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What is intrapreneurship – and why should it be part of your HR strategy?


In our quickly evolving business landscape, innovation isn’t a luxury but a necessity. This makes fostering intrapreneurship vital for staying competitive and relevant. However, creating a culture where creativity is woven into the very fabric of your organization takes a concerted effort. It all begins with a solid human resources strategy built for cultivating innovation. Here are some ideas on how your HR department can turn your business into a hub for innovation.

What is intrapreneurship?

Intrapreneurship occurs when employees within an existing organization are empowered to act like entrepreneurs to solve business problems and drive growth or any number of key performance indicators (KPIs). Unlike entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs can take an entrepreneurial approach without having to worry about funding or financial risk. They may take the initiative to pursue an innovative new product or service, or innovate within the structures of an established company to improve their roles, the quality of work or the workplace as a whole.

Driving innovation is vital for businesses of any size to stay relevant and meaningful. This makes cultivating a team of intrapreneurs essential. Always challenging the status quo and looking for new ways to do things, they are the people who dream up and implement new ideas. This, in turn, helps businesses stay at the forefront of their industry.

Due to their entrepreneurial makeup, which makes them self-motivated, proactive and action-oriented, intrapreneurs are quick to notice the problems others overlook. Intimately familiar with the business, they use their understanding of current operations and their fellow employees’ needs to implement strategic, useful innovations.

The benefits of driving intrapreneurship as part of your HR strategy are many.

  • Adaptability: Intrapreneurial employees are more adaptable to change, which makes it easier to respond quickly to evolving markets and customer expectations.
  • Higher employee engagement and retention: Allowing employees to explore their ideas and pursue their interests makes them more invested in (and enthusiastic about) their work, which means higher job satisfaction and less turnover.
  • Competitiveness: Businesses that empower their innovative thinkers get a competitive edge when their employees turn their ideas into unique, new products and services.
  • Financial benefits: Successful intrapreneurial ventures can lead to substantial revenue gains and cost savings – for example, higher retention rates help reduce the expenses associated with recruiting and onboarding new talent.
  • Culture of innovation: A culture that empowers employees to think outside the box, take initiative and have ownership will lead to more creativity and idea sharing.

How to foster intrapreneurship

By incorporating the following into your HR strategy, you can help grow and develop intrapreneurs within your organization.

Create a culture of innovation

Integrating innovation into a company culture is a team effort that starts from the top down. Ensure leaders are on board with championing innovative efforts, and encourage them to engage in innovative practices. By setting an example of intrapreneurship themselves, leaders can increase the likelihood that this approach will be adopted internally. Otherwise, in the absence of an environment that supports intrapreneurship, bright ideas will wither away.

Next, make testing new ideas an integral part of your business by giving employees the freedom and budget to develop personal projects that excite them, and without the fear of failure.

Breaking down department silos and encouraging regular cross-functional collaboration provides a valuable opportunity for employees to develop innovative ideas with a diverse group.

Additionally, create opportunities for employees to utilize and showcase their intrapreneurial talents. For example, you could hold companywide contests inviting employees at all levels to create a business case for a new service or product.

At the end of the day, a culture of intrapreneurship depends on:

  • Providing employees the freedom and financial support to spearhead new products, services, systems and processes
  • Empowering those who spot a problem to figure out a solution and put it into action
  • Allowing such innovators the opportunity to skip the usual routines or protocols to foster their new ideas

Train and develop intrapreneur skills 

Conduct regular innovation workshops to ensure employees are equipped with the tools they need to foster creative ideas and put them into action. Similarly, integrate development programs in every team member’s training that focus on intrapreneurial skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity. Look outside your organization for conferences or educational opportunities that strengthen innovation and intrapreneurship, and encourage your employees to attend and apply what they learn.

In addition to training and developing existing talent, it’s up to HR to encourage leadership and managers to value intrapreneurship and prioritize this quality in new hires as part of the hiring strategy. Leaders and managers should look for candidates who have real-world experience and can provide examples of when they’ve taken a concept from ideation to implementation – whether it’s for a product, service, process or other improvement.

Reward and recognize innovation

Establish a program that rewards employees for successful displays of innovation. Rewards can include professional development opportunities, monetary incentives or extra vacation days. Additionally, celebrate intrapreneurial efforts with public recognition through internal communication channels.

Get managers on board 

Intrapreneurship starts and ends with your people managers. First, make an effort to recruit managers who have a track record of successful entrepreneurial or intrapreneurial projects and who wish to foster innovation in their team members. In today’s workforce, where employees are increasingly seeking opportunities to develop their own ideas and enjoy greater autonomy, it should be easier than ever to find new talent that fits the bill.

Managers should be enthusiastic about unleashing the talents and abilities of their team members, allowing them every opportunity to learn, grow and play. They should also be interested in seeking other perspectives and receptive to new ideas in today’s diverse, multigenerational workforce.

Encourage your people leaders to:

  • Urge employees to push boundaries, take calculated risks and think independently in a protected environment where they are encouraged to explore new solutions and don’t have to be afraid of making mistakes.
  • Demonstrate trust and empowerment by giving team members autonomy, rather than micromanaging their work.
  • Ensure employees have the budget, resources and guidance they need to spearhead creative or passion projects.
  • Incorporate performance metrics into employees’ evaluations that measure innovation – for example, how many new ideas they test within a certain period.
  • Give positive reinforcement for contributing new ideas and taking initiative on intrapreneurial projects.

Summing it all up

A human resources strategy that promotes intrapreneurship – from recruitment and training to building and rewarding an innovative company culture – is a powerful catalyst for creating the type of dynamic and forward-thinking environment that drives growth and success. By taking the steps above, you can help transform your employees into intrapreneurs and transform your company while you’re at it.

For more HR strategy and planning tips, download our free e-book, The future of business is culture.