Cultivate a Culture of Employee Intrapreneurship

Cultivate a Culture of Employee Intrapreneurship

Is your company creating a work culture open to innovation? Employees offer invaluable insight into an organization’s operations and are among the best resources for problem solving and modernization within your company. 

An employee intrapreneur works from within the organization, using experience and creativity to discover and transform ideas into a profitable venture or process. Intrapreneurs are risk takers and problem solvers. When we encourage and support employee-driven innovation, we open the door to new products, improved efficiency, and expanded markets. 

In December, Partners for Environmental Progress hosted an employee intrapreneurship seminar to explore ways companies can create a culture of innovation and share success stories from local leaders. 

Todd Greer, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Mobile encourages a collaborative approach to problem solving and innovation. “Encourage the Medici Effect” he said, by giving people a space to connect and creating cross-disciplinary teams to rapidly combine insights and ideas, to create surprising and unique breakthroughs. He suggests one path to new ideas is to play Devil’s Advocate. Poke holes in your business model to keep from failing. Build a team to cannibalize your business model to design a better future for your organization. 

Progress also requires us to break out of what Scott Bishop from Alabama Power’s Technology Applications Center considers the age-old problem of “we’ve always done it that way”. Innovation involves some element of risk. Greer suggests mitigating risk by testing “little bets”. Don’t go all in on an idea, instead test new strategies and products incrementally.

Another pathway to innovative success is to make time for problem solving and advancement. Greer suggests adopting Google’s 20% rule, in which the company allowed staff one day a week to creatively impact something outside of their job area. 

Andrew Bissot, Director of Maintenance, Outokumpu Stainless America, LLC, suggests prioritization can go a long way toward innovation. Outokumpu has developed a system for categorizing problems into seven “buckets”, which allows for proper identification of training requirements, resources, and tools to apply to solving the problems. By prioritizing and managing personnel, tools, and resources, the organization can effectively transition problems into the solutions.  

Sometimes innovation comes from problem solving, other times it is driven by opportunity. Eric Jackson, Professional Engineer/VP at Rowe Engineering, and co-worker Zeke Hudson identified an opportunity to increase the services Rowe Engineering offers. They developed an aerial mapping service for clients using drones for efficient and effective data gathering. 

When developing new ideas, Jackson says it is important to do your research. Know your technology and the limitations you will face, whether technological or regulatory. Complete a risk assessment and prepare for unknowns. 

Don Bates, Senior Vice President at Thompson Engineering and inventor of the Litter Gitter, a mechanism for eradicating litter from small-stream  waterways, encourages intrapreneurs to treat ideas as a business as soon as possible. Employee intrapreneurship can often lead to profitable new business ventures. 

This brings up the issue of intellectual property. Who “owns” the new idea? J. Cole Davis, Esq., with the law firm Hand Arendall Harrison Sale, LLC encourages organizations to formalize the process up front. Address the big questions of patents and intellectual property at the beginning  to avoid conflicts down the road. And in the event that employee intrapreneurship leads to development of a new business, he advises considering implementing a non-compete for a company’s most valued employees.

Rewarding innovation can go a long way toward both encouraging creativity and maintaining a cohesive team. Offering employees a percentage of revenue, setting up on-line submissions for new ideas, and celebrating accomplishments through recognition awards are a few of the ways companies can encourage employees to explore new ideas. How does your company cultivate a culture of employee intrapreneurship? Tell us your story:

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