The rise of the Intrapreneur
Updated: Jul 26
For those that know me well, understand just how passionate I am about the art and science of entrepreneurship. Whether through my daily work or my life as a Freeman Entrepreneur at the City of London’s aspiring Livery Company, the Company of Entrepreneurs, I have come to learn that there is an identifiable entrepreneur’s mindset that really defines those set to succeed in their own enterprises and those that are on a different path of success within a more traditional career path.
Defining this mindset would be a whole series of blogs to themselves but encapsulating it, within our Entrepreneurs’ Company where we define it as
“having identified new market opportunities, sourced and organised the required people and resources, and experienced both the risks and rewards associated with such ventures”.
It's experiencing these risks that really define the true entrepreneur. Having the courage of conviction to fully risk everything with the sole aim of delivering an organisation that accords with the purpose, mission and vision one sets out with, but in a disciplined manner, understanding the risks and rewards is the true definer.
Along my own journey of entrepreneurship I have increasingly mentored other founders, helping them hone their skills and develop the disciplines required. More latterly this has seen me transfer those skills, helping those within larger organisations, in one case a global conglomerate developing this mindset for their people, helping them create their own creative mindset to become an employed intrapreneur. I have found this a fabulous experience and equally inspiring for me as it is hopefully for them.
The Post Pandemic World
As we emerge from the global pandemic and all the business dislocation we experienced I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that there is no business nor leader within it who has not been changed in some way. Looking beyond the headwinds of challenges that we all faced in 2020, a vast majority now realise this dislocation has actually created significant tailwinds of opportunities. Perhaps taking the first lesson of entrepreneurship where people have found opportunities to work on their businesses rather than in it. This is where intrapreneurship has come to the fore.
Playing to another entrepreneurial mindset, organisations have become much more focused upon the big ideas that need to drive their business, the so-called mission and vision that creates more defined purpose and a desire to draw out points of differentiation to create distinction and values. Something hugely important when trading in a sector such as insurance or broader financial services where trust and trustworthiness are paramount.
What I quickly learned about entrepreneurship versus intrapreneurship is to really appreciate the subtle but seismic difference between being motivated to do something good and being entirely committed to it. An adage describes this in the context of a full English breakfast, where a chicken is motivated to lay the best egg, whereas the pig is fully committed to provide the best bacon! Correlate that and an entrepreneur is fully committed to his or her cause with no immediate safety net or back up plan, whereas the intrapreneur may only be as motivated as they feel they need to be, knowing as they do that behind this they have their usual day job. So what I’ve become focused upon is how to lead an intrapreneur to be driven by the real commitment required rather than just being motivated to give it a go. A culture that I equally drive into the business as they run the projects. Getting this right is both an outset table stake but also the thing that will drive real creativity and a desire to get to the best possible outcome.
In these next sections therefore I want to share just some of my own experience and what I have taken from my entrepreneurial experiences that I take into those I help drive better intrapreneurial results?
How can I tell if my business has what it takes?
Innovation - This is a cultural mindset that is never transactional. Large organisations think that they can simply create a “division” and somehow an existing employee or hired in role from another organisation will make the magic happen. They won’t. The innovation culture has to be led from the top down within an organisation; a desire to embrace change, a desire to experiment, courage to know that there will be a new fail-fast culture within the organisation, demonstrate a culture with an appropriate safety blanket accepting mistakes will be tolerated, but above all have a total understanding that this needs to be fully invested in and not seen as anything other than the top down culture described. It needs to live at the DNA level within the organisation.
Why the essence of my business is so important
Purpose - true innovation and an entrepreneurial mindset is about leading with the philosophical drive to create true purpose. It’s then all about the strategy to achieve long before any of the operational or transactional elements. Translate this in your business and you create something that properly aligns to the corporate culture, has a clear destination and then operational resilience to grow into something of worth.
This is where Simon Sinek begins with his excellent book Start with Why.
In his words: In 2009, Simon Sinek started a movement to help people become more inspired at work, and in turn inspire their colleagues and customers. Since then, millions have been touched by the power of his ideas, including more than 28 million who’ve watched his TED Talk based on Start With Why—the third most popular TED video of all time.
People like Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and the Wright Brothers had little in common, but they all started with WHY. They realized that people won’t truly buy into a product, service, movement, or idea until they understand the WHY behind it.
Start With Why shows that the leaders who’ve had the greatest influence in the world all think, act, and communicate the same way — and it’s the opposite of what everyone else does. Sinek calls this powerful idea The Golden Circle, and it provides a framework upon which organizations can be built, movements can be led, and people can be inspired. And it all starts with WHY.
Authenticity is key
Value or Values? - What I mean by this is for the organisation to really think about why they are innovating. Obviously everyone wants it to lead to a better bottom line success within the organisation. But is this purely about monetary gain or is it also/or about delivering upon the values-led culture every organisation expounds about? Sadly some of which can easily be seen through for the shallow spin too many organisations create. One of the huge mindshifts post Covid is the true realisation of the need to address ESG and all the ethical touchpoints that it creates. Especially when it now comes to talent attraction and retention. This has become a vitally important front of mind matter for us all. So one needs to be clear on this and be sincere (trustworthy) in how it is defined when looking to innovate into new areas.
What does financial services need to think about?
Accelerators, MVPs, Lean StartUps and the like - This is really where the cultural aspiration meets the innovation reality. As previously said, any true intrapreneurship culture needs to be led from the top and fully invested in. Many organisations in insurance simply do not have this culture. On a daily basis I hear them expound at length about how they are innovation led but only to support solutions that are at scale. I know this sounds daft and many reading this will say not here, but believe me when I say this is in the vast majority of cases. Setting out to release the innovative spirit of those within your organisations is really about creating a supportive environment where all the classic start-up practices described are harboured. It’s about balancing the free thought environment with the right disciplined entrepreneurs tools. I can’t describe them here but if you want to learn what they are then I heartily recommend Bill Aulet’s excellent book Disciplined Entrepreneurship. Work with topics experts from outside your sector that can bring fresh thinking, especially mentors. As said my own journey of discovery has been to bring my own channel of entrepreneurship, insurance and adapt thinking to all sorts of other entirely unrelated areas, as varied as supporting intrapreneurs from a finance background looking at social enterprise led multilingualism to empower children to someone sharing a negative personal experience in baby feeding to drive this passion projects to develop and entirely new generation of breastfeeding pumps.
Finally, the most important piece of advice I can share Manage your people - This is perhaps the most important factor. Having a deeply supporting environment is hugely important as from the employee/intrapreneur’s perspective putting their head above the parapet is a brave move and whether successful or otherwise could be seen on their part as a career defining moment. I have seen first hand the courage this takes and just how positively or negatively influencing the company’s support can be. Particularly for those that act as internal mentors or sponsors.
Let’s be honest if a company is building an intrapreneurial mindset then it is new ground for everyone and it's unreasonable to think that all the needs and demands have been fully thought through. I therefore cannot advocate enough the importance of reaching out for strategic and structural support from those that have deep experience.
I believe intrapreneurship is something vitally important and with the traction it is gaining will become the norm for some long time going forward. I love the positivity it creates and sense of achievement of all those engaged in it. It is therefore to be enthusiastically recommended. Hopefully by reflecting on some of the things I have said, this will help in some small way to be a truly positive and business benefiting experience for all.
Mark Huxley - Chairman; Cognitive Risk and Middle Warden Elect at the Company of Entrepreneurs