Why Companies Want You to Become an Intrapreneur
Intrapreneurship is responsible for a lot of product innovation around the world today. At Lockheed Martin, intrapreneurs developed a number of famous aircraft designs and at 3M, they came up with Post-It Notes and at Google, they came up with Google News, AdSense and Gmail. What these examples have in common is that companies embraced the idea of allowing their employees to become entrepreneurs and capitalize on new business ideas. These free flowing ideas come from in-house programs, which include Google’s famous “20% program”, contests, hackathons, skunk works and informal programs where employees pitch ideas directly to executives. Smart companies want you to become an intrapreneur because it fuels business growth and allows them to gain a competitive advantage in their industry.
In a new study in partnership with American Express for my book Promote Yourself, we found that 58% of managers are either very willing or extremely willing to support employees who want to capitalize on a new business opportunity within their company. In addition, we found that 40% of millennial employees are either very interested or extremely interested in doing this. Managers who support employees instead of constrain them cater to their entrepreneurial spirit, allowing them to feel like they’re making a big impact, regardless of age. The top reason why millennials leave their companies after two years is because of a lack of career opportunities. Intrapreneurship programs are one solution to solve this retention problem. Many companies have programs already in place to cater to this rising demographic of millennials that will become 36% of the American workforce by next year and 46% by 2020.
At LinkedIn, employees can come up with a new idea once each quarter, put a team together and pitch their idea to the executive team. If their idea is approved, they are able to spend up to three months time dedicated to turning the idea into something that benefits the company. At DreamWorks, they take this a step further by actually teaching their employees how to formulate their pitch and then allowing them to practice in front of executives, something hundreds have already taken advantage of. At Facebook, and many startups, they have hackathons where they encourage engineering teams to collaborate on software projects. The “Like button”, one of the most important innovations in the company’s history, was the product of a hackathon.
Kiley Smith, a 30-year-old manager in the Fraud Investigation & Dispute Services (FIDS) practice at Ernst & Young LLP, created a cross-practice and cross-country working group to connect non-profits with legal and accounting professionals. In the process, she deepened relationships with potential clients and developed her own leadership skills and those of younger employees at the firm. The FIDS group works closely with law firms and is always looking for ways to build relationships with attorneys. An idea sprouted when Kiley learned that the American Bar Association recommends lawyers complete at least 50 pro bono hours per year. Kiley’s network at the firm included colleagues passionate about non-profits, entrepreneurs and making a difference. She realized she could give both the volunteer — and leadership — opportunities they were looking for by connecting the networks of attorneys and her FIDS peers to help non-profits and entrepreneurs.
Each member can identify a need in his or her local community, reach out and offer the support necessary, drawing on the shared network of peers and attorneys. In the New York office of Ernst & Young LLP, for instance, Kiley worked with a local law firm to put together training sessions for non-profits. The FIDS team ran a seminar about fraud issues inherent in the non-profit industry, and the lawyers offered advice on some of the common legal issues non-profits encounter. For Kiley personally, the impact of this intrapreneurial undertaking was enormous. “I wasn’t even a Manager yet and I was leading and coordinating a working group of 25 people across the country. So when I was up for promotion to Manager, I already had strong leadership skills to showcase. Most people who didn’t think outside the box didn’t have that.”
Stories like Kiley’s are becoming more common in companies, regardless of size and industry. Intrapreneurship is now recognized as a key to dynamic growth and change and for millennials, it’s an opportunity to develop their leadership skills while inspiring change. For millennials who are entrepreneurial, but are still paying back student loans and don’t have access to mentors or capital, intrapreneurship is the perfect solution. By leveraging internal resources and a corporate brand, millennials can make a big impact even at the start of their careers — and that’s exactly what they want. When intrapreneurs are successful, companies reap the benefits too.
- Written by Dan Schawbel
Dan Schawbel is the author of the new book, Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success (St. Martin’s Press). For more helpful advice, register for the free webcast of his book launch event.