Entrepreneurs today are like the rock stars of the business world. They’re celebrated for their creativity, innovation and propensity to take risks. Networks create reality shows around them. Magazines rave about them. But do you really want creative but unpredictable rock stars playing at your kid’s birthday party? No, you want the Wiggles — still creative, but much more manageable.
“Often you hear chief execs say, ‘I want my people to be more entrepreneurial,’ ” said Andy Perkins, director of leadership and professional development at Kaplan Financial. “But in an actual operation, that’s the last thing you want.”
An entrepreneur is an unstructured individual, a maverick or lone wolf who operates outside the traditional corporate world. What companies should be looking for are intrapreneurs, Perkins said.
An intrapreneur is a house-trained wolf. They have the optimism, creativity and agility of an entrepreneur yet also can be trusted and managed. An intrapreneur may apply startup methods to speed up innovation and launch new ventures in a more traditional organization, keeping companies from getting stuck in their old ways.
The learning and development function is crucial in creating an environment that identifies, evaluates and selects people from within the organization to become intrapreneurs. But learning leaders need to have a strategy in mind for how they will develop these people, and workshops or mentoring programs often play a key role.
Before crafting such a strategy, Perkins said leaders should ask themselves a few questions:
- Does the business need an injection of intrapreneurial energy?
- How can the organization nurture intrapreneurs and intrapreneurial teams?
- How can learning leaders prepare and develop the business to accept the creative disruption of the intrapreneurial project?
When building intrapreneurial skills in a team or individual, learning leaders should focus on skills specifically associated with entrepreneurs such as agility, personal resilience and risk-taking as well as more traditional business skills such as financial literacy, organizational literacy and project management.
Perkins said it’s critically important to ensure that the organization’s culture accepts, nurtures and encourages intrapreneurship and embraces it as business as usual. The intrapreneurs and the organization at large should have the same strategic goal — to make the company successful. They must support each other while taking different routes to the same destination.
The company outside the team may see these rule-benders and disruptors as an elitist bubble within the organization, but Perkins said to be sure and discourage this feud. Intrapreneurs bend long-established rules and cause internal disruption, but they do it in a way that benefits the entire company. They have many resources and a lot of freedom to create and innovate, but it’s measured freedom. They’re innovative, disruptive and optimistic, but in a way that pleases the company and its stakeholders.
Keeping these two sides amiable with each other may start way higher on the corporate chain with the leaders themselves.
“A longer term and more sustainable approach is to build leadership development programs for first line managers, emerging leaders and senior teams that have an intrapreneurial theme — a golden thread that runs through the development strategy so that intrapreneurship becomes business as usual and not some exotic breed or bubble,” Perkins said.
Andie Burjek is a former Chief Learning Officer editorial intern. Comment below or email editor@CLOmedia.com.