By Andreia Vitória – Palavra de Especialista
The term intrapreneurship has been gaining increasing notoriety and relevance as a result of organizations’ need to maintain their competitive advantage in an increasingly turbulent and challenging environment. The concept of the intrapreneurial employee, that is, an internal entrepreneur, has fueled organizations’ interest in this type of profile. A study by Michael Page, about the most sought-after skills in 2020, points to intrapreneurship as being one of the most desired.
But what does it mean, after all, to be an intrapreneur?
Intrapreneurs are often defined as the “dreamers who make it happen,” that is, as those who, in addition to being creative, take responsibility for creating/operating innovation within organizations, for transforming an idea into a new product or service. We speak, therefore, of intrinsically motivated, responsible, problem-solving oriented individuals who seek innovative solutions, not restricted to the traditional limits of their functional description. We are also referring to those employees who have a holistic view of the organization and the environment in which it operates, and who are therefore able to take calculated risks in implementing change. They are also persevering and resilient, which enables them to overcome the obstacles and hardships of the process. And not least, they are proficient at working in multidisciplinary teams, as they have keen diplomacy and remarkable interpersonal skills.
Organizations see in intrapreneurs a window of opportunity to become more agile, more flexible and more efficient, to reduce costs or to increase their profitability. Thus, they have tried to act on two major fronts: developing the intrapreneurial skills of their employees and recruiting more intrapreneurial employees.
Alphabet is thought to be continuing to implement a program that was inherited from Google, the “20-percent time” program, whose genesis involves encouraging employees to use at least 20 percent of their work time to explore ideas or to work on projects that they think will benefit the company. However, while trying to turn existing employees into intrapreneurs seems like an extraordinary goal, this idea is incomparably easier to verbalize than to put into practice. Note that, besides the fact that not all employees respond in the same way to the same stimuli, there are a number of barriers, both individual and organizational, that can compromise the process.
As such, organizations have also turned to recruitment. But recruiting intrapreneurs poses challenges to traditional recruitment and selection processes. It forces organizations to rethink how they will attract their potential candidates, and to rethink selection methods as “universal” as interviews. Moreover, it also implies that these individuals are hired under a differentiated vision, projecting higher expectations to them, namely in what concerns their job description. This description (regardless of the specific position) should include activities such as: taking on and solving important problems; improving the customer experience wherever possible; proposing new product/service ideas based on customer feedback; finding ways to reduce costs and streamline processes; etc. When an organization hires an employee aiming to be an intrapreneur, it must make this clear, ab initio, so that the individual never thinks – “I wasn’t hired to do this!”. In addition, a proper reward system, individual development plans, and well-defined career opportunities are essential. While these incentives are especially relevant for hiring intrapreneurs, they should be extended to all employees, as they foster motivation, increase performance, and reduce intentions to leave.
But let’s be aware that these efforts, to develop and hire intrapreneurs, will be in vain if there is no appropriate framework within the organization. While there are multiple ways to operationalize a culture that nurtures innovation, organizations must be able to create a framework that institutionalizes it and allows for the development of innovation professionals, offering them an “innovation career” and not just “innovation jobs.” In addition, the organization must be willing to invest the resources necessary for innovation by also creating an inclusive structure, with interfaces between different departments/sectors in the organization. Innovation cannot be a division apart from the rest of the organization, otherwise its success will tend to be more limited.
But for all this to be possible, it is indispensable that a psychologically safe environment exists, that is, a context that promotes a sense of freedom among employees to share their mistakes and failures, to contribute ideas and suggestions, to manifest their true selves, without fear that this will have adverse consequences for their image, career, or status.
Andreia Vitória is an Invited Assistant Professor at the University of Aveiro. She is also a member of the research unit in Governance, Competitiveness and Public Policy (GOVCOPP), at the University of Aveiro. Her research involves Human Resource Management, Organizational Behavior and Leadership.
 Google’s parent company