Corporate Leaders Urged to Be ‘Intrapreneurs’

By Kathy Gurchiek Oct 9, 2012

​PALM SPRINGS, CALIF.—Becoming “intrapreneurs”—employees who devise entrepreneurial solutions within their organizations—requires using chaos as a catalyst, being agile, and making small-scale, mini innovations, or “minnovating.”

These are transformations senior HR leaders need to consider, according to Linda Rottenberg, one of Time magazine’s 100 innovators of the 21st century. She was named on the Forbes “Impact 300” list in 2011, and U.S. News & World Report named her one of “America’s Best Leaders” in 2008.

She’s the CEO and co-founder of Endeavor, which identifies, mentors and co-invests in promising emerging-market entrepreneurs. Headquartered in New York and the Silicon Valley, it has 15 affiliate offices throughout Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Southeast Asia. The 700 Endeavor Entrepreneurs, screened from more than 30,000 candidates, have created more than 200,000 high-wage jobs and generate annual revenues of $5 billion.

In a high-energy keynote address during the opening session at the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2012 Strategy Conference on Oct. 3, 2012, Rottenberg urged attendees to think like an intrapreneur by:

Using chaos as a catalyst. The time to move forward is when others are retrenching, she noted, adding that half of Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. were founded in periods of crisis, economic downturn or recession. She listed such well-known enterprises as IHOP, GE, FedEx, CNN and Burger King as examples.

Moving with the agility of a rugby scrum. Organize employees in small teams. Constantly get feedback on what’s working and what can be improved and adapt in real time. React to new situations and solutions instead of waiting to make changes at quarterly or annual meetings, and let processes build from the ground up, she advised.

Using mini-innovations, or what Rottenberg terms “minnovating.” She pointed to an Endeavor company that became the “eBay of Latin America”—Argentina’s MercadoLibre or “Free Market”—whose mini-innovation reflected the Argentinian culture. Because that country’s postal system is distrusted, it distributes purchased goods in cafes. In 2002, eBay made the site its official partner; after an initial public offering cap in 2007, the company market cap exceeds $2 billion.

The second part of her talk centered on advice for managing Millennials, multinationals “and everyone else” by:

Making culture your business. She noted that whether a business fails or succeeds, the culture is blamed or credited. An organization’s culture is very important to Millennials, she noted.

“Your role,” she told HR, “feeding up and feeding down a sense of one unified culture is becoming more and more important.”

Understanding that Millennials receive information differently. They want to know that what they are doing “feeds into the whole of the organization; they don’t want to be siloed” and will seek information out anywhere in the organization, regardless of title, team or length of tenure.

“They just want to contribute. Harness their chatter,” she urged.

Giving psychic equity. “The private sector can learn from nonprofits,” she pointed out. “We have a lot of stakeholders,” she said of the private sector, “and we have to make them all feel [a sense of] ownership” by “making everyone feel they’re part of something bigger than themselves.”

Forgetting about issuing commandments from on high. She advised using social platforms to get closer to the workforce for on-the-ground data and to get closer to customers for their feedback.

Showing off your family photos. This involves the small signals that leaders—whether the CEO or the head of the HR department—give staff. Forgoing personal time sends one kind of signal to team members, while taking time for lunch, vacation or a child’s ballet recital sends a wholly different signal that work/life balance is important, she said.

Knowing that sometimes you need a handshake; sometimes you need a hug. She told of how, when her husband was diagnosed with bone cancer, she alerted her team that she intended to accompany him to all his appointments and be a stabilizing force for her twin daughters. Sharing that personal aspect of her life, and demonstrating the importance of her family created a stronger bond with her employees, she found.

Rottenberg also urged organizations to embrace social media.

“Leaders who aren’t using this are losing out,” she said. “CEOs are still the visionary but they need to gather diverse opinions and drive people toward consensus.”

She added, “this world [of social media] is about removing filters and [encouraging] transparency.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.

Related Articles:

Aaron Dignan: Games Can Engage, Educate Employees, Business Leadership Discipline, October 2012

Connect with Employees: Tell Your Story, Business Leadership Discipline, October 2012

Here’s What You, Too, Can Do with a Floppy Chicken, Business Leadership Discipline, October 2012

Thought Leaders Forecast 2020 Workplace, Business Leadership Discipline, October 2012

Thought Leaders Focus on Managing a Global Workforce, Business Leadership Discipline, October 2012

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