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The War on Talent: Why Your Company Needs Intrapreneurs and How to Get Them

November 03, 2021, 05:00 AM

Some believe that entrepreneurs are the rock stars of the business world. Anybody who’s worked a 9-5 has, at some point, dreamt of starting a business to solve a problem. For many people, building a business out of something they’re passionate about and scooping up the profit is a lot more appealing than doing a 9-5 job they don’t enjoy for someone else’s financial gain.

Even Generation Z, unfairly maligned as lazy avocado-toast-eating hipsters, have become entranced by entrepreneurship. Many aspire to start their own companies, following in the footsteps of the "Millennipreneurs.”

Many of these startups set out to disrupt established industries with leaner margins, agile workflows and innovative changes to the “normal” way of doing things.

And they’ve succeeded: a Deloitte study discovered that 88 percent of the companies on the Fortune 500 list in 1955 were gone by 2015. We now live in a world of Netflix, Airbnb and Uber.

Post-COVID-19, with the great resignation taking place, has sped up this revolution and led to a war on talent.

There’s a very real fear that the pools of new workers that large companies depend on will soon dry up. In fact, a 2019 report from PwC, found the number of CEOs worried about sourcing talent has risen over the years to over 80 percent.

Enter the Intrapreneur

This is where I believe intrapreneurship is the best way to keep talented team members and promote creativity, by creating and embracing a culture of Intrapreneurship. Intrapreneurship in business today encompasses a variety of concepts that includes: identifying and fostering employees who have intrapreneurial traits, developing an intrapreneurial process followed by organizationwide dissemination of information regarding the process, and developing innovation through rewarding intrapreneurial behavior

As Steve Jobs put it, intrapreneurs are workers “going, in essence, back to the garage.”

Why Should You Care about Intrapreneurship?

The business world has seen an explosion of intrapreneurs in recent years. According to Business Analyst Kaihan Krippendorff, roughly 70 percent of major business innovations now come from within large companies.

But not every business is on-board with intrapreneurship. Without guarantees of improvement, innovation, success or profit, it takes a certain mind shift and cultural change to identify intrapreneurs.

Despite this, there are lots of reasons why every company should consider intrapreneurship.

Bringing an entrepreneurial mindset into an organization can help to achieve many of its key goals such as streamlining business processes to save time and effort, enhancing customer satisfaction and engagement, transitioning to digitization more quickly, diversifying delivery models new product development and staying ahead of the curve.

The simple fact is a small group of intrapreneurs can do what scores of managers, executives and ideas-people so often fail to: innovate. The security of a corporate environment mixed with freedom from corporate processes allows for rapid iteration, experimentation and refinement of ideas that would otherwise get mired in red tape.

This process forges agile, analytical employees who think outside the box. Their ability to inspect a business’ practices with an outsider’s perspective is vital for streamlining policies, technologies and procedures, which can make all the difference in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Also, intrapreneurship can be a huge recruitment booster. More and more millennials and Gen-Zers want their work to feel meaningful and innovative. The daily grind holds no appeal: The possibility of creating the “next big thing” on a free Friday afternoon does.

Intrapreneurship in Action

The best examples of intrapreneurship tend to be seen in the tech sector, where innovation and more fluid corporate structures are already commonplace. But, while Apple’s Steve Jobs popularized the term, the most famous example of intrapreneurship has come from Google.

For years, the tech giant has encouraged employees to spend 20 percent of their time working on their own personal projects that pushed boundaries, even if they never see the light of day. Many of Google’s biggest products have stemmed directly from “the 20 percent rule,” including Gmail, Google News and AdSense.

But how about a more personal example?

Soon after becoming eBay’s head of global product management, Healey Cypher noticed that consumers made the majority of their purchases within 15 miles of their homes. At the time, eBay only offered e-commerce services — despite many retailers telling the company they also wanted a physical retail presence.

Rather than conduct a long, expensive corporate planning process, Cypher struck while the iron was hot. In just two years, he and a small team of engineers developed interactive storefront terminals that enabled customers at stores like Sony, TOMS and Toys “R” Us to use eBay’s services.

The experiment was a great success, and subsequently became a mainstay of eBay’s business plan.

Cypher later used this experience to found his own company, Zivelo, which focused on similar public-computing solutions.
In this way, Cypher is an excellent illustration of how intrapreneurship can lead to entrepreneurship, spurring innovation and disruption in an industry as a whole.

The Mindset Change You Need

Talking about intrapreneurship is all well and good, but what matters is putting it into practice.

Plenty of managers want their employees to become intrapreneurs. Almost half, in fact, according to a 2013 study from Millennial Branding. Despite this, only 11.7 percent of American workers actually have intrapreneurial experience. Compare that to Sweden where over a quarter of the population have been intrapreneurs in some form.

To understand why, let me explain “red flag laws.”

In early 20th-century England, automobiles had to be preceded by someone waving a red flag to “warn” oncomers. This, in effect, slowed down cars to the same speed as pedestrians.

The parallel is obvious. The whole point of attracting intrapreneurs is to let them challenge your conventional business practices and methodologies. All too often, companies hamstring teams with regulations and procedure, slowing them to match the pace of conventional business. At that point, why even bother?

To attract (and keep) intrapreneurs, you have to change your mindset to accept a degree of uncertainty and loss of control.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Business leaders are typically conversative; act based on experience rather than instinct; and prefer to maintain present success than push for something new.

However, the uncertainty that business leaders face daily already requires an ad-hoc leadership style. For example, CEOs around the globe have had to adapt to the brave new world of COVID-19 and the massive shift in business practices it’s brought.

The skills learned from this are an excellent bedrock for building a corporate environment that welcomes and nurtures an intrapreneurial spirit.

What’s your take on intrapreneurs? Let me know your thoughts below.

RJ Grimshaw
RJ Grimshaw was the former president and CEO of UniFi Equipment Finance from 2013 to October 2023 and spearheaded a remarkable transformation within the company. Under his leadership, UniFi witnessed a meteoric rise in assets, skyrocketing from $14 million to an impressive $250 million.

Prior to his impactful tenure at UniFi, Grimshaw held a series of senior leadership roles at EverBank and Key Equipment Finance, where he honed his skills in steering organizations toward success.

Beyond his corporate achievements, Grimshaw is the author of the book "ABLE LEADERSHIP." He is recognized as a leading authority on Intrapreneurship, sales, and leadership. This expertise positions him uniquely in assisting business owners.
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