Developing “Intrapreneurs” within Organizations with Business Coaching
Business coaches play an important role in helping business grow. An intrapreneur is an employee working for an organization, rather than striking out alone. But other than that difference, intrapreneurs act just like entrepreneurs. They take calculated risks. They see opportunities rather than obstacles. They pioneer innovation. They forge ahead with an idea without having to seek someone else’s permission. They anticipate trends. They create solutions to needs and spot business opportunities that often create unexpected value.
Successful companies such as Facebook, Google, and 3M have embraced the concept of encouraging employees to take new initiatives without it being part of the job description. These intrapreneurs have in some cases transformed ideas into innovative, creative, and profitable ventures within an existing organizational environment.
The 3M intrapreneurship came about by accident when Dr. Spencer Silver, a scientist at 3M, was working on a project to develop a strong adhesive to be used in the aerospace industry. Instead of a strong adhesive, he created a light adhesive that stuck objects to surfaces well and didn’t leave behind any marks or residue when removed. Instead of seeing this result as a failure, Dr. Silver persisted with looking for applications for the adhesive. He teamed up with colleague Art Fry, and together they developed the Post-it note, now found in virtually every office.
Intrapreneurs need the organizational culture and space to create ideas, and organizations need the strategies to turn their intrapreneurs’ ideas into reality. This mix can create a number of challenges that lead to an SOS call to a coach or mentor. Intrapreneurship is an exciting, growing area where coaching and mentoring can support the birth and growth of innovation.
Creating the space to innovate with business coaching
Intrapreneurs need creative space. That means the organization must cultivate an entrepreneurial culture that allows the “loyal rebels,” as intrapreneurs are often called, to step forward and grow, while working within the organizational systems, job descriptions, and traditional culture.
For an intrapreneur to step up and deliver an idea requires courage and commitment. As the saying goes, “You can’t be a prophet in your own land.” If the culture of the organization isn’t mature enough to respect this courage, then great ideas stay stuck in the minds of the intrapreneurs and never get to market. Alternatively, and worse for the organization, the intrapreneurs will transform into entrepreneurs and take their great ideas elsewhere.
When an intrapreneur raises her head above the parapet with a new innovation, she’s making herself vulnerable to being shot down. She may be putting a lot at risk, or at the least on hold, such as letting go of current job responsibilities, perhaps benefits, and promotion. The organization has to create a politics-free zone for this type of initiative to thrive. The intrapreneur has earned her bulletproof jacket and should be given independence to develop her idea to the best of her ability with the support of the organization.
Modern business seems to be speeding up every year with rapid advances in technology. It’s becoming increasingly important to create a culture of creativity and innovation, so a business can not only keep up with the field but also lead.
If you’re a business leader who is taking the first tentative steps toward creating an intrapreneurial culture within your organization, you need to engage all stakeholders in creating the culture. Imposing an edict from management level down is often received with skepticism or even ignored. When employees are engaged in the discussions and contribute to creating the framework and conditions for intraprenurial initiatives, there will be no need for anyone to “buy into” the idea because all stakeholders will take ownership of the new cultural change.
There is real value in using a coach to mediate these discussions because they’ll be able to maintain a detached perspective and will, therefore, find it easier to test and challenge the commitment, trust, and honesty that has to be in place for an intraprenurial culture to thrive.
Here are some areas where coaching and mentoring programs can support the organization in fostering a culture of intrapreneurship:
- Establishing frameworks to empower people to make decisions and be willing to speak up. An organization’s existing culture may discourage this type of independent thinking, and that’s where coaching the individual and organization adds value.
- Developing strategies for creative thinking, enabling the intrapreneurs to be revolutionary and visionary.
- Understanding the strategies and attitudes of entrepreneurs and being able to apply them.
- Creating incentives to encourage ideas, including celebrating and rewarding contributions.
Turning the catalyst of an idea into reality
Launching intraprenurial ventures is similar to taking a startup idea and having it become a large, multinational business in the space of a year. Each development phase for scaling up requires different management skills and different coaching programs to support it.
One of the key decisions a business has to make, after it has the idea and has done its due diligence to ensure that the idea is workable, is determining who’s best suited to take the project to market. The person who developed the idea may not be the right person to deliver the project.
You may coach the intrapreneurs to build their ability and capacity to take an idea to scale. Alternatively, you may coach the organization to find or develop a different model in which different leaders manage different phases of an initiative or the whole project.
Treat each innovative venture as you would a new startup. This idea means you can use the same diagnostics as you would with a new business. Then you design the best-fit coaching program, giving the venture the best possible chance of becoming a reality.