Daring: Fostering intrapreneurial spirit Premium

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What do 3M’s Post-its, Google’s Gmail, and Sony’s PlayStation have in common? None of them were produced according to plan. They were all born in flexible organizations that encourage individual initiative. When it comes to seizing and developing new opportunities, such an entrepreneurial spirit is key, and this is doubly true when times are tough.

Approximately 10% of people have an innate feel for business; 10% will never acquire it; and the remaining 80% have the capacity to become corporate entrepreneurs”*

1. The decisive role of intrapreneurs during a crisis
The principle strength of an intrapreneur: their capacity to reconcile the short term (available resources) with the long term (market opportunities) and come up with new growth opportunities. According to Ernst & Young, by enabling an enterprise to increase its agility and its capacity to use available resources in innovative ways, “corporate intrapreneurship is the key to innovation and growth during economic recovery.”**

2. Developing a culture of intrapreneurship
Even if a company hires born entrepreneurs, a hostile organizational culture is likely to nip any innovative initiative in the bud. Intrapreneurial qualities flourish in environments that put employees at the center of innovation processes. The challenge for executive management: promote individual autonomy and decentralize decision-making to avoid crushing new ideas.

3. Motivate and retain those mavericks
Are intrapreneurs preprogrammed to leave the company, taking their best ideas with them? In reality, they leave companies for lack of internal prospects. How can you motivate and stimulate employees that fit the profile of an intrapreneur? HR should develop special, atypical career paths. For example, job and/or geographical mobility are likely to satisfy their taste for risk and challenge and sharpen their skill at identifying new business opportunities.

Expert advice
Olivier Leclerc, Alcatel-Lucent director of entrepreneurial initiatives, likes to say: “innovation is the responsibility of every company member.” But how does an 80,000-person company get all of its members to generate new ideas on a consistent basis? The Défis ENTREPRENDRE plays a key role; over the past three and a half years in France alone, the program has spawned three projects that are already bringing several million euros per year at Alcatel-Lucent!

* Thomas Legrain, president of TL Consulting and of the Networking & Business Club.
** “Ignite Innovation: How Hot Companies Fuel Growth From Within,” Ernst & Young, November 2010.

Read our Dossier
Daring: Fostering entrepreneurial spirit

Business Digest no. 223, February 2012.

Based on Corporate Entrepreneurship: How to Create a Thriving Entrepreneurial Spirit Throughout Your Company by Robert D. Hisrich and Claudine Kearnay (McGraw-Hill, September 2011), and the interview with Olivier Leclerc, director of entrepreneurial initiatives, Alcatel-Lucent, January 2012.