Innovators May Already be Working for You
Silver,Vice President of Programs and Marketing, The Cable
get all the press when talking about innovation. But the
unsung heroes of innovation in business today are those
driving change within their organizations. These
are the intrapreneurs people within a corporation
who turn an idea into a profitable venture through risk-taking
and innovation. The term intrapreneurship has been around
for years, but most organizations give little thought to
identifying (and cultivating) intrapreneurs inside their
All business leaders understand that new
ideas keep businesses relevant and competitive. But just
as critical to an organizations success is retaining
and engaging high performers. Giving your high performers
the latitude to drive change and act as intrapreneurs keeps
them engaged in their roles, making them 87% less likely
to leave your company*.
The good news is that intrapreneurs are
already scattered throughout your organization its
just a matter of finding and engaging them. So, how can
you identify potential intrapreneurs in your organization?
Look for the following five traits:
1. Independent thinkers are those
who question the status quo and rely on experience, trial
and error and research to think through problems and make
decisions. Since they tend to question everything, individuals
who exhibit these characteristics can sometimes be perceived
as not being team players. But this tendency to question
everything is what also makes them the best intrapreneurs.
If independent thinkers are given the permission and the
right tools, they will focus their energy on innovating
instead of detracting.
2. Healthy risk-takers, or people
who comfortably make decisions and move forward with incomplete,
ambiguous or even imperfect data are essential to intrapreneurship.
In the world of innovation, there are usually more assumptions
than facts, and rarely is the data complete. The most effective
and successful intrapreneurs are able to integrate minimal
data with their knowledge and experience and feel confident
enough to keep going.
Good collaborators are those who collaborate well
and know how to work through different ideas, problems and
solutions with others. The best ideas arise through interactions
and relationships with colleagues. When we think about innovation,
we often romanticize it and imagine a lone genius experiencing
divine inspiration - a lightbulb moment that suddenly
sparks innovation. While initial, broad ideas may start
out this way, moving a nascent idea from problem to solution
to implementation requires input from a variety of experts
with many iterations and changes along the way. In reality,
innovation is a team sport. Good collaborators make the
4. Change drivers, or those who
can transform the big picture into actionable bite-sized
pieces and then engage the necessary resources to achieve
their goals. But change is hard in part because large
organizations have embedded certain processes and ways of
doing business, and in part because human nature tends to
resist change and favor habit. Intrapreneurs need to possess
the courage of their convictions and the disposition to
swim against the current. Effective intrapreneurs need to
be the catalyst for change.
5. Lifelong learners are people
who view life as a journey of learning and who rely on experiences,
information and mentorship from others. Since innovation
involves creating something different, true innovators possess
curiosity and a thirst for knowledge. These are the renaissance
men and women among you. They stay current on new learnings
in their field and beyond and connect the dots from all
aspects of their life to solve problems in unique ways.
Identifying these up-and-comers is just
the first step. Intrapreneurs thrive within a culture of
innovation. What does this culture of innovation look like?
First, leaders need to actively encourage and support creative
thinking from their people. They need to acknowledge that
great ideas can come from anywhere. In practical terms,
organizations need to reward risk-taking, invest in learning
and, most importantly, accept that failure is just a stepping-stone
Second, leadership needs to treat innovation
seriously, giving it resources and support like other business
priorities more than just the occasional hack-a-thon
or Shark Tank-like pitch competition. Driving innovation
in organizations comes down to resource allocation.
organizations need to set realistic expectations around
innovation. The vast majority of innovations arent
breakthrough but are instead incremental or core innovations.
Best practice indicates that 70% of innovation dollars should
be spent on core innovation**. This may not be as sexy as
inventing the next iPhone, but these smaller innovations
keep the core business moving forward and prepare the next
generation of innovators to lead.
And finally, intrapreneurs need to be
given the tools to succeed. This may include training on
how to effectively innovate within an organization. Subject
matter experts may know everything about their area of expertise,
but not how to create a business case that speaks to their
leadership. Intrapreneurs also need the time and space to
work on their ideas, whether its a formal initiative
that designates a percentage of work time to innovation
or just informal support that allows for flexibility to
explore new ideas.
Whether an intrapreneur is streamlining
a process, looking to cut costs, creating an app, opening
a new market or figuring out a new source of revenue, investing
in them and providing an environment where they can succeed
is critical to ensuring that an organization meets its strategic
goals. In order to keep organizations at their competitive
best, it should be the mission of professional people developers
to identify, train and enable the hidden intrapreneurs within
Who are tomorrows best innovators?
They may already be working for you.
*Inc. Magazine, What You Risk by Forgetting
Employee Engagement, by Elizabeth Kiehner
**HBR, Managing Your Innovation Portfolio,
by Bansi Nagji and Geoff Tuff
Janice Silver is the Vice President of
Programs and Marketing and Director of Intrapreneurship
Academy (IA) at The Cable Center. IA classes are held throughout
the year. For more information and to register, visit www.intrapreneurshipacademy.org.
The Cable Center is an educational nonprofit organization
serving the broadband, media and telecommunications industry.
With a focus on intrapreneurship, The Cable Centers
mission is to connect people and ideas to advance innovation.