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Intrapreneurs, the Hidden Gold in Your Business

An intrapreneur behaves like an entrepreneur while working within a large organization.

Global Influencer

Global Influencer
Global Influencer


A lot has been said about those first hires and the headaches that ensue from not having the right, or the best, staff. Ineffective CEOs, egocentric HR people with attitude and those sycophant mid-level managers who waste your best minds by eventually driving them to seek work elsewhere.

We learn a lot in those first few years of running a startup. We learn that we are not the wisest of the lot, and that others, while sitting quietly in a cubicle, may have more smarts than for which they’re given credit.

After the first round of financing, a high-tech startup typically hires employees, usually in the programming or sales side. In succeeding rounds things get interesting in terms of whom to hire next. Suddenly skill sets become increasingly more important and time can’t be spent overseeing ineffectual employees.

Little is said, however, about ineffectual managers who run their growing departments like their own fiefdoms protected by legacy or parents/friends in positions of authority in the organization.

If you’re not careful, your brilliant little startup will gain the dreaded label of a ‘bad place to work’ and your talented hiring mavens will have their work cut out for them constantly trying to attract new hires.

I’ve been around the block a few times and have seen exceptional staff with poor leaders, leaders with no one to lead and leaders who couldn’t and wouldn’t relinquish the chain of command long enough to appreciate talented staff.

If you’re a tech company, looking for talented programmers can be tough even in a tech hub like Vancouver. Many people want to work at the big tech giants because of the money and other benefits. You’re facing competition, therefore, from Amazon AMZN, Facebook FB and Microsoft MSFT.

How do you compete? Smaller companies can compete by creating a culture that challenges the individual, allows for one person to be able to make change and be part of something great – to be treated with respect!

Have you ever met an intrapreneur? Yes, I spelled it right!

An intrapreneur behaves like an entrepreneur while working within a large organization. According to Wikipedia, “intrapreneurship is known as the practice of a corporate management style that integrates risk-taking and innovation approaches, as well as the reward and motivational techniques, that are more traditionally thought of as being the province of entrepreneurship.”

Now, I’ve known intrapreneurs, and they had nothing to do with management; they were employees on the floor who, thankful for a position that stretched the limits of their imagination, worked hard to give their best to the corporation. The operative words: “as if it were their own.”

I once worked for a large company that had an HR director to whom employees and management referred as “the shark.” There was something evil about this man; he was to be avoided at all costs. His role was to protect the company from the employees. Training was non-existent, the culture was toxic and people couldn’t get out of the office fast enough at the end of the day.

The culture has changed. Startup founders know that employees are their lifeblood. The problem is to be able to create a satisfying work environment that takes little time to manage effectively. This works when everyone is engaged in the mission of the company.

Which leads me to the big corporations running the infrastructure of our countries, the giants of the tech industry and the government crown agencies that keep our systems running. I had lunch with a manager of such an organization some time ago when I was researching great places to work. She told me of incentive programs, training to meet the needs of the employee and the rationale that being exceptional stewards of your staff paid dividends to the corporation’s bottom line. She even told me they had received awards for outstanding employee relations. I know firsthand that her claims were hogwash!

You see, I have a dear friend who works for that crown corporation and he is an exceptional employee – an intrapreneur. Creating systems where none existed to make the corporation run better, finding errors in service contracts that saved the corporation millions and treating the bottom-line like it was his own was his raison d’etre.

He loved his job, went to work before anyone else, trained others to be better at their jobs, worked through his lunch and when his 8 hour day was over his manager would pull him into another endless useless meeting. He was considered “management exempt” so he didn’t earn as much as the five men he trained over the years who were union. He was expected to work weekends “as needed” to support the manager who also claimed to have been working the weekend. Of course, the manager was earning twice that he made.

The young dilettante female manager had it made. She was earning big money, had come up from the steno pool to become manager of a huge department lording over several men and taking every ounce of credit my intrapreneur friend deserved. She didn’t know the difference between a good employee and a bad one because she had grown with the corporation. She had reached her level of incompetence – the Peter Principle! There were no kudos at the end of the day, no pay raises, no free lunch for my friend. While the manager sometimes offered an olive branch, it was always just a bully feeling guilty.

Laurence J. Peter in his book said, “Look around you where you work, and pick out the people who have reached their level of incompetence. You will see that in every hierarchy the cream rises until it sours.”

The sad thing is people cover for that poor excuse for a manager. She will never go any further up that ladder because to grow in that corporation requires talent. What she will do is cripple good intrapreneurial spirit with callous comments, lack of leadership, poor decisions and inept delegation of her duties.

The really exceptional corporations value their employees, and when they find an outstanding one they reward them – not drive them to the point of finding employment elsewhere. Great corporations will have reward systems, will lead by example and their top down management style will be transparent and caring.

A friend of mine, the head of HR at a really great business said, “People go to the big brands because they are big, they come to our company because it’s a place where they can make a difference.” They also invest heavily in employees so they don’t leave just for money. She knows how to manage talent.

That sad manager of whom I spoke previously and her top-down manager CEO, with the same malignant attitude, are more prevalent that one can imagine. I have friends and family who work for businesses that claim to be employee centric but fail the litmus test time and time again.

It’s a good lesson for startups, and any growth company, to manage their employees like family, to engage with them at any opportunity and praise them when they do a great job.

The cost – nothing – while the result can be spectacular!

Gary is CEO of Bizzo Management Group Inc. in Vancouver. He has mentored over 1000 business leaders, investors and entrepreneurs. London-based Richtopia placed Bizzo on the Top 100 Global Influencers in the World for 2018. He is an Adjunct Professor of Integrated Marketing at the New York Institute of Technology, MBA School of Management (Vancouver Campus).