Intrapreneurs: How Do You Spot, Develop and Retain Them?

Expert: Nick de MeyCurator: Simone Ahuja

Nick, co-founder of Together with his team of designers & entrepreneurs, he helps large corporates to innovate like startups.

01 // What is the role of senior leadership in developing and keeping intrapreneurs?

02 // What are incentives to keep intrapreneurs engaged and at the helm of their own initiatives?

03 // How long should intrapreneurs be connected to their own experiments?

// Summary

Up to 70 percent of entrepreneurs get their ideas while working for large organizations.

Then they leave to launch their own businesses, in large part because these ideas require a new business model.

Nick de Mey talked with curator Simone Ahuja about how companies who are committed to innovation can best recruit, engage, reward and retain their intrapreneurs – and ensure their innovation team’s success.

Support instead of control

Connect the innovation team to a senior leader with the reach and responsibility to make decisions fast. Don’t risk despair and disengagement due to leadership being bogged down by slow, cumbersome bureaucracy.

Nick tells of a client whose intrapreneurship team had great success with a direct, albeit unusual line to the top. Every two weeks, the CEO would meet the team at a nearby café for an informal standup meeting, sharing how their work was going and what the CEO could do to support their mission/objectives.

Contrast this with the more common formal presentation before the Board, adds Nick, where the team would nervously spend three or four days working up slides for their presentation instead of spending that precious time on the task at hand.

Recognition as reward

Effective incentives start with really knowing your people. For some people, making a positive impact that is recognized by leadership might be more fulfilling than the promise of equity. Others might cherish a role as an internal evangelist for innovation, visiting other departments and sharing what they’ve learned, or even in an external communications and branding role as the face of innovation at their firm.

Structure for intrapreneurship

Although the research is still ongoing, Nick and Simone both agree that surprisingly, financial incentives like equity or profit sharing don’t seem to work that well. Intrapreneurs don’t relish the risk of starting their own project completely from scratch. If they’re choosing to remain within a large company, it’s because they’d rather innovate from within a structure, with the security and support that comes with it.

Connect divisions, retain intrapreneurs

Innovation experiments often fail when they’re handed over from the original intrapreneurs to a more conventional operational division. There are good reasons to keep the original intrapreneurs connected to their experiment after validation and test marketing, and good reasons to move your intrapreneurs onward. In either case, the goal is retention.

“Prioritizing people over projects was the best lesson we’ve learned.”

Stay with the experiment

  • Keep intrapreneurs connected to the site of their success!
  • There’s value to keeping them connected for the first six months of the initial scaling.
  • It can be beneficial to have them “check in and challenge” the project’s development every two to three months.

Move on to new projects

  • Let intrapreneurs spread their wings (and wisdom)!
  • By definition, intrapreneurs often like change, so they might not enjoy the multi-year process of building their idea into a market success.
  • Don’t waste talent! Your intrapreneurs can be ambassadors for your company-wide innovation process, positively impacting other initiatives because they’ve experienced it themselves.