Insights (Essays)

Insights (Essays) April 2010

Do you work in an Intrapreneurial Company? Take the 1-Minute Test.

Neil Seeman

Is your organization 'intrapreneurial'? Gifford Pinchot III invented the term "intrapreneur" to describe employees of large corporations hired on to think and act as entrepreneurs.

Definitions are important here. Let's not confuse an 'intrapreneur' with a change agent (e.g., someone who circulates a company-wide petition for bigger cubicle space to force the boss to comply with workplace health regulations) or an entrepreneur - someone who takes on extraordinary personal, financial and social risk to build a new organization with his own sweat and unrelenting passion.

Companies such as IBM, 3M and Google boast that they nurture a culture of intrapreneurs by protecting funds, and employee time, for basic research and development. (The most-cited example is the "Skunk Works" group at Lockheed Martin). Other companies have tried to adopt processes that protect a proportion, say one day a week, of employees' time for intrapreneurial invention. But an official policy or process manual for intrapreneurialism does not make for an intrapreneurial culture.

This logic flaw - the idea that innovation policy will conjure up an innovation culture - operates at a national level too; the Conference Board of Canada recently gave the country a "D" on innovation, ranking the nation poorly on measures such as published scientific articles and international trademarks per capita. To improve our grade, many observers have recommended that more corporate money be poured into R&D, and that Canada needs an integrated innovation strategy to focus on select industries, like clean energy technology, as opposed to spreading investments thinly across diverse sectors.

In my opinion, celebrating a culture of workplace intrapreneurialism would deliver a far greater return on investment for companies - and for this country.

Intrapreneurialism is the route to innovation inside organizations, and in healthcare organizations in particular. A culture of intrapreneurialism is what enables a graduate student scientist in a University lab, or a policy analyst in a government department, to launch a magical product or service to market.

Business writers and certain academics - some of the latter have gold start-up experience; others are tenured, with no entrepreneurial scars - have designed personality tests to determine if someone is a 'natural' entrepreneur. (I have argued that all such tests are absurd, statistically flawed and offensive). Yet a culture of corporate intrapreneurialism is easier to determine and track. Knowing whether your organization nurtures intrapreneurialism can signal its capacity to commercialize ideas into action.

Do you work in an intrapreneurial organization? Take my 1-minute test. ('Yes' or 'No' answers only)

  1. If your boss knew that you were acting in the best interests of the company to succeed on a project that you started and drove forward with company funds - and you failed - would your investment of time, money and effort be recognized as providing value for the company?
  2. If your boss knew that you were acting in the best interests of the company to succeed on a self-initiated project, and your work was later widely recognized as a success, would your boss give you 100 percent of the credit for the initiation of the project?
  3. If you were instrumental in initiating a company product or service that successfully made it to market, would you receive a financial bonus in excess of one year's salary?
  4. If potential employees said in an interview that their career goal was to run their own company after two years, would they still be considered for the job?
  5. If you had a new, potentially commercializable idea that you developed while at the company, would all of your colleagues say it was safe to share the idea with the company brass?

If you answered 'no' to all of these questions, then your organization is in danger of being irrelevant to innovation - and possibly a toxic place to work. If you answered 'yes' to one or two questions, then your organization has the potential for intrapreneurialism. If you answered 'yes' to three or four questions, then your organization enjoys an intrapreneurial culture; it's going places. If you answered 'yes' to five out of five, you may be deluding yourself ... or your organization really is an innovation lion.

A courageous manager would send an anonymous survey with these questions to all her staff and track the results over time. Otherwise she might lose all her company's best ideas - and so will we all.

About the Author(s)

Neil Seeman is a writer, and Director and Primary Investigator of the Health Strategy Innovation Cell at Massey College in the University of Toronto.

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