Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Foster intrapreneurship: Failure IS an option

Foster intrapreneurship

UPS AND DOWNS: Intrapreneurs succeed when employers
encourage risk-taking and allow mistakes
“Men succeed when they realize that their failures are the preparation for their victories.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Are your employees striving to succeed? Or are they working to avoid failure? Are they playing to win, or are they playing not to lose? Does a great coach encourage his team to “Go out there and not lose!”

Unfortunately, many companies become so focused on eliminating failure that they hinder the experimentation, invention, and innovation that leads to growth and success. They play to not lose and they don’t even know it.

An intrapreneurial culture drives greater innovation, creativity, and industry leadership. It unleashes an inner drive and determination that moves an organization forward. This is an inherently messy process. Dreams are articulated, problems surface, departments collaborate, debates and disagreements arise, ideas are generated, people experiment and failures happen. Yet from these failures come stronger teams, and a resilient organization that discovers better ways of doing things and learning from mistakes.

Here are six insightful ways you can foster intrapreneurship in your organization.

1. Train yourself to see and hear intrapreneurship. There are probably some intrapreneurs in your company right now. Do you know who they are? Do you know how to identify them?  Many employers don’t pay enough attention when great ideas are in front of them because they fear the unknown, are complacent with current processes, or they are just too busy to notice. As a result, they can miss opportunities to foster intrapreneurship. Instead, listen carefully for new ideas circulating in meetings, email threads, and around the water cooler. Poke your head into projects and see how employees are planning their approaches. Get to know your employees.  You’d be surprised at what they do outside of work. You are probably surrounded by artists, musicians, coaches, astronomers and all other kids of creative people. One of the most intense lawyers I worked with was a professional clown in his spare time! Train yourself to see the creative, driven intrapreneurial team members around you. 

2. Praise hard. When you see intrapreneurial activities, do not shut them down and do not take them over yourself. Praise and support them. Spread the word in organization-wide emails and company meetings about the cool new things the employees are doing. Make your support visible to your entire company, and put a stamp of approval on it. This shows other employees that they too can take the plunge and propose ideas, strategies, and recommendations in an open, welcoming, equal opportunity environment. When a new idea leads to a big win, openly praise the intrapreneurs responsible.

3. Hire employees with an entrepreneurial spirit. One of intrapreneurs’ most crucial traits is having an entrepreneurial spirit. But this spirit usually cannot be created. Successful intrapreneurs -- and likewise, entrepreneurs -- are typically born with the desire to invent, innovate, create, build, master, and conquer. Your hiring strategy should include an objective to find candidates that possess an entrepreneurial spirit; are internally motivated; and have other supportive qualities, such as resourcefulness, high energy, creativity, and critical thinking skills (there go those soft skills again, which we emphasize often!).

4. Solve problems, not symptoms. Many employees struggle to define what organizational problem they’re trying to solve, and often try to address symptoms rather than the larger issue at stake. This could be due to a lack of understanding about your company’s goals, budget, or a number of other factors. You should communicate with your employees regularly about the direction the company wants to go in, challenges it is facing, and how employees can help overcome them. Give them the big picture, and encourage employees to develop new strategies to achieve it.

5. Give permission to make mistakes. As I mentioned earlier, failure is an important part of driving innovation. Resist the urge to tightly control your team. Loosen your grip a bit and give your employees some room to ideate and innovate. Some of the most inventive and successful companies, including Google, allow their employees to spend 20 percent of their time on innovation. Let employees add innovation time into their schedules, and watch the effects. Don’t hide from the mistakes you make. Even if you don’t see your mistakes, I assure you that your employees do. Instead, face them and lead by example. If you beat yourself up over mistakes, then the team will expect the same treatment.

6. Celebrate the “no man.” There isn’t room for “yes men” in an intrapreneurial culture. Tell your employees to disagree with you. Have them show you the sides of an issue that you don’t see. Task them with developing better ways to understand and solve problems. Lean on them for support and guidance -- after all, isn’t that what you hired them for?

The other crucial aspect of driving intrapreneurship is geared toward employees. How can employees become intrapreneurs in their organizations? What can they do to take the reins and start an organizational transformation? Glad you asked, because I’ve shared five ways employees can become intrapreneurs in an article I contributed to Wired. Take a look, share it with your team, and keep both of these articles handy for a one-two punch to drive greater intrapreneurship in your organization.