With all the obstacles intrapreneurs face within larger organizations, one could wonder why any individual would want to engage themselves in innovation of any kind.
Often, there just isn’t enough incentive to innovate for personal gain, especially when you factor in the potential for political turmoil, ruined reputations, and job loss. But there is always someone who is willing to accept the challenge.
Some of us may be born with a predisposition for intrapreneurial thinking that lies dormant within our DNA. But ultimately, this gene needs to be activated by an experience that motivates us to act a certain way, reset our inner compass, and see the world through a different lens. And yes, this even means acquiring a compulsion to innovate and building up a high tolerance for risk.
According to Heiko Fischer, founder and CEO of Resourceful Humans (RH) and speaker at Intrapreneurship Conference Stockholm, intrapreneurs actively accept risks that go against the grain of playing it safe.
“I know many intrapreneurs who believe in coming to work with a willingness to be fired. This is a crazy notion, especially if you have a family and financial obligations,” he said. “But this idea is not about trying to get fired; it’s the willingness to put the mission ahead of economic security. There is some level of madness, but it’s positive and aimed at serving the common good.”
Is the corporate world ready for such madness? Embedding entrepreneurial skills – whether through new hires or employee training – requires a significant culture shift for most workplaces.
I met with Heiko to find out how HR organizations can ensure an equilibrium of corporate sensibility and intrapreneurial passion.
Executives are encouraging employees to work like intrapreneurs because they think this approach will help the business become more successful. Is this a realistic view? Is it possible to become 100% intrapreneurial?
Intrapreneurship, in any sense, is a competency and not always a person. That level of proficiency comes in varying degrees. Just like a business needs to be diverse in terms of gender, race, and age, there also needs to be a balance of intrapreneurship and classic management styles.
Of course, companies rely on finding a business model and then milking it to profitably generate revenue, sustain the purpose of the brand, and give innovative people a platform to find the next big thing.
However, a workforce that is too intrapreneurial can kill a company. Everybody thinks that they have a great idea for the next evolution of the business, but such excitement can get in the way of ensuring a continuous and healthy cash flow.
It’s ideal to have an ecosystem that allows intrapreneurs and traditional employees coexist in equilibrium and with respect for each other.
Every organization needs two kinds of people: Individuals who keep the team together and those who are highly creative. Such an environment develops an understanding that both sides of the workforce need each other to survive. It is important to make trade-offs and have the courage to say whether the time is right to change or remain steady.
I like how you advise companies to focus less on HR and more on developing resourceful humans. How did you come to such an epiphany?
When I was an HR director at Crytek, I was extremely curious about how we could help the workforce become 100% engaged. I remember when I spoke to my CEO back then, asking him what he thought our employees needed. He said, “Heiko, you may be the HR director, but the last thing we need is ‘human resources.’ We need resourceful humans.”
As soon as his words reached my ears, I had this aha moment. The term “human resources” represents all of the must-follow rules and bureaucracy that slows down the business. People prefer the excitement of the “we can do anything” spirit that we often see in garage companies and startups. By focusing on 0% bureaucracy and 100% entrepreneurship, my HR team may have been on a suicide mission, but Crytek’s employees flourished in ways we never expected.
This experience taught me that work is a product that can be shaped and molded to create an ideal version that every leader and employee can accept.
No matter the business, you can strike a balance between remaining steady and being disruptive. We need people to shake the boat, but we can’t afford to capsize it.
How does a business know when it is the right time to shift the culture to embrace intrapreneurship sensibly?
There’s an old Zen adage that advises, “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” The same applies to integrating intrapreneurial thinking into the workplace culture. If you think you don’t have time for it, then you should start it right now. If you are ahead of the game, you should do it. If you are behind the competition, you should do it too. There’s no perfect time for such a cultural shift.
At the same time, we see enterprises that are operating at peak performance and are also keenly aware that such momentum is not sustainable. There’s a short moment of time when companies are at the top of the industry leadership wave. The key is to look ahead and invest in an area where the market is heading, rather than where it is now. Plus, organizations should acquire the leadership, mindset, and awareness to navigate through the unknowns.
Businesses must also consider the broad spectrum of intrapreneurship. Some individuals have an inkling that they have the capacity to be intrapreneurs, and others know that this spirit in not in their DNA. The hardest to figure out are the employees in the middle, especially when there are no resources available to enable them to test themselves.
How can a business kick off this intrapreneurial shift in the culture? Is it in the form of a program that is roll out or something entirely different?
In my experience, the answer to this question is not an either/or scenario. It’s whatever works.
All too often, people get stuck in the semantics of defining the process as a roll-out, roll-in, bottom-up, or top-down approach. Every situation is unique. There may be a couple guiding principles that can help, but businesses should pick whatever method that works best for them.
It’s more important for top management to help employees embrace the new mission. The approach needs to be authentic, where the leadership team lives it first and models it to the rest of the business. At the same time, a viral movement needs to be created – giving this culture room to explode and grow, while allowing all employees to trigger that intrapreneurial gene and realize their full potential.
In terms of organizational design, an intrapreneurship program needs to be the operating model. Why? Traditional employees who maintain the existing business model are also asked to innovate and act – just within the parameters of non-disruption. For example, employees of a printing business must be just as intrapreneurial in their pursuit of leading a mature market as those intrapreneurs who are searching for ways to disrupt and enter the 3D printing space.
Our RH-Way Management model stands for that kind of co-habitation model, but the landlord is clearly intrapreneurship. When it comes to leadership styles, our approach makes a distinction across three rungs of the workforce ladder: the bottom rung is a “boss orders; employee waits for orders” scenario. The middle rung is “boss asks; employee gives an opinion.” The top rung covers the “employee says what they have done; boss asks if they need any help” design. To realize an intrapreneurial culture, top leadership should make the third rung the expected model. WL Gore and Semco are some of the many enterprises that do this. They kick out the ladder at the top and ensure that the shift is irreversible.
That’s where our RH tools can help. They are a set of intrapreneurship workout tools, which are available in a digital format. Through the vectors of performance management (which is where the heart of intrapreneurship resides), feedback, and meeting management.
This approach helps leadership teams to not only climb the ladder, but also kick it out while operating responsibly.
Curious to hear more about this 0% Bureacracy – 100% Entrepreneurship approach to management? Join us in Stockholm, where Heiko will be holding the closing keynote on this exact topic.