How small businesses can benefit from “Intrapreneurship"

To say we live in a disrupted business world is an understatement.

Across a wide range of industries, new competitors are undermining traditional business models.

Think UberAirbnb, and PayPal to name a few.

Older, established companies, both large and small, not only need to adapt to new ways of doing business, they need to transform themselves to survive and thrive.

Businesses are learning how to anticipate change by disrupting themselves, argues Jack Delosa, founder of The Entourage, Australia’s largest education institution for entrepreneurs.

Having claimed a spot on the BRW Young Rich List since 2014, Delosa is an Australian entrepreneur who lives by innovation, writing best-selling books and founding startup incubator funds.

“Many businesses aren’t as indestructible as they used to be,” Delosa says.

And formerly untouchable industries that remain undisrupted are nervous – and rightly so.

“More traditional, older-style businesses are trying to replicate the behaviours of disruptive startups,” he says.

“Now the only way to grow an organisation is to innovate.”

Enter the intrapreneur.

It’s a relatively new term, and it encapsulates the idea of a creative, highly-engaged employee who isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo.

“An intrapreneur is an individual who takes ownership over their own role, and is proactive in seeking innovative solutions to organisational challenges and opportunities,” Delosa explains.

With the speed of change and technology putting constant pressure on companies, the idea of promoting innovative attitudes amongst staff has become a necessary element in business.

And the ROI?

“The benefits of innovation and encouraging employees to be intrapreneurs are unlimited,” Delosa says.

Done well, internally-led innovation will grow the company, enhance productivity and increase profitability.

Done poorly – or not at all – and “organisations face the possibility of being disrupted by a newcomer into the market”.

But to create a team of problem-solving, trail-blazing intrapreneurs, Delosa argues innovation needs to not simply be approved – but led – from the top down.

If owners and managers don’t count internal innovation as legitimately important, “then it probably won’t happen”.

The culture of innovation needs to pervade an entire company.

“It’s really hard for good ideas to flourish in environments where they’re not encouraged and well-received,” Delosa says.


Employees sharing innovative ideas

Five steps to fostering intrapreneurial thinking among your team

Driving innovation and creative problem solving amongst staff takes time and deliberate effort.

The first thing, says Delosa, is making sure “it’s encouraged verbally throughout the organisation.”

Practically speaking, here’s how to get started:

1. Give staff the time to flex some creative muscle.

Think Google’s Innovation Time Off or “20 per cent time” when engineers could spend 20 per cent of their time on personal projects.

2. Don’t punish mistakes.

Allow employees to try new things and fail without consequences, to create a climate of creativity.

3. Empower employees.

That means ditching the bottleneck.

If everything an employee can do has to be approved by higher-ups, innovation and initiative will falter.

4. Cultivate strong interpersonal relationships among employees.

A closer team will be more collaborative and more likely to feel comfortable with out-of-the-box thinking.

5. Make sure everyone is on board.

Ultimately, intrapreneurship and employee innovation will only be successful if it’s championed at every level of an organisation, and driven unreservedly from the top down.