April 26, 2021

Different organizations interpret and implement their intrapreneurial initiatives differently. 

At one end of the spectrum are organizations that look at an intrapreneur as an employee who is assigned the responsibility of leading an innovative initiative or developing a new line of business. And at the other end are those that set up venture funds that invest in chosen employee ideas, thus allowing employees to pursue something they are passionate about. These employees then work on developing ‘their’ idea into a new product or business that has an independent existence of its own outside the organization. Between these two extremes is a continuum of possibilities that allow an employee to run ’company initiatives’ or ‘individual ideas’ with varying degrees of autonomy.  

The Quasi-Intrapreneur

At one end of the spectrum, the intrapreneur is like any other employee in the organization, with goals and responsibilities defined by the hierarchy that he or she reports to. Let us call this left-most end the ’quasi-intrapreneurial’ end. For all practical purposes, there is hardly any element of entrepreneurship here, and attributing any sort of intrapreneurial or entrepreneurial connotation to such a role would strictly be incorrect. Since the employee continues to draw a salary from the organization, there is no element of personal risk involved (although there is a professional risk of impact on career and reputation in case of failure). Accordingly, at this end, the rewards tend to remain within the organization’s defined mechanisms of increments, promotions, discretionary bonuses, commissions, and so on, and additional non-monetary awards and recognition.

The True Entrepreneur

The other end of the spectrum is where intrapreneurs become entrepreneurs, where, for all practical purposes, the relation transforms from being one between an employee and an employer to one between a startup founder and an investor. Let us call this extreme right end the ’entrepreneurial’ end where the boundaries between intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship have blurred to the extent of becoming one. This is an attractive proposition for those with a real entrepreneurial zeal - those who are passionate about their idea and would eventually take the leap of faith (with or without organizational support) from being an employee to becoming an entrepreneur. What it provides an organization is an opportunity to make this transition smoother for the employee, and in return get seed funding opportunities to enter new areas of business at low cost. Additional benefits for the organization include, a continued relationship with a valued employee and a great culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. The strings attached and the cushions provided could vary from one organization to another.

The Spectrum

Between these two ends of the spectrum lie various shades of real intrapreneurship. Moving from left to right, this is characterized by a gradual:

  • shift from organizational, top-down ideas to employee-initiated, bottom-up ideas
  • increase in the autonomy provided to the intrapreneur in defining the roadmap and running the program
  • transition of the organization from a position of dictating to a position of advising and enabling
  • increase in the relevance and importance of the person’s entrepreneurial traits such as passion and vision, self-belief, determination, and decisiveness
  • transition from hierarchical reporting and appraisals to periodic progress reviews by the equivalent of investors representing the organization
  • relaxation of organizational processes and constraints, with a corresponding focus on managing risks
  • transition from working in corporate culture to working in a start-up culture
  • transition from low risk-low rewards to higher risks, higher rewards both for the intrapreneur as well as for the organization

For any organization, where it aspires to be on this continuum, is a strategic call that it needs to take. Reaching this aspired destination could either be a one-step transition or a gradual transition from left to right, enabled by the right policies, structures, and processes.

So where are you on the continuum? And where do you want to be?

Intrapreneurs are like Entrepreneurs.  Or are they?

Most definitions of intrapreneurs and intrapreneurship end up with a reference to how similar they are to entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship, and how they are not. How alike then are these personalities?

Are the motivations and drivers of an intrapreneur the same as the motivations of an entrepreneur? Are all the traits that are desirable in an entrepreneur, equally desirable in intrapreneur? How should an organization manage its intrapreneurs? Can, and more importantly, should, intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs be measured by the same yardstick? There a myriad questions (and fodder for future blog posts) and as always, the answer to all these isn’t entirely objective. It depends on which shade of intrapreneurship one is looking at.

Vidyut Navelkar is Principal Innovation Evangelist, and heads Incubation Governance & Operations at TCS.  In his career spanning over 30 years, he has played multiple roles in the Innovation, Learning & Development and Software Development areas, where he has been responsible for leading a variety of functions, programs, initiatives and projects. He has also been an active participant in various industry and academic forums.  A Senior Member of IEEE and Life Member of Computer Society of India, Vidyut holds an M.S. in Computer Science and an M.S. in Industrial & Management Systems Engineering, both from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.