The Most Important Job That’s Not On Your Staff Page
The people who enhance your company from the inside out are your ever-valuable intrapreneurs. Here’s how you can support them.
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If high employee turnover is an issue at your company, it can seem like talented employees are destined for one of two roles--entrepreneur or executive. Future entrepreneurs are brave self-starters who are willing to take risks, but who ultimately leave the safety of their jobs to make it on their own. Future executives are influencers who lead successful teams, but who may seek new opportunities if management roles are scarce. Some employees are simply ready to make a change. If you spend significant time and resources trying to retain people who aren't content to sit still, you could alienate high-performers who aren't interested in, or aren't ready for, the risks and responsibilities of high-level leadership. Far from uninspired or unambitious, the people who can enhance your company from the inside out are your ever-valuable intrapreneurs.
An intrapreneur is a person who identifies problems and opportunities within a company and spearheads solutions that benefit the business. Maybe there's a market for your product that hasn't been tapped yet. Maybe the company desperately needs a new system for sharing information, and someone already has the skills to build it. Employees who are passionate about an idea don't have to be "senior management" to take the lead on it. They just have to be able to present their ideas well and get your team on board. Here's how to spot the intrapreneurs in your company and help them succeed.
See the Big Picture
Intrapreneurs, much like executives, keep a bird's-eye perspective on what's working and what's needed in a company. The difference is that, where you may need to divide your attention among the needs of five, ten, or fifteen departments, an intrapreneur has the ability to focus on improvements for their particular area of the business.
Encourage team members at every level to make a habit of writing down the challenges they face in their positions or the opportunities they notice, along with a solution. Create a framework that your employees can use to develop their ideas, starting with a pro/con list. Ask them to consider which department would need to contribute the most work and to estimate how much the project could cost in time and resources. If you provide guidelines for what you want to know about a project up front, employees can present ideas with confidence knowing they've done their homework.
Keep Purpose, Not Perfection, At the Forefront
Ideas don't need to be flawless to be valuable. If every entrepreneur embarked on a venture with 100 percent certainty that it would work out, it wouldn't be entrepreneurship. The point of exploring a new idea is to find pitfalls or opportunities the employee possibly hasn't seen and to determine if the idea has enough potential to move forward.
Approach your employee's ideas with a realistic head, but don't let them become discouraged by difficult questions or concerns. If more research is needed, task them to find the new information and report back in a timely manner. If the idea is a no-go for financial or logistic reasons, encourage them to come up with another solution to fix the same problem. Even if an idea doesn't pan out under deeper scrutiny, take note of employees who take initiative. Find ways to reward your self-starters with recognition and, if appropriate, a raise.
Bring In the Team
Once you've given an idea the green light for further exploration, make sure that you help your employee involve all of the teams who will be affected by the change. In our company, we have yearly innovation meetings where each department comes up with a few ideas, then upper management determines what's necessary and easy to implement, what intriguing possibilities need more research, and what simply isn't feasible. Team members at every level spearhead approved projects that they suggested, and managers make sure that each idea is explored fully and/or implemented. If your company doesn't have a process for innovation, make this the year that you hold your first innovation meeting. You'll be surprised and delighted by what your team brings to the table.
Companies that foster an environment of intrapreneurship thrive because people are invested in their work. When your employees understand the impact they can have on the business and feel supported in their endeavors, you'll see new opportunities flourish and pervasive issues resolve themselves in the hands of your loyal team members.