If there’s one thing that we can depend on, it’s that change is a constant. We’re currently living in a golden age of disruption where now publically traded companies like Twitter are siphoning people’s time, attention and media habits and well-funded startups such as Uber are reinventing traditional models. We can tap the collective of like-minded individuals to support our initiatives and harvest the fruits of creators and co-creators who openly give us the instruction manuals to create the things we want and need. But it’s not just the upstarts – look at IBM, a company over 100 years old that has re-invented itself more than once and is now placing big bets on big data. Change doesn’t discriminate.
There are now more “Davids” out there than ever before – Goliath needs to watch his back. But what some Davids and Goliaths have in common is a need to tap, operationalize, mobilize or import a certain kind of member of their organization who can be a valuable asset during times of rapid change. These individuals are “intrapreneurs” or simply put, individuals who possess entrepreneurial traits but work best within the structure of an organization versus being out on their own. These individuals are naturally drawn to change – proactively seeking it out and often looking for ways to bring change about within their own organizations.
Some exist in formal innovation roles – I can’t help but think of a peer I met recently who works for a large global food company who, among other things, managed to establish an “outpost” in Silicon Valley where two of his team members have relocated and part of their job is focused on exploring partnerships with startups. In another example, Unilever (disclaimer, Edelman client) has a formal program in place that is designed to “Inspire a global wave of Intrapreneurs.” The company, which has taken significant steps in acknowledging and acting upon consumer movements such as an increased awareness and concern of sustainability, is no stranger to change as the consumer product goods industry becomes increasingly more competitive and consumer habits and tastes evolve constantly.
Intrapreneurship has existed for some time and comes in many forms. For organizations that find themselves on the front lines of change, it’s especially critical to ensure that there’s a place and purpose for individuals who embrace it but know how to navigate your organization. Involve them in change initiatives; connect them to like-minded peers and ensure they can channel their passion for the benefit of your business. Challenge them to come up with the ideas that will drive the future of your business and partner them with complementary colleagues who can help them deliver and encourage them to actively collaborate. With change being a constant, focusing and harnessing the intrapreneurs in your organization may be one of the most important things you’ll do this year.
David Armano is Edelman’s global strategy director: Key Accounts. Follow him on Twitter: @armano.