Building an Intrepreneurial Culture

We spend a lot of our time talking to organisations eager to know how they can better engage their employees and reduce attrition. Attrition has always been expensive for companies, but in many industries the cost of losing good workers is rising, owing to competitive labour markets and the increasingly collaborative nature of jobs. 

Exit interviews show that one of the most common reasons people choose to leave is because they don't feel their voices or ideas are being heard, so the first question we ask is always about culture - what is happening currently to ensure people feel like a valued part of the organisation? 

Innovate to Engage

Innovative ideas are the lifeblood of progressive organisations, but many don't provide sufficient forums or budget for them to be explored or exploited. Enabling ideas to be heard and talent to shine will not only engage and retain your people, but ensure that your organisation stays one step ahead. 

Lose your entrepreneurs and you not only cut off the source of innovation, you're left with a torpid, uninspiring culture - which in turn prompts others to edge towards the door. 

An intrapreneurial culture invites and activates ideas from employees, ideas that capture the best of the start-up, entrepreneurial mentality, but that can be brought to life internally, to provide a valuable source of new products, processes or approaches.

One of Google's most famous management philosophies is called "20% time." Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin highlighted the idea in their 2004 IPO letter:

"We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google," they wrote. "This empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner."  

Huge 20% products include the development Google News, Gmail, and even AdSense. 

So the potential is huge, but what can you do to invoke and support this spirit?

  1. Regularly encourage idea sharing at team level. Implement great ideas that fall within your remit and support people in creating viable business cases for those that don't.
  2. At organisational level, recognise who your intrepreneurs are and consider them for new positions. Some firms, such as Credit Suisse, ensure Internal recruiters cold-call the employees to alert them to openings inside the company. In 2014 the program reduced attrition by 1% and moved 300 employees, many of whom might otherwise have left, into new positions. Credit Suisse estimates that it saved $75 million to $100 million in rehiring and training costs.
  3. Encourage the board to set up an innovation fund, to provide funding for projects that wouldn't pass regular governance procedures. Ideas that might not have an immediate business case, or a clear return on investment but that come under the "I think this could work but we need to experiment and we need some money to be able to do that..." banner. 

Whether you're able to instigate intrapreneurialism at a team or organisational level, you'll ensure teams that endure and stand out.