Comment: ‘Intrapreneurship’ could help Scotland flourish

The concept – behaving like an entrepreneur in an existing organisation – offers wide-reaching benefits, says Steve McCreadie, chief executive of The Lens.

McCreadie leads The Lens, which develops intrapreneurship. Picture: contributed.

Intrapreneurship. It’s a relatively recent concept – but I’d argue one of the most important to businesses today In a challenging economic and political period, with so much uncertainty surrounding Brexit, it’s understandable that many businesses are treading with caution and as a by-product stifling intrapreneurship. Some may argue that is the recommended approach during these turbulent times. I would disagree completely.

Intrapreneurship isn’t just some hyperbolic business speak that gets tossed around boardrooms. It is, if implemented properly, a programme that makes a tangible difference and can energise organisations in a way never seen before.

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In Scotland, Wheatley Group is a great example of this. Loretto Care, part of Wheatley, launched an intrapreneurship programme a couple of years ago, and the group is now looking at extending it. Senior leaders have seen how the power of intrapreneurship can help them meet their innovation goals, driving continuous improvement in services.

So much so that Wheatley Group even launched its own annual innovation event – the W.E. Create International Innovation Conference – at which I was a keynote speaker. It was at this event in January in Glasgow that I asked how intrapreneurship can help businesses flourish. I opened the floor, and to my surprise there is still a great number of people, including business-leaders, who do not fully understand or appreciate the power of intrapreneurship. So, what exactly is its value and why do more businesses, especially during these times, need to embrace it?

Undoubtedly the number one benefit is the way in which it harnesses creativity. Organisations by their nature can be bureaucratic, but the problem with that is that it can prevent the release of creativity and any sort of positive change. Intrapreneurship combats this by developing people and ideas.

It helps business leaders locate the hidden gems within their organisation and provides them with the framework to tap into their creative thinking. The importance for businesses to look outwith their senior leadership teams and harness intelligence across the entire organisational structure is paramount – intrapreneurship programmes connect senior leaders to the people at the heart and forefront of their business.

That leads on to building an important and considered culture, one that stimulates innovation and embodies inclusivity. Intrapreneurship motivates problem-solving, positivity, staff engagement, the growth of future leaders and development of talent, and helps people see and think differently. It encourages those not in a position of power to proactively come forward with ideas and provides them with a forum to do so, giving organisations access to untapped potential but also stimulating a culture of innovation.

One example of this in action comes from a local cemetery supervisor, who encountered the problem of funeral poverty. Through our intrapreneurship programme, he developed his initial idea and won investment to put it into action. The outcome: access to low-cost, affordable funerals in the Stirling Council area at a fully commercial, sustainable rate of £1,600 compared to the national average of £3,600 – a 56 per cent reduction in cost. The service is now being considered for roll-out across Scotland, with the potential to make funeral poverty a thing of the past.

Intrapreneurship let this cemetery supervisor’s voice be heard

It’s improved people’s lives, now and for generations to come.

Which leads me to the most appealing benefit: improved outcomes. Whether that is through the development of new services, improved existing delivery or increased growth and sustainability, intrapreneurship delivers more effectiveness.

While it’s true every company needs an entrepreneur to get it under way, healthy growth and business development require intrapreneurs who drive new projects and initiatives to take the business in potentially unexpected directions.

What we see too much is businesses striving to be “innovative” by going in search of the next big thing and neglecting to look within their own house. I would ask them: are you utilising your most powerful existing resource – your employees?

Sustainable business school founder Gifford Pinchot III coined the term intrapreneur in 1978 and defined it as “dreamers who do” – and that is exactly what today’s business-leaders need to keep in mind.

In Scotland, the focus is on how to help our businesses achieve sustainable scale and reach their full potential. It is without a doubt in my mind that intrapreneurship is the way forward and as a country we are primed to lead the way.