Every business wants a workforce full of go-getters and innovators, especially in an increasingly competitive digital world. But it’s increasingly difficult to keep these critical employees at your organization with a record amount of capital available to fund new ideas into startups and the proliferation of incubators and accelerators. More than ever, highly driven workers are following their entrepreneurial spirit out of your company to pursue big ideas individually.
If you give them an opportunity, you can make “intrapreneurs” out of these entrepreneurs who will turn their wandering minds and innovative ideas toward your company’s operations, making invaluable contributions to the business’s health, growth and success. So how do you find and develop these valuable employees to engage their ideas while keeping them invested in your organization?
At West Monroe, a national consulting firm of more than 1,100 people, we’ve put a lot of thought into this challenge by building processes and even systems to give our best and brightest a space to flourish and develop their unique ideas. For example, we’ve implemented a venture-capital-inspired idea-funding program where employees can pitch concepts at a variety of maturity stages to West Monroe leaders. This could be an idea for an app to better measure value created for clients. Then, they have the opportunity to build and deploy their concept within the company.
Our goal is to invest up to 1% of gross revenue on innovation this year. Programs like the one described above can help you better leverage your internal innovators, engaging them in a way that’s beneficial for both their fulfillment and your company’s bottom line.
Here are four tips for creating a culture that welcomes these employees and makes them want to stick around:
1. Create and heavily market an innovation-focused program
Start seeking out and developing the talent of your company’s intrapreneurs by building a program that encourages internal innovation, with straightforward expectations for how employees participate. It can be hard to identify these people hidden throughout your company, and programs like this help you find, interact and connect with them. Market this initiative internally and externally to ensure it catches the right people’s attention.
The program should feature an easy-to-understand system with clear processes on where people should bring their ideas when they have one. It should also include tools and templates to help employees, as well as recognition for those who engage whether their idea becomes successful or not. While completely optional, opening up channels for innovation like this will pique employees’ interest. Your future intrapreneurs will gravitate toward this program because of the leadership opportunity, facetime with executives and the intrinsic motivation of pursuing an exciting idea.
2. Maintain a low barrier to entry
Some employees may be initially intimidated by the work involved for this kind of internal pitch, as we experienced a few years into our “Shark Tank” program at West Monroe. Many people with an early-stage idea don’t know how much money they actually need to launch or whether they currently have the “right idea” since ideas tend to evolve over time. For these reasons, you should keep the initial pitch process simple: The easier you make participation, the more inviting you make it to your innovators – keeping them invested, engaged and satisfied at work. Since making this change, we have seen double the idea volume come through our innovation lifecycle.
3. Match intrapreneurs with the right collaborators
No one comes into a pitch solo. People naturally reach out to others for help and support where they need it, finding a pack of co-workers who each bring something unique and complementary to the table. Your company should aid in this process by helping connect intrapreneurs to the right people and departments to determine the best go-to-market strategy. Setting up these innovators up with relevant coworkers speeds up the idea-to-execution transformation, and fills in any cracks in their original concept.
Intrapreneurs often have big-picture ideas that can greatly benefit from outside expertise. A good support network not only helps ideas flourish, but makes your company a more vibrant and appealing place to work. Supportive collaborators also contribute to a strong sense of creative fulfillment – and ultimately job satisfaction – for the ideators within your organization.
4. Celebrate engagement versus success
An important part of creating a culture of intrapreneurship is recognizing and celebrating the ideas employees bring forward. Whether they’re formally recognized through the program or unofficially around the office, intrapreneurs should be given credit for taking initiative, even if their ideas don’t pan out. Positive feedback creates a ripple effect inside your company that makes the program less intimidating, encouraging others to pitch ideas and making employees who participate feel valued at your company.
However you go about it, implementing programs that encourage internal ideas and innovation is an effective way to keep innovative employees connected to your company. They create a channel for creativity and help avoid frustrations that arise when people have no outlet for outside-the-box suggestions. Rather than taking their creative ideas elsewhere, these programs allow employees to get the support, resources and validation they need while also remaining a productive and important part of your daily operations.