Categorized | Leadership, Organizations

Intrapreneuring by Deborah Owens

Think of Apple, Google, and GE and what comes to mind? Perhaps, you think of visionary leaders surrounded by smart people who create products and services that consumers demand. What is the greatest competitive advantage for these companies? It’s their people without a doubt. The ability to attract, recruit and retain talented people is how companies achieve phenomenal results, year after year. Look into their cultures and you will find environments that foster “intrapreneurs.” Whether you’re a small company with fewer than 25 employees or midsize, you can achieve stellar results by following their example. Well, how do you find and keep smart people? You simply have to attract them by becoming a talent magnet. It’s really not as difficult as it may seem. The first step required is to create a culture that fosters “intrapreneurship.”

Management consultants Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot coined the term “Intrapreneur” almost 30 years ago and it carries just as much relevance today. An intrapreneur is a person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable, finished product through assertive risk taking and innovation, say the Pinchots. In order to facilitate this behavior, your company will have to flatten management structures and open the lines of communication. The Pinchots believed that hierarchical management structures create bureaucracies that hinder innovation. Your greatest assets are your employees and your goal is to unleash their potential.

Another benefit of an intrapreneurial culture is recruiting talent. Recent graduates from business schools, or Generation Y as they are described, have a desire to acquire skills and set track records that demonstrate their value. For this group the more challenges and opportunities the greater their satisfaction. They are not looking to follow a management track and retire 30 years from now like many of their parents. Take a look at Google and Apple Computer and you see young smart talented employees in unconventional workplaces that have fun and create the most coveted products and services in the global marketplace. Creating a high performance environment is how your company can grow and maintain its competitiveness.

It’s not just the new kids on the block who recognize the benefits of an intrapreneurial culture. Stalwarts GE and P&G have realized the important role that culture plays for years. What is the secret to their longevity and success? A management consultant from Accenture commented that, “You’ll find that communication up and down the ranks in these companies is more open, and more frequent, than in other companies. Top management is more accessible, which makes employees at all levels feel engaged in meeting the company’s goals.” Flattening management structures and open communications environment comes with a unique set of challenges. Whether you are an employer or employee, you need a framework or a set of guidelines to operate successfully.

Creating an environment where intrapreneurs can thrive and an organization can reap the benefits requires a lot more than just telling employees “you need to think like an entrepreneur” during a performance evaluation. It means reframing the relationships within your organization. Leadership must place greater emphasis on results and less on updates and permission. This approach fosters risk taking and assists in developing leadership and decision-making skills. Encouraging the members of your team to innovate and creating a framework that prevents chaos is the foremost objective. The goal is to have every member operating at peak performance levels.

Gina Marshall Johnson has spent more than 20 years in the telecommunications industry and believes thinking like an entrepreneur has been the secret to her success. She is now director of RF Engineering for Cingular/AT&T Wireless and is on a team responsible for deploying new technology in the wireless industry. Her group recently led the industry in deploying 3G UMTS technology in the Washington, D.C. area.

“My greatest asset has been the ability to understand how managing the technical side of the business impacts our customer experience and how that equates to the sales of our products and services,” Johnson says. “You have to value creativity and innovation and give people the room to solve problems. We are in the problem-solving business. Everyday we wake up thinking about how we can impact the end user. What can we do to make our customers experience and the network superior?” The real benefit to creating this environment is what happens when employees take personal responsibility for the expected outcome. Management requires less oversight. Employee satisfaction and retention improves ultimately impacting profitability. This environment requires intrapreneurial managers who are comfortable facilitating rather than managing.

The current economic environment is further evidence that “intrapreneurial” workplaces will help your company maintain its competitiveness. Rewarding employees who innovate and showcasing their accomplishments to prospective recruits will make your company a talent magnet and increase existing employee satisfaction. You have to attract new talent and ensure that your current talent pool is retained. The investment every organization makes with a new hire cannot be ignored. Your existing employees are your greatest recruitment source because talented people belong to the same organizations, have similar hobbies and network with one another.

Whether you are the CEO or the employee, the intrapreneurial mindset is essential in the global marketplace. This flattened world holds tremendous opportunity and challenges. The ability to adapt and see the opportunity in the challenges is the difference between an employee and an “intrapreneur.”