May 26th, 2018

Business Beat: Time to focus inward

By Medicine Hat News on May 2, 2018.

What image does the word “entrepreneur” generate in your mind?

If I close my eyes and let my thoughts roam I see an individual striving to launch a business. They’re busy. Driven. Resourceful. Perhaps with an independent streak and an ability to accept and manage financial risk as they pursue an opportunity.

I’d guess there’s a reasonable chance that most people get that kind of image when they think “entrepreneur.” In my thinking, the image is flattering and the results these people achieve are rewarding.

What that stereotype omits, however, is an entire range of innovative thinkers and doers that are critical to almost any organization.

How about a welder in a production environment who sees a better way to do the job? A mid-manager in a large corporation with an idea to increase the bottom line? A new hire bursting with enthusiasm and free of the constraints created by corporate culture?

All of these people could be described as “intrapreneurs.”

These are people who work for somebody else, and may not be at the pinnacle of their organizational chart. But the innovations intrapreneurs bring to products, services, and processes have the potential to be as impactful as the creations of their entrepreneurial cousins.

A quick look online will reveal many definitions, and interestingly enough, risk-taking is often part of the profile. Intrapreneurs are described as people who take responsibility for creation an innovation through risking taking and assertive leadership. Another source says they lead initiatives to improve organizations without being asked to do so.

The intrapreneurship concept can apply to just about anybody who, during a day at work, mentally shrugs and thinks, “There has to be a better way to do this.” Those who act on that thought have much to offer their employers.

On the flip side, they also face a fair bit of risk as they seek ways to bring their ideas and innovations to light. The best quip I’ve heard came from a professor teaching a course on strategy design. “Culture eats strategy for lunch,” the man said. I take his meaning to be that even the best ideas will fail if the organization around them isn’t prepared to adapt.

The implication is that the inner workings of businesses and organizations are complex and sometimes difficult to navigate. Often, the same mechanisms intended to manage risk in a healthy way inadvertently disable innovation before it begins.

Intrapreneurship presents leaders and employees opportunities and challenges. Yes, today’s work load must be managed. But the approach must also enable and accept possibilities that support the bottom line and lead to growth.

I’m willing to bet that many businesses have the opportunity to achieve more by taking the time to listen to employees, and enable innovation. Try it today.

Mark Keller is director of college advancement at Medicine Hat College.

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