Intrapreneurship is becoming a buzz word as organisations look to their staff for innovations

Entrepreneur or intrapreneur? What's the difference? The answer is intrapreneurs don't have to leave their day jobs to exercise their entrepreneurial skills.

Intrapreneurship is becoming a buzz word as organisations look to their staff for innovations and make an entrepreneurial spirit part of the selection criteria when hiring talent.

They define intrapreneurs as inside entrepreneurs who follow workplace goals while having the freedom to develop something new, potentially transforming that idea into a profitable venture.

Jason Walker, managing director of Hays in New Zealand, says smart companies understand that change is the new normal.

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"Businesses today face disruption from new, agile organisations that possess an entrepreneurial culture. Many of these same businesses have staff among their ranks with big ideas that could transform their business," he says.

"Employers need to nurture an intrapreneurial spirit in staff so these ideas are put forward, developed and used to compete with new players in the market and stay relevant.

"It could mean cannibalising their present business model," says Walker, "but this is where the intrapreneur adds value - after all, targets and objectives will always be there. The real achievement comes in creating significant value while achieving those goals."

And intrapreneurism certainly isn't limited to innovative sectors such as IT.

"The rapid pace of technological change and digital disruption impacts all organisations in all industries, meaning that organisations need to allow their staff to innovate and look for new products, services or ways to achieve the organisation's goals," Walker says.

In New Zealand, he says the best examples of intrapreneurship are in comms and media, for instance Vodafone, Sky TV and Spark.

"Rather than particular fields, I'd say it depends on the culture of an organisation," Walker says. "Regardless of the industry it operates in, an organisation with a business culture in which people are able to put forward suggestions, be supported to try something new and, crucially, fail and not be penalised in any way, will be one in which intrepreneurs can have a positive impact.

Generally entrepreneurs are asked to come up with innovative new ideas in response to a challenge the organisation they work for is facing. But Walker says there are companies, such as Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, that support employees who have their own ideas without being asked.

"The level of intrapreneurship depends on the organisation."

The benefit to the employer is increased retention rates. Employees can be themselves, share ideas, are more willing to provide an honest opinion regarding whether they feel something will work, and will contribute to new ways to solve problems. This leads to new approaches and creates an environment where all employees can thrive and perform at their peak.

"The benefit to the employee is that their voice is heard - which we know people rank very highly when considering where they want to work," explains Walker. "They can also make a real difference. They can spend time exploring the viability of their own ideas, and if successful their standing to their employer - and in the job market - increases, which can have a positive impact on their future career options."

He cites the Hays' Staff Engagement: Ideas for action report, based on a survey of 1196 employers and employees, which said 93 per cent of employees wanted a "voice" and the ability to share their opinions at work and the same percentage wanted to work in an inclusive culture where differences were valued.

Interestingly, anyone can be innovative. "All of us possess a range of qualities, traits and backgrounds that influence the way we think. Whereas some people are creative and driven by opportunities to innovate, others are more analytical. There are people who thrive on spontaneity, and those who are natural planners."

He says recognising the value and ideas each person offers can avoid "group think", resulting in improved problem solving capability and a wider range of solutions.

"This type of culture is one that values "diversity of thought" - in other words, a workplace that respects and encourages different ways of thinking and so works more innovatively to bring new ideas to the table.

Of course, intrapreneurs are working for the benefit of their company but they can still explore their own interests outside working hours.

"The difference is that they can use - and be recognised for - their ability to think innovatively and come up with ideas to help the business succeed," says Walker. "Such successes make an employee more valuable and aids their career development."