Fostering Intrapreneurship within Your Ranks

Fostering Intrapreneurship“Entrepreneurship,” while not a word invented by Americans, might as well have been. It is a quintessential American idea after all: The individual, armed with little more than a good idea and a lot of moxie, dares to set forth and conquer the world. That sense of rugged idealism not only tamed the west and won two world wars, it also created what is still the biggest economy in the world.

That said, not everyone is an entrepreneur. In my travels and at my speeches, I meet plenty of people who love the idea of starting their own business. But when we dig in and drill down, it sometimes becomes apparent to us both that they like the idea of the business more than an actual business itself, if you know what I mean. And that is just the way it should be.

Not everyone is an entrepreneur. Some people are great artists and some are fine writers. Some folk are athletes and others are doctors. As my sweet mom used to say, “That’s what makes the world go ’round.”

And yet.

Entrepreneurship is great because it rewards people for taking smart, calculated risks. If you own a business, or know someone who does, you know that risk-taking is an essential part of the game. By the same token, it is often that same factor – the willingness to take a risk – that prevents other people from starting their own business. And again, that’s fine, smart even. When I started my first business, I was thrilled. My wife on the other hand wanted to throw up.

All of which begs the question: Is there some way to foster entrepreneurship within a business? You bet. It is called intrapreneurship – entrepreneurship within an organization.

With intrapreneurship, you can actually get the best of both worlds: 

  • You can have reliable, hard-working employees, and yet reward them for implementing creative ideas that help the bottom line. 
  • Those employees get to scratch their entrepreneurial itch, and you get to reap the rewards.
  • They don’t have to quit their jobs to take a risk, but again, the business gets the benefit of both a happier employee and (hopefully) increased profits to boot.

Plenty of large corporations are fostering intrapreneurship within their own ranks these days. For instance, 3M allows its engineers something free time to work on their own projects that they think can help the company, as does Google.

If intrapreneurship strikes you as a good idea (and I hope it does), here are some ways to foster it within your ranks:

1. Formalize it. Let employees know that this is a new idea you want to try out. Create some policies and ground rules.

2. Open up the floor to ideas. Then have your staff pitch you their best ideas.

3. Create teams. Accept the ideas that seem to have the most merit and create teams interested in seeing them through.

4. Reward success. With bonuses and other tangible benefits.

Good luck, and may the best intrapreneur win!

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