Intrapreneurship: From Out-of-the-Box Thinking To Strategic Opportunity

Paul Kurchina

The lone wolf. The maverick. The rebel. All of these labels have been used to describe employees who engage in thinking and problem-solving that push beyond the norms of business processes and culture. But in just the last five years, CEOs have started to realize that these once-regarded nonconformists may own the strengths necessary to strategically accelerate innovation and growth.

Americas’ SAP User Group (ASUG) hosted the webcast Entrepreneurial Thinking: Becoming an Intrapreneur Inside Your Corporation to explore this shifting value of today’s intrapreneurs. The panel discussion featured Hans Balmaekers, director of chief strategy, program, and marketing for Intrapreneurship Conference, and Dr. Susan Amat, CEO and founder of Venture Hive.

Why CEOs are changing their perspective on intrapreneurial behaviors

When companies are busy maximizing profits by exploiting the current business model, there’s little room to explore the potential opportunities and risks emerging on the horizon. This environment can be risky, considering that significant threats of disruption may happen without notice.

“For a couple of years now, CEOs have been telling employees of all levels and disciplines that they need to innovate more. But innovation doesn’t come that easily,” observed Balmaekers. “Businesses actually train their people to not innovate. If employees are groomed to not think creatively and often and to fear failure, innovation is hard. But in the end, innovation is about people.”

Ultimately, the struggle that people experience during any change is purely cultural. The key is knowing how to shift mindsets to accept the risk of any innovation and opportunity. Whether it’s implementing a new technology, engaging new customer channels, or adopting new ways of working, intrapreneurs can move the company further along than the current bureaucracy of existing processes and systems.

Balmaekers explained, “Adobe’s Kickbox program is an excellent example of what happens when intrapreneurship is nurtured. Mark Randall, VP of Creativity at Adobe, introduced this internal program to empower potential innovators within the company who might otherwise shy away from the confines of traditional processes, bureaucratic vetting, and established cultural paradigms.”

By removing as much red tape as possible, Adobe dramatically increased the diversity of inputs that reach the top of its innovation funnel. But more important, the executive team demonstrated a high level of trust and belief in the potential of its workforce. Employees are now given the freedom to investigate ideas, build on any failures along the way, and live up to expectations.

Cisco, GE, and Siemens are also reinventing themselves by turning to intrapreneurship. Why? The bottom line is simple: Everyone has an intrapreneurial spirit within themselves that can deliver value to the business and its customers faster than a hierarchy. They just need the means and freedom to explore it, add their own flavor, and bring their ideas to life.

The importance of building a culture that brings out the intrapreneur in everyone

When someone has an idea in your company, what happens? All too often, businesses do not have the proper structure and support to provide the right support to see those seemingly small lightbulb moments that can eventually become the next big thing.

“This is where the creation of an intrapreneurial culture begins. Who do employees go to? Who do they talk to? What’s the process? Is the idea met with eye-rolling and questions or genuine enthusiasm?” Amat mused. “There’s always someone who comes up with an idea and doesn’t know the next step. Sometimes, it comes back to how they treat the organization, and other times it’s about how the organization treats them.”

This kind of fluid, nonchalant attitude towards organic innovation can be dangerous in this increasingly ever-evolving market. They become too comfortable and lose touch what’s happening within the company, in the marketplace, or among their customers. It’s why so many of the Fortune 500 have fallen off the consumers’ radar.

Every single day, executives must think of ways to add value to the business and its customers. So why not take advantage of those sparks of creativity within the workforce? Are you going to 100% focus on the current strategy or find a very different way of doing things?

“Very often, I see people who have started down this intrapreneurial road and come up with something. It’s their passion, and it’s clear. And although it is a huge opportunity, it just doesn’t fit the goals of the company,” Amat asserted. “[However,] many ideas work really well because of the existing organization. Leveraging those resources enforces the brand and customer base and provide the infrastructure. That’s why the idea will add value to the company.”

Hear Hans Balmaekers’ and Dr. Susan Amat’s advice for creating an intrapreneurial culture that turns out-of-the-box thinking into a strategic opportunity. Check out the webcast replay and presentation, Entrepreneurial Thinking: Becoming an Intrapreneur Inside Your Corporation, hosted by ASUG.

Image credit: © Skypixel |



Paul Kurchina

About Paul Kurchina

Paul Kurchina is a community builder and evangelist with the Americas’ SAP Users Group (ASUG), responsible for developing a change management program for ASUG members.