Unleashing Intrapreneurship: Key Insights from Our Masterclass Introduction
Most organizations say they want their employees to innovate. In today’s rapidly changing business environment, the need for transformative ideas is critical. However, many organizations still struggle to foster a culture that supports innovation.
Employee innovators (called intrapreneurs) face common barriers that hinder their ability to drive innovation from within. These barriers include cultural constraints, lack of resources, short-term thinking, bureaucratic structures, and more.
To thrive in a competitive market, organizations must find ways to overcome these obstacles and tap into the potential of their employees as intrapreneurs.
Most innovations come from employees, not entrepreneurs
There’s a common misconception that groundbreaking innovations only come from young, male entrepreneurs who dropped out of college or quit their jobs to found tech companies and transform the world. During our live “Unleashing Intrapreneurship” masterclass introduction, Kaihan Krippendorff, founder of Outthinker Networks and author of the bestseller, Driving Innovation From Within, challenged this commonly held narrative.
His research explored society’s most transformative innovations of the past 30 years—inventions like the internet, ecommerce, mobile phones, and DNA sequencing—and concluded that 70 percent originated from employees, not entrepreneurs. This highlights the huge potential for innovation within established organizations.
"There is a 70% chance that the next transformative innovation is going to come from an employee, not from an entrepreneur.'"
Organizations with high intrapreneurial intensity outperform
Encouraging intrapreneurship is not only a benefit for employees. New Outthinker Networks research proves that organizations with high levels of intrapreneurial intensity show higher success rates in attracting and retaining top talent and improving overall financial performance.
We found four characteristics of successful intrapreneurial organizations:
1. They treat employees like intrapreneurs: Empowering employees to think and act like entrepreneurs within the organization.
2. They break down hierarchies into small, agile teams: Turning business units into microenterprises that can adapt quickly to changing market dynamics.
3. They foster autonomy through decentralized marketplaces: Allowing smaller teams to compete and collaborate within the organization.
4. They offer flexibility in shared services utilization: Enabling teams to choose between internal shared services (IT department, HR, marketing, etc.) or external providers.
Overcoming Common Barriers to Intrapreneurship
Intrapreneurs share many common struggles: Not enough time and resources, short-term thinking from the organization, sluggish or legacy culture, bureaucracy, competing priorities, metrics that don’t encourage innovation, siloed structures, etc. We hear about these often from Outthinker Intrapreneurs Network members.
To make it easy to remember, we’ve categorized these barriers into the INOVATE model. Based on conversations with successful intrapreneurs, we’ve included some practical recommendations and frameworks for overcoming each one:
- Intent: Cultural barriers and limiting beliefs prevent intrapreneurs from even seeing opportunities. Intrapreneurs should surround themselves with other intrapreneurs to share tools, techniques, and success stories, and to have a safe place to share ideas that aren’t yet fully vetted.
- Need: Intrapreneurs often don’t understand what their company needs. The seeds of successful innovations are planted when three conditions overlap: a market for the innovation, the intrapreneur’s passion, and the organization’s capabilities.
“When you’re an intrapreneur, your company is your customer.”
- Options: Successful intrapreneurs don’t just come up with one idea; they have a steady flow of (usually hundreds) options to test.
- Value Blockers: These are the business model conflicts that intrapreneurial ideas run up against inside the company. Adapting your innovation’s business model design to be more adjacent to the core business model can radically reduce failure rates.
“When we can do little things to reengineer the business model so that it is less alien to our existing business model, we can dramatically improve our chances of success.”
- Act: Organizations stifle intrapreneurship when they ask employees to prove there’s a market for an idea that doesn’t exist yet. Try Michael Schrage’s 5x5x5 experiment—Give 5 people $5000 and 5 weeks to test an idea.
- Team: It’s not enough for you to think your idea is good. Intrapreneurs need to collaborate across silos. The first stage for most successful intrapreneurs is to create a groundswell of support.
- Environment: Successful intrapreneurs embrace the political challenges. To more cleverly navigate your environment, ask: What is your next barrier right now? What would happen if you removed it?
Unleashing intrapreneurship within your organization is not just a buzzword; it’s a strategic imperative for staying competitive in today’s business landscape. Recognizing that innovation can come from employees, adopting intrapreneurial characteristics, and systematically addressing common barriers will empower your organization to drive innovation from within, retain top talent, and improve your chances of long-term success.