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The Cost of NOT Including "Intrapreneurs" in Your Company

June 04, 2018, 07:00 AM

Looking back over the history of the golden years of American industry, one particular trend line stands out: 88% of Fortune 500 companies in 1955 no longer exist today. The average lifespan of a company on Standard & Poor's list of 500 top publicly traded large-cap companies (the S&P 500), meanwhile, is now 19 years in comparison to 55 years in 1960. I share these stats in an effort to grab your attention.

We are all faced with challenges of staying ahead of the curve with limited resources. Studies show that efforts to stimulate "intrapreneurship" within an established company more often than not fall flat. (Readers of this blog may already be familiar with this term, but intrapreneurship refers to the principle of leveraging innovation from within a firm's human resource pool rather than outside of it). According to research from Harvard University on innovation models in global companies across diverse sectors, these types of projects fail between 70% and 90% of the time. This is a deeply troubling, yet motivating statistic. And it’s one that stems from a very human problem in most big organizations.

To avoid pitfalls, here are four steps to successfully create a culture of intrapreneurship in your firm:

Step 1: Decide

First the leadership team needs to make the conscious decision to foster a culture of intrapreneurship. This culture doesn’t happen by accident. Most people may not realize that having intrapreneurs on their team is the most cost-efficient way of adding the most value to their business and to keep up with the pace of change. Intrapreneurs are aware of the bigger picture, including being mindful of tactical goals, consumer wants and needs, competitive advantages and disadvantages, and the importance of unceasing development for their company. Intrapreneurs, in turn, show leadership that adds a surprisingly high amount of value through cost-reducing and revenue-increasing innovations.

Having one intrapreneur is worth hundreds of employees who are simply effective at their job.

Step 2: Identifying the Core Skills of the Intrapreneur

“The Intrepreneur’s mind is constantly working and challenging the status quo,” according to Dr. John McGrath—CEO of American Collegiate Acquisitions—who has written about the best way to identify intrapreneurs within a company. The following character traits are critical:

  • Sense of Ownership – Intrapreneurs are constantly looking for ways to serve the organization and the greater good, including coworkers, clients, society, etc. To them it is about taking 100% responsibility for the quality and ultimate effects of the work they do for their company.
  • Willingness to Learn – Intrapreneurs are all about innovating. Without continuous learning and improvement, there is no growth. Intrapreneurs stay sharp by always studying something new (work related or not), asking questions, doing research, and are willing to take in new ideas and help these ideasto their fullest potential.
  • Passionate about Proactivity – Intrapreneurs don’t wait to get started; rather they are proactive. If they see a way to get involved that seems interesting, they follow that instinct. If they run into the same problem again and again, they create a process to fix it and then share that knowledge, thus benefiting everyone around them as well.
  • Calculated Risk Taker - Intrapreneurs are not afraid to change course or even fail a few times if it means getting where they want to be. With innovation comes a lot of trial and error, but true intrapreneurs do not give up when they truly see potential in something, and they will work at it until they get it right.
  • Sense of Curiosity – Intrapreneurs, being naturally innovative people, are always thinking of ways they can improve a product, a structure, a workflow, a blueprint, an idea, etc. With this comes curiosity about the inner workings of whatever is put in front of them. This sense of curiosity drives them to keep working.

Step 3: Cultivating the Culture

Implementing an intrapreneurship culture is not an “either/or” strategy. An environment of intraprenuership gives employees in general (and millennials in particular), the freedom to pursue new ideas that support the mission and vision of their company. In many cases, intrapreneurship has proven to be the critical difference between businesses failing or surviving.

By focusing on even a single engaged employee who has intrapreneurial potential and working with them to get into more of an intrapreneurial mindset, you can create much more value than trying to invest in migrating a large group of disengaged employees into the engaged group.

Not everyone has the right mindset and skillset to become an intrapreneur, so it is important to be able to point out certain attributes of employees that possess the potential to transform into intrapreneurs that will benefit your business.

Step 4: Retention; Go Forward

Encouraging your employees to go from being simply engaged in their roles to becoming more intrapreneurial requires working with them to increase their skillset and their intrapreneurial capacity, and through altering specific aspects in the organization itself to create an environment that encourages innovation. Each company has its own unique organization structure so it’s important to analyze each aspect and how it could best be altered to support intrapreneurship. There are four areas to focus:

  • Product Champions
  • Process Champions
  • Marketing Champions 
  • Implementation Champions: All the above is worthless without proper execution.

The Result

Once you harness the unique talents of your team, you’ll find that working with a group of intrapreneurs is fun. Creative juices flow, energy is higher, and morale is elevated. Who wouldn’t want to work in that type of environment?

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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