In April of 2017, I decided to leave academia and my Private Equity Firm to retire in New Jersey and be close to my family. (I know, who retires to New Jersey?) As an entrepreneur, that retirement lasted for about a month. A thought began to plague me: “Wouldn’t it be nice to work full time for another company?” I had never done this before, but I thought I could take my entrepreneurial skills from Main Street to Wall Street. I was going to be an “intrapreneur.”
I was blessed to work with a broker/dealer that had the best reputation on Wall Street, and two of the finest owners a person could ever work for. Although the learning curve was massive, I quickly found out that the same business processes, tactics, and procedures that made me successful as an entrepreneur could be used in my role as an intrapreneur for my new Wall Street firm.
I have researched, taught, and written about big companies that typically struggle with innovation. The research shows that once companies reach a certain size, their investors become more conservative, their leaders less entrepreneurial, and their decisions are managed by consensus. Meanwhile, in an effort to protect their jobs, their employees become less willing to take risks with new and innovative ideas. However, without innovation, companies can get too comfortable with their past successes, just before they find themselves going out of business (e.g., Sears, Blockbuster, Eastern, Pan Am, and many companies on the floor of the NYSE). They lack the innovation needed for continued success.
The intrapreneur’s role, then, is to find new and disruptive ways of doing business, deliver innovative products and services to the market, and foster a culture of innovation to maintain market leadership. Interestingly, intrapreneurs often don’t have job descriptions, and if they do, most of their actual work is done outside what’s written down in the corporation’s policy and procedure guide.
Companies that are not familiar with the intrapreneurial process need to watch out for these four possible pit-falls:
- Lack of intrapreneurial learning and validation. Companies and employees unable to do the basics of Customer Discovery for new products and services will be doomed, and will likely fail. It is imperative for your company to bring in an adviser at this point. With the new GIG economy, there are plenty of people like me that would be more than happy to set your company up for intrapreneurial success.
- KPI’s not befitting a start-up. Let’s be perfectly clear, a start-up company is not a smaller version of your large company. Metrics must be designed for the start-up, and iterated as information and experience comes in.
- Enforcing the corporate structure in your start-up. Enforcing existing management systems is a common mistake when putting intrapreneurial initiatives into motion within a mid to large size company. This will only stifle the intrapreneurial spirit and crush innovation. There are certain systems and processes that only work for start-ups, and not for larger companies.
- Strict adherence to company strategy. Making no adjustments to strategy is the life killer of a start-up within a company. The waterfall-type process just does not work. You must be agile, and ready to iterate or pivot on the dime. Again, there are processes for start-ups that work only for start-ups within a company or organization.
You can avoid these four pit-falls if you familiarize yourself with the intrapreneurial process, and if you acquire help from an adviser.
If you are a mid to large company looking for innovation, create a culture of intrapreneurship inside your organizations. Let your employees know that it is okay to spend part of their day jobs tinkering around with new ideas. That it is okay to make mistakes, and that failure will not result in punishment if things do not go as planned. Hire people that have entrepreneurship wired into their DNA; leaders who are not afraid to take risks and make decisions on their own. The company that hired me managed this by first allowing me to teach the owners about the intrapreneurial process and culture. Then, I was able to teach the business unit managers, and finally, the employees, while monitoring, measuring, and iterating all along the way.
As I said before, intrapreneurs don’t typically have job descriptions. Instead, they break the confines of the norm and hunt down opportunities for growth. The innovation that an intrapreneurial culture fosters is indispensable for start-up success within a company. Don’t think you and your company can’t attain such a culture of innovation—you can, and with the right help, you will.
I have researched and written much on this subject and would be honored to share more with you. If I may be of assistance to your company, please let me know.