Leveraging Innovation Through Intrapreneurship

Leveraging Innovation Through Intrapreneurship

A growing number of companies are leveraging innovation in an effort to withstand the tough economic times, reports the 2009 Global Innovation Trends Study, conducted by global innovation management consulting firm PRTM. As a result, intrapreneurship (a term first coined by business consultant and author Gifford Pinchot in 1978), the practice of an employee creating valuable innovation with a new product or service within their established company, is beneficial not only to the company, but creates an ownership opportunity for the employee who has through industrial efforts made themselves an invaluable member of the corporate team.

“Capitalizing on entrepreneurial talent with an intrapreneurial program is quickly replacing the traditional R&D unit and coming to serve as the most apt approach to generating profits during this recession,” says Victoria C. DePaul, innovation expert and author of Creating the Intrapreneur: The Search for Leadership Excellence (Synergy Books, $15.95).

Corporations are employing an intrapreneurial business model as an efficient response to a myriad of current economic realities that include having to generate a constant pipeline of new products and services, master an accelerated pace to market, navigate a barrage of disruptive technologies, weather the extreme financial volatility of tight margins and ongoing disinflation and combat the “brain drain” of a creative workforce, she explains.

While human resources veteran and board member of the Society of Human Resources Management Steven Jarrett agrees that intrapreneurship is efficient, he warns that implementation will be challenging. Jarrett predicts that cultivating an intrapreneurial work culture will require many employers to overhaul their management philosophies and corporate paradigms to promote greater employee engagement, decision-making autonomy and project ownership at all levels.

“No doubt, this strategy will have the most impact on corporate professionals,” says Ed Flowers, executive vice president and managing director with Chicago-based DHR International, a global retained executive search firm. High-performing employees who have been climbing the corporate ladder by solely mastering an isolated set of job responsibilities will now need to broaden their expertise and efforts to continue achieving that same level of career success as intrapreneurs, Flowers says. In addition to fulfilling core responsibilities, intrapreneurs will possess a thorough understanding of the overall business, a diversified professional skill set that includes market analysis, project management and fiscal oversight and substantial interest in the industry in order to develop profitable innovations.

“Despite the challenges, these developments could result in tremendous advancement opportunities for astute minorities in the corporate ranks,” says Keith Wyche, executive career coach and author of Good is Not Enough: And Other Unwritten Rules for Minority Professionals (Portfolio Hardcover, $24.95). He suggests this burgeoning push for ideas from across an enterprise can afford otherwise marginalized minority professionals with a chance to contribute, lead and advance. “Intrapreneurship can provide them with the added exposure they need to get ahead.”

Experts offer the following tips for those willing to take the challenge:

Present a solid business case. “Anyone can have a good idea. Being intrapreneurial requires that you reckon that idea with good business sense,” explains DePaul. Perform due diligence. Weigh the pros and cons. Conduct a profit and cost analysis. Articulate the benefits of a particular new product or service.