The best entrepreneur could be found within your company

Until recently, senior managers believed that all they had to do to promote entrepreneurship at their company was continue with their own search for new business opportunities. Today, the current trend is to share this responsibility with the entire organization, and top executives no longer have the role of “hunters” of new business opportunities. Now they act as coordinators and promoters, enabling the employees capable of seeking out these opportunities to do so.

However, for the executive to successfully transition into this new role, a few conditions must be met. That occasionally means breaking away from old habits that throttled creativity within the company.


1.​ Search, find and trust in internal talent

Middle management, employees in contact with customers… These are people who, given their knowledge of the business and customer needs, can potentially discover new opportunities. It is about finding those and, if the idea is valid, providing support to develop them. Not combing through the org chart to look for these profiles could leave the door open for potential intrapreneurs to leave the company.
2.​ Get out the periscope and scan the horizon

We are already looking for ideas within the organization. First step. The second trend is leading some companies to get out the periscope and scan the horizon beyond their own sector and market. Some multinationals have set up shop in areas such as Silicon Valley, a hotbed of business ideas, despite not being part of the technology sector. They are centers of innovation, observation points that contribute ideas to the people who work on the company’s core business to look at whether they are applicable to add value. Volkswagen, BMW, Renault-Nissan and General Electric already capitalize on their centers in California to innovate in their respective businesses.

3.​ Get rid of the suggestion box and actually spend time on new ideas

Anyone who still thinks that the suggestion box is a way to boost innovation is mistaken. Good proposals do not reach the centers for decision making where they could be evaluated and, if valid, given the green light to be pushed forward.

A new mindset is necessary and the organization should know that managers will spend time analyzing the ideas and proposals. There are various ways to carry out this process, but the key is to let employees know that their proposals are being taken seriously. Replace those dusty, old suggestion boxes with time and feedback. Qualcomm organizes its Venture Fest, in which proposals are initially subjected to the criteria of outside experts.

4.​ Generate enthusiasm to garner the support of upper management and employees

A new project should get people excited. It might be the numbers compiled to calculate the viability and the return for the company. An advocate presents a well-documented project and it is interesting to see the amount of supporters they find. If there are none to be found… perhaps it’s not the time. But if it sparks the interest of the upper management and employees, then their personal involvement will be a key to the success of the project.

5.​ Support the launch and overcome the obstacles: do not throw in the towel

On paper everything looks good, but in the launch and implementation phase of a project there are always difficulties that could potentially cripple the team tasked with the challenge. One effective practice is for a member of the board of directors to sponsor the project and support and give direction to the intrapreneurs. With their global enterprise, they can contribute ideas, potentially unknown resources, facilitate the necessary training (IESE develops programs focused on meeting the needs that tend to appear in this phase of the project), and so on. It’s about not throwing in the towel when faced with difficulties.

6.​ Forget about the old models for evaluating project development

That means shifting some paradigms that may seem appropriate but whose application in these cases would stifle the development of a project. In fact, we cannot stick closely to the original plan. There are dozens of circumstances which, to a greater or lesser extent, have distanced the project from its initial roadmap. This does not mean it has lost its direction: new projects are always susceptible to undergoing major changes. For this reason, the parameters for assessing their development should not be about adhering to timelines and budgets. There are other factors that, if kept in mind, can give new opportunities to a project to become an even better business opportunity than what was presented in the initial project.

More information: “Six Keys to Release Ideas for Profitable Growth,” Hakan Ener, IESE Insight Review, #23

About Hakan Ener

Hakan Ener is assistant professor in the Department of Entrepreneurship. He does research on top management teams in entrepreneurial firms. One of his main interests is the "management experience pitfall," a theme emerging from his dissertation, which showed that entrepreneurial firms led by the most experienced top executives in their industry do not typically achieve the highest performance. This work has won a worldwide doctoral research award from the Center for Creative Leadership in the US, and was nominated for the Strategic Management Society's Best Implications for Practice award. He holds a Ph.D. in management (with a specialization in strategy), which he completed at INSEAD's two campuses in France and Singapore.