In large organizations, Innovation come from Intrapreneurs. Here are the 4 most common characteristics that entrepreneurs exhibit within companies.
Intrapreneurs are these unique individuals or entrepreneurs working within your company who promote innovative products, ideas, systems or services – thus the ‘intra’. These employees could be sitting in any function within the organization and are willing to invest their energy driving dramatic – and sometimes disruptive – change in their departments, business units or their customers’ lives. They are driven by the need to make a major impact with their careers.
These invaluable assets for the company are hard to find and harder to retain. There are specific traits that successful Intrapreneurs share:
Intrapreneurs focus their efforts on understanding their customer’s problems. It doesn’t matter if the customer is internal or external, these individuals take the time to develop deep customer empathy through conversations, interviews or customer visits. They are able to understand the ‘hierarchy of needs’ for their customers including wants, desires and motivations. Then, they use this knowledge to identify the core problem the customer is trying to solve and concentrate their energy on figuring out how to solve it. Successful Intrapreneurs consistently fall in love with the customer problem and not with the existing or potential solution(s).
Dissatisfied with Status-Quo
Never satisfied with the existing solutions, Intrapreneurs are critical of the status quo and compare it with other internal and external solutions. Many times these employees are also experts in the existing solutions and as such are able to identify flaws that are often overlooked by most. Their motivation is not to point to the gaps in products, systems or services. The motivation for Intrapreneurs is to visualize the current implementations as a canvas that can be improved, changed or completely disrupted to better solve the customer’s problems.
Eager Learners, Never Afraid to Fail
Intrapreneurs are resourceful and consistently come up with ways to test their hypothesis in the fastest possible way. They are the embodiment of ‘rapid learning’ – building and iterating on their ideas many times per day from concepts written in paper, to hand-made drawings to actual prototypes. Every time they present their ideas, they do so with an open mind, looking for surprises and not afraid of being wrong. What’s more, ‘failure’ is not a word in their dictionary. Instead, when an assumption is not validated the way they were expecting, they use the term ‘learning’. Their philosophy is the same as Thomas Edison’s: “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”
The most successful Intrapreneurs understand risks and manage them properly according to the company’s situation. Just like they are able to understand when to go ‘under the radar’ with skunkworks, they seek the proper level of sponsorship when needed. Not every idea needs to be disruptive or require heavy investment. These employees are capable of working with multiple types of innovation, whether it is incremental, sustaining or disruptive; and for each kind, they are able to present their ideas with a plan that minimizes risk. Their working approach employs a risk management process: starts with a key customer problem, then ideate ways to solve it (either by improving existing solutions or coming up with dramatic new approaches). Follow by constantly testing and learning, iterating on the concepts starting with scrappy pen and paper, then building more sophisticated (expensive) solutions as hypotheses get validated with customers. This approach eliminates the challenge of investing in building a solution that nobody would want. By having the proper ‘gates’ or checkpoints with the sponsor(s), Intrapreneurs are able to drive innovation and add value to customers with minimal risk.
As a senior-level leader, you can create an environment for Intrapreneurs to grow and flourish. Here are some key questions to keep in mind:
- Do you know who the Intrapreneurs are within your team, business unit, company?
- Do you recognize innovative ideas and Intrapreneurs within the company?
- Does leadership have specific guidelines around sponsorship of innovative ideas within their teams?
- Does the company have an innovation council in which employees can come up and present their ideas?
- Is there an innovation portfolio that consolidates and prioritizes the ideas of Intrapreneurs?
- Is there an Innovation Lab or Innovation Framework that can help define and train employees on the process and tools for innovation? (models, templates, idea management system, collaborating tools…)
Gabriel Mendoza is Principal Consultant for InnovationPoint. Gabriel possesses extensive hands-on experience in defining transformational strategies and executing innovation roadmaps that deliver award-winning customer experiences, products, services, and business models. He leverages his deep expertise in design thinking, blueprinting, lean startup, rapid prototyping, and agile iteration to help organizations transform their innovation processes and drive business growth.