Encouraging Intrapreneurship

Innovation and speed to market are two ways to launch and grow a business. Creating, fostering and sustaining the right working environment to do this can be tricky. One way is intrapreneurship, unleashing the power of employees who have entrepreneurial skills and mindsets that work within your company.

As someone who founded Cincom with $600 and a card table, I will always be an entrepreneur at heart. So, I could never even imagine allowing us to become a company that doesn’t support creative free spirits who also seek to pursue good opportunities and, in the process, build new businesses within the company, which will provide new and different ways to better satisfy customers.

For intrapreneurship to work effectively, several important considerations should be taken into account that balances risk with reward and opportunity with difficulty.

Creative listening

Leadership has to be willing to listen to and recognize good ideas whenever and from whomever they arise if intrapreneurship is to flourish. This message must be constantly reinforced from the highest levels of the organization.

Create an environment where an employee’s ideas are taken seriously, properly supported and recognized. You never know where good ideas will come from, especially in a corporate culture that supports intrapreneurship. An account representative could become the catalyst for revolutionizing a company’s entire business strategy when presented with the ongoing opportunity to approach company leadership with good ideas.

Cut the red tape

Create an environment where anyone can come forward with an idea on how to improve any aspect of the business. It should not matter where that person fits on the organizational chart. If the idea is good and the benefits and risks are clearly stated, that idea should get the green light and the support it merits.

There must still be a business approval process, but it should be efficient. Projects that deserve support should be quickly expedited.

Freedom to fail

Many entrepreneurial careers and businesses are built on a succession of minor failures, with the accumulated lessons learned from each leading to ultimate success.

It’s important for companies to allow for a degree of inevitable failure around new projects and initiatives without sending the message that failure is not tolerated.

Companies must strive to provide a “freedom to fail” culture and environment. Although failure resulting from poor planning and execution is not accepted, there should be no penalty for those who come forward with good ideas, assuming they’ve been well presented and competently executed.

Swing for the fences

Many companies are filled with reliable “singles hitters” who play it safe and never really aspire to greatness. Intrapreneurs, on the other hand, swing for the fences. Sometimes they strike out, but when they connect, they can hit it big.

Share credit

It doesn’t do any good to encourage team members at all levels to bring innovative ideas to company leadership if the leaders then take those ideas and make them their own.

“Leaders deal in hope,” as Napoleon noted. But in top-performing organizations, “Leadership is always plural.” No one ever succeeds alone.

Every organization must have processes and rules of procedure and behavior.

The ability to differentiate between rules needed to guide and perform within the current business and rules that may restrict success in building a new business is what discernment and opportunity awareness are all about. Going forward is always a journey.

Ignite intrapreneurs

To start a revolution of initiative and innovation, ignite the intrapreneurs and then get out of the way. Lift off generates a lot of heat.

About the Author

Thomas M. Nies is the founder and CEO of Cincom Systems, Inc. The longest actively serving CEO in the computer industry, Nies was recognized by President Ronald Reagan in 1984 as "the epitome of the entrepreneurial spirit of American business." In 1992, British Prime Minister Edward Heath honored Nies for Cincom's role in bringing the software industry to England. In 1995, he was profiled by the Smithsonian Institute as one of the "pioneers of the software industry," alongside other industry giants such as Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Larry Ellison (Oracle). In 2004, Ernst & Young inducted Nies into its Entrepreneur of the Year Hall of Fame. In 2005, along with the CEO of Adobe, Nies won the International Stevie Award for Best Executive in the International Business Awards—"the business world's own Oscars," according to the New York Post. In 2005, Nies also received the University of Cincinnati Lifetime Achievement award and in 2006, was named as one of the Top Ten IT Visionaries by START-IT magazine. In 2008, Tom and Cincom were featured in a Harvard Business School Study. Email Tom Nies: Tnies@cincom.com

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