurial Culture.

Of course, this is easier said than done. In fact, one could argue that the entire goal of trying to foster intrapreneurship is really just focused around trying to see your company the way an outsider would.

One way to do this, as Nies outlined, is to realize that there is a set of danger phrases. When you hear these words, you should immediately hear warning bells in your head.

“It’s against our policy.”

“My department doesn’t deal with that.”

“We’ve never don’t that before.”

There are, of course, many good and legitimate reasons to say these danger phrases.

But a lot of the time, they aren’t used legitimately. They’re used as a way of defending the organization from having to change.

It goes without saying that in order to foster intrapreneurship, you must promote change. So when you hear a danger phrase don’t panic. Just stop and think.

4.Heavily Invest in Employee Training

This one seems kind of counterintuitive at first. What does training an employee have to do with intrapreneurship? After all, intrapreneurship is about creating new ideas – not rehashing what you already know.

Well … in order for someone to have new ideas about your business, they have to understand the business inside and out.

You want your employees to harness their own creativity, passion and experience to bring new ideas into your company. Well, they can’t very well suggest changes if they don’t understand how things are running in the first place.

The best way to ensure that everyone is on the page is to have a comprehensive training program both for new and existing employees. When they first come in, new hires should be given a crash course in your business and the way it works.

Never underestimate the power of learning. Photo credit: frwl cc 2.0

Next, give them some time to get their feet wet as they learn the practical day by day realities of the job. Finally, after they’ve had some time to acclimate, bring them back in for regular training refreshers.

At GoCanvas, we do this in multiple ways. First, we have training that all company employees go through to learn the ins and outs of GoCanvas from culture to the product. Then, we regroup at our quarterly all-hands meetings, where we’re all brought up to speed on the progress and accomplishments of every team.

It’s easy get caught up in the day-by-day tasks of your job and not take a second to think about the bigger picture. By including regular times for employees to step back and think about the larger workings of the company, they’ll be much better equipped to make suggestions while understanding how their ideas fit into the larger business strategy of the company.

5. Have a Larger Purpose

You’re never going to get the best efforts out of people for money alone. Rather, you get the best results by getting people to care.

Extrinsic motivation is the desire for external validation. Maybe it’s a promotion. Or a new car.

Intrinsic motivation occurs when people do things for themselves. Intrinsic motivators can be anything from the intellectual desire to solve a difficult problem to the passionate need to correct an injustice in the world.

The important aspect of intrinsic motivators is that the motivation comes from within. And it’s scientifically proven that people performing a task driven by intrinsic motivation leads to significantly higher results than doing the same task for an extrinsic motivator. In fact, sometimes intrinsic motivation can even go down as external rewards become higher.

It’s true – sometimes paying people for something can actually cause them to want to do it less.

Not the most effective way to create intrapreneurs. Photo credit: Andrzej Barabasz (Chepry), cc 4.0

Creative tasks are the most dependent on intrinsic motivation. And there’s nothing more creative than intrapreneurship. You cannot expect money alone to help you find the intrapreneurs in your organization. The only way to bring them out is by giving them the motivation to do it themselves.

Conclusion

If you can find a way to make all of these work, combining passion with training and the freedom to execute, you simply cannot help but become a more intrapraneurial company.

That’s not to say maintaining such a climate will be easy. You’ll have to keep following these principles, especially #3. It’s easy to get confident in your abilities as an innovate company, and thus lose that innovative spirit.

Although you might hit some stumbling blocks along the way, if you work at it and follow these general principles, you’ll be well on your way to creating a truly intrapreneurial climate.

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