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When Should Your Employees Be Innovators and Intrapreneurs?

November 19, 2012 15inno 5 Comments

I really look forward to participating and giving a talk at the Intrapreneurship conference in Paris on December 13. As part of my preparation the organizers have asked me a couple of questions that I will look into in the coming week. The first question went like this:

When do you let your employees embrace entrepreneurial behaviors and initiative?

My view on this often stirs some controversy because I don’t think you should let all employees work with innovation – at the same time. A large majority needs to just focus on their job and keep the big corporate engine running. They might do some incremental innovation, but otherwise they should just do their job.

Some might argue that innovation should be part of everyone’s job and that is of course a very good argument. However, if you let everyone innovate at the same time things will get messy and you are at risk at damaging the engine that over time allows you to invest in innovation.

On the other hand, I strongly believe that every employee should be given the opportuntity to work with innovation even at a certain radical level through a variety of initiatives setup by your innovation leaders. This could be idea generating campaigns, internal business plan competitions and innovation camps.

Such initiatives not only identify great ideas within – or outside – your organization. They can also help you identify people who have natural capabilities for making innovation happen. Some are just better than others and you need to identify and develop these people even further. Doing all of this will help you build a strong innovation culture.

As a closing comment on innovation culture, I would like to remind people that a corporate culture is almost carved in stone during the early years of the company and it takes disruptive events to change it significantly. Thus, it is quite dangerous to be inspired by things like Google’s 20% project in which employees can work on their own projects for 20% of the time.

This worked at Google in the early years (not even sure it works anymore at Google), but it will be very difficult to implement this concept in a culture that is not used to this. The mindset and processes needed to support this are simply not in place.

Most companies need to develop this mindset and create the processes almost from the ground up and as they do so, I advice them to pay more attention to intrapreneurship. The term and concept is new to many corporate innovators, but I believe this is about to change. More companies will embrace intrapreneurship and we will soon read great cases and attend conferences – like the one in Paris – on this topic.

On my end, I can promise you more posts on intrapreneurship and you are welcome to suggest topics or issues that I should look into on this.

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Currently there are "5 comments" on this Article:

  1. Ken Malone says:

    I share your view, but also, perhaps important to consider that not all people are created equal for innovation http://itcouldbedifferent.blogspot.com/2011/08/bu

    • I fully agree that not all people are created equal for innovation. This is a key reason that not everyone should work with innovation per se. You need to bring out the individual talent and you also need to do this at the right time (when the organization is ready to absorb this).

  2. While cultural norms like the 20% may be difficult to implement in established organizations, it's more possible than your language seems to suggest. As Dan Pink notes, a # of groups are experimenting with similar intentions, but in more limited formats like Atlassian's FedEx Day. We need to be encouraging more rorups to try and adapt the spirit of the Google approach, not speaking discouragingly because few could ever wholesale adopt it.

  3. sgl sgl says:

    In our circles, it is a social code to speak about innovation, just as dressing casual on friday or ….
    I know a lot of people who disguize in Business Angels but are unable either to analyze a problem or understand a new solution and cannot sustain even 20 minutes of brainstorming.

    In the rank and files of a big company, my number is that more than 80% cannot think about innovating. But all terrians (earthians) can be asked about what is not ok in their job and whether they have an idea to solve some problems they cope with every day.

    It is enough. The problem, nearly every where, is that those who can really solve the problems are not informed about them and instead focus on "new" ideas and phantasms.

    Both incremental and disruptive innovations are hidden behind problems either inside the company or with their products in the hands of sellers and users.

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