Building capital through intrapreneurship

BY Shane Kissoon

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

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Companies across all sectors and of different sizes must leverage their resources to optimise performance in keeping with their strategic plans and objectives.

It is widely accepted that human capital is a company's most valuable resource. Although automation and robotics have increasingly become a factor in business processes, beyond transactional functionality, it is people who form the heart of a business, strategising to make a company more successful and competitive, creating new products, discovering new markets, and most importantly, enhancing the reputation and brand of the company which they represent.

This places talent management at the core of productivity and competitiveness.

Companies compete against each other not only through the sale of products and services, but so, too, in identifying, recruiting, developing and retaining the best talent available in the job market. Regarding this talent lifecycle, once recruitment is complete, the challenge for companies is to provide a work environment conducive to learning, development and to excellence.

This means not only investing in human capital and nurturing people to perform, but also providing them with a rewarding career where they can fulfil their own ambitions. Such a delicate balancing act calls for a clear, long-term, integrated talent strategy. Retaining talent in the long term is beneficial in many ways, including capacity building and knowledge retention and transfer within the company. It also saves the company from the rehiring process which can be costly in terms of money and time.

In formulating its strategy, a company needs to balance its goals and those of its people. Intrapreneurship is one way in which this can be achieved. Intrapreneurship is a concept that has been developed over a long period of time and it is not an entirely new concept. It is defined as “the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working within a large organisation”. (Pinchot, 1985). Intrapreneurs, among other things, create value by taking risks, implementing new ideas, developing new products, and taking initiative which is not necessarily expected of or laid out for them through formal work programmes and objectives.

Intrapreneurs are central to innovation and building competitiveness as they are at the forefront of new product/process development. Intrapreneurs can work within a team framework but also excel when given the flexibility to be creative, ambitious and daring so that their ideas may even change the thinking and culture of a company. Intrapreneurs not only display leadership characteristics, but also thrive in an environment and culture that is open and conducive to their work. They wish to go beyond the boundaries of the norm by living “out of the box”.

Executive leadership must create the environment for their employees to become intrapreneurs who are allowed to dream. The company must reward idea creation and risk-taking. Risk-taking itself can be built into and managed through the company's risk strategy, thereby mitigating substantial losses. After all, new product development, innovation, research and development are for the long term and do not always result in immediate return on investment. This can be a win-win situation for company and employee as the company benefits from new ideas and products brought to new and existing markets, whilst employees are rewarded for their work and also have the flexibility to create and impact upon corporate culture and direction. This is especially pertinent when leading Gen Z.

Additionally, intrapreneurial behaviour can be fully assessed through the appraisal system. Not only must deliverables be assessed, but so to competencies and behaviours such as risk-taking, communication, leadership, proactivity, creativity, emotional intelligence, vision, intelligence and digital awareness. The last five criteria have specifically been researched by ACCA as attributes which finance, and all professionals, I might add, will need for the future (ACCA 2016). Consider the companies in dynamic sectors faced with increasing competition such as technology (telecommunications, computers, virtual reality, gaming, artificial intelligence), renewable energy, manufacturing, health, etc. How are they going to stay ahead of the curve and beat the competition to the market? What is the risk of not developing a culture of intrapreneurship, innovation and risk-taking? Moreover, think about products that were prevalent 30 years ago and considered cutting-edge at the time, how many of these are now obsolete? What has been the fate of the companies that produced them?

Yet the process of inculcating an intrapreneurial culture is not an easy one as it might go against the basic corporate instinct. In thinking about an integrated approach to business incorporating intrapreneurship, companies must avoid the “Corporate Immune System” (Pinchot, 1984). This expression means that corporate organisational structures such as bureaucracy, hierarchy, rules and so forth do not support intrapreneurial culture and behaviour. Many companies struggle with applying the concept of intrapreneurship into their daily routines due to high levels of defined tasks and schedules that deter opportunities for serendipity and for new ideas to be recognised. (Schleisinger, L & Kiefer, C 2014).

Thus far, the concepts explored limit intrapreneurs to large companies operating in dynamic environments. However, can intrapreneureship exist in medium-sized and smaller companies, or a not-for-profit company? I would argue yes. As previously mentioned, it is possible to formally build a culture of intrapreneureship into a company through its different strategies. For a not-for-profit company, this may mean the way projects are executed and appraised and how impactful they are. Perhaps, for an NGO or not-for-profit company, given their budgetary challenges, intrapreneurship may lie in its green and cost-saving strategies. Intrapreneurs create both social and economic capital and, according to Pinchot, “create innovations of any kind”.

So what does this mean for Caribbean businesses? Which businesses will incorporate a culture of intrapreneurship and how will it impact them? Which company is going to invent the new technology or manufacturing process that will outgun the global competition and open new doors? Or, which bank will innovate to offer a new sophisticated approach to banking and differentiate itself from the competition? What about energy companies or telecommunications, will there be a discovery that changes the industry landscape? Who will design the next accounting software package? Can the Caribbean create a competitive and regulatory environment to be a business leader? Must we diversify our economies? How do we incorporate innovation and Research & Development? All of these questions are important and are questions the region must consider if it wants to achieve sustainable development and win at competing in the rapidly evolving global marketplace.


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