Entrepreneurial spirit but working for a large organization? Don’t quit, you may be an “intrapreneur”


Author: Federico A. Bettini

Have you ever felt that your entrepreneurial spirit wasn’t compatible with large organisations’ culture and asked yourself if you should quit working for a large organisation and start a business yourself?

Having entrepreneurial traits in your personality doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t work for a large organisation: you may be an intrapreneur!

What is an intrapreneur?
“Intrapreneurship refers to employee initiatives in organisations to undertake something new, without being asked to do so”.

Intrapreneurs are Inside-entrepreneurs who follow the large organisation’s goals.

The concept refers to people that like to innovate processes, create new ones to achieve an innovative outcome or transforms an idea into a profitable venture, while operating within the organisation.

Intrapreneurs definitely share some traits with entrepreneurs like trying things until successful, learning from failures, no fear of failure but they leverage the potential of an otherwise static organisation, without exposing those employees to the risks or accountability normally associated with entrepreneurial failure.

According to Pinchot, intrapreneurs are both employees and leaders of a large organisations that act similar to entrepreneurs in terms of e.g. self-motivation, creativity and pro-activity.

What are the key traits of Intrapreneurs?

  • Courage and flexibility to think outside the box that may influence the strategic direction of the organisation they work for;
  • They are creative, proactive and self-motivated;
  • Strong leadership skills are needed to strengthen teams and to persuade others to follow and execute their ideas. Leadership skills are also important to support rapid decision making under uncertainty; that differs intrapreneurs from managers that are risk adverse and often work within established patterns;
  • Intrapreneurs start without the recognition of the same degree of power while traditional managers get their authority from the above;
  • Intrapreneurs are able to search for opportunities and shape them into high-potential innovations through teamwork leveraging large organisation resources. This requires the right conditions of good leadership, communication and the appropriate environment to support creativity.

According to Forbes intrapreneurs are:

  • “Greenhousers”: when you share a development idea with them they can’t get rid of it and will keep elaborating until they find a solution. Most likely is you ask them about the same idea few days later, they have elaborated and built on the concept;
  • Attitude to “Failing up”: they celebrate the opportunity of growth, even painful ones;
  • They behave authentically and with integrity as if the organisation’s money was their money; they act like owners.

Why do large organisations need intrapreneurs?
Intrapreneurship is a contemporary issue with pressing relevance for corporate managers. Intrapreneurship has a positive impact on organisational growth and profitability.

Organisations that build structures and embed values to support Intrapreneurship are consequently more likely to have a high Intrapreneurial orientation and are more likely to grow than organisations with a low intrapreneurial orientation.

Even though many managers are afraid of radical changes, they are often the only way to help companies grow.

Intrapreneurial organisations continually renew and start new business venturing.

Studies suggest that in days where the economic scenario changes daily, intrapreneurship could be particularly beneficial for transition economies.

What are the biggest challenges for intrapreneurs working for large organisations?
The latest studies in the field suggest that only few companies know how to encourage intrapreneurs.

Google is also known to be intrapreneur friendly, allowing their employees to spend up to 20% of their time to pursue projects of their choice.

The biggest challenge for intrapreneurs is dealing with the corporate organisational structures such as bureaucracy, processes, hierarchy, rules etc. that are not made to support intrapreneurial culture and behaviour.

Failure, or fear of failure, is another reason for organisations not becoming more entrepreneurial; there is a tendency in large firms to favour familiar and mature technologies, and also search for new ideas that are similar to existing solutions.

Intrapreneurs often remain hidden and unrecognised, because they often display behaviour contrary to what is considered as “corporate”.

According to Accenture, recognising and supporting intrapreneurs is the biggest challenge for entrepreneurial leadership.

The relation between the two following key aspects influences the organisation’s Intrapreneurial orientation:

  • The personality factors: such as extroversion, work values, the need for intellectual stimulation and creativity; and,
  • The socio-cultural factors: such as individualism, lack of meritocracy, tall poppy syndrome, group thinking and power distance.

Organisations can influence their Intrapreneurial Orientation through selection at recruitment and through ongoing training and development of individuals making sure that intrapreneurs are not only accepted in the corporate culture but also valued for the innovation they can bring.

The lack of rewards and bureaucracy lead to outside intrapreneurship. Consequently, intrapreneurs often quit their jobs and set up their own businesses.

How to foster an intrapreneurial culture in your organisation?
First of all, the intrapreneurial culture needs to be promoted at all levels of the organisation.

Management is eventually responsible for providing the conditions that facilitate individual intrapreneurial attitude with the aim of opening the employee’s minds.

Many companies not only empower managers, but also enable employees to become more innovative and flexible even in the course of their daily activities and routine tasks. Through empowerment, employees become owners of their tasks.

Some organisations go the extent of adapting the company’s vision and the communication style internally to favor intrapreneurial behavior, for example SAP, a company that claims to celebrate the failure.

One of the recognized approaches to achieve this is through an “I wish/ I like session”: the “I like” statement recognizes new projects, while the “I wish” statements consider how things can be done in a different way.

Unsurprisingly, there is a different level of tolerance for risks between managers and intrapreneurs (i.e. managers tend to avoid risks, while intrapreneurs work under uncertain conditions). This results in a different attitude towards failure that is seen as a negative for managers and as a positive from intrapreneurs.

A research conducted by Behrens and Patzelt (2015) claims that choosing managers with failure experience in their previous positions could avoid the tendency of intrapreneurs to quit their job and set up their own company.

If you feel that this brief description of intrapreneurs corresponds to you, maybe you should find a large organisation that fosters intrapreneurship or you could consider fostering intrapreneurship in your current company.

Feel free to share this article with people you think might be intrapreneurs and share your own experience regarding intrapreneurship.

Federico A. Bettini (Ph.D) is Director of Strategic Procurement at Lion Co. in Sydney. 

PASA has declared 2016 to be ‘The Year of Entrepreneurial Procurement’. This theme will be reflected across the business as we focus on a new way of thinking and encourage different skills and attributes in the people working in procurement. Read more here:

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