Losing your key employees? Manage them as intrapreneurs

Losing your key employees? Manage them as intrapreneurs
Source: Kwesi Benyi | apohbenyi@gmail.com
Date: 27-11-2018 Time: 09:11:40:am

Talent management through Intrapreneurship

In the wake of the deregulation and globalization of markets and a continuous heightened global competition among business firms, there is bound to be the continuous aggressive hunt for high performing talents. Leadership and Talent Management (TM) will continue to hold center stage in management.

Yet in the organizational setting, despite leadership importance, Talent Management (TM) becomes critical in attracting and maintaining top corporate performers. Several factors, directly and indirectly, affect the success of organizations. Creating value in the marketplace hinges on applying creativity and innovation to solve problems and exploit opportunities. Even though many Ghanaian private sector operators have embraced innovation for business competitiveness (e.g. banking, hospitality, entertainment, etc.), they are now confronted with the widespread incapacitating attack of poaching of their high flyers.  

Way back in 1997, McKinsey consultants called this a ‘war on talents’.  In most industries, these high-performing employees are hard to retain, as they tend to be more loyal to their personal career vision than to organizations that over the years have been disloyal to their employees especially in times of takeovers, restructuring, mergers, etc. This perceived or real disloyalty of corporate organizations to employees has made even more critical the need for TM in retaining ‘highflyers’ or highly talented employees.

The challenge is, therefore, to be able to attract and retain key performers. I advance the case for a corporate strategy of Intrapreneurship as a means of retaining these corporate high performers who are highly motivated for self-achievement and recognition. The Intrapreneur (or corporate entrepreneur) takes hands-on responsibility for creating innovation and risk of any kind within organizations. The Intrapreneur is, therefore, parallel to the entrepreneur, but the difference being that he/she (intrapreneur) works within a corporate establishment.

Intrapreneurship is seen as the infusion of entrepreneurial thinking into a large bureaucratic structure. Either as creator or not, the Intrapreneur figures how to turn an idea into a profitable reality. Surprisingly, interaction with former corporate high flyers-turned-entrepreneurs or working for different firms shows that they leave primarily not because of pay and benefits but rather a frustration in their attempts to innovate. Below, I proffer some suggestions for corporate executives to reflect on as a means of curtailing the trend of loss of their organization’s high performers.

He who pays the piper calls the tune

Intrapreneurs, and for that matter corporate high performers, like to be (or want to believe) in control of their own destinies. The corporate culture for these self-motivated persons may not necessarily be to truncate the intrapreneur’s vision, but, rather, to truncate the requisite actions to realize the vision. The control systems in most traditional corporate setups tend to limit discretion to the top hierarchy through an embedded system of multilevel approvals.

This applies greatly to fiscal and innovative issues. An innovation is generally not obvious to all (including the competition) until afterward. When an intrapreneur has to present the idea through the bureaucratic chain, the innovative idea not only loses the push and conviction along the chain (as it is filtered in the chain) but also loses out on timeliness. The fact is that top managers rarely have the time and space to hear out all intrapreneurial ideas and will often push back the filtered innovative idea and request more study (more delay). The solution is not more studies and meetings but rather the empowerment of branch managers, supervisors and project heads to take decisions.

There will never be enough time and space to make rational decisions in every business environment, more so within a very dynamic global world. The best decision maker is the one who births the idea and tends to be most informed with direct experience in the business realities related to the idea. Contrary to the suggestion that intrapreneurs may lack objectivity, astute intrapreneurs are open to critique and adjustment for the ultimate successful commercialization of an idea.       

No Handoffs

Analogous to childbirth and motherhood, there is no better champion of an idea than the intrapreneur who conceives the idea. The tendency in most corporate establishments is to handoff ideas from group to group during the developmental stages. This approach has hardly worked for two reasons – human nature and information loss. People are most committed to that which they own and so when a corporate high performer is compelled to handoff his/her ‘baby’ to engineering or manufacturing or marketing, there emerges a new champion who will definitely not love the ‘baby’ idea as the original mother (intrapreneur).

The second reason, information loss, has to do with the fact that in handing over an idea, most of the information of the first intrapreneur is lost. The experiences, background research, etc. are critical for the survival of the innovation. Surely, your intrapreneur is not motivated to stay in the establishment when their passionate love for their ‘baby’ is ignored and their visions handed to persons who are not emotionally connected to the innovation. Intrapreneurs and their core team must necessarily be allowed to ‘mother’ the ‘baby’ through to commercialization. The natural progression, if and when the new venture becomes successful, is for the intrapreneur and the core team to form management of the new division within the corporate establishment. This becomes the intrapreneur’s ultimate reward and motivation.

The focus on innovation, not territorial control

Every corporate institution has its own political culture with top hierarchy wanting to control their own territory or turf. The territories appear as boundaries between divisions; boundaries between functional areas; and boundaries between levels in the hierarchy (headquarters and division). In the Ghanaian socio-political context, this is even taken to another level with political party politics weighing into government corporate bodies and agencies.

With top hierarchy jostling for control, current organizational performance is not priority let alone the future, which becomes irrelevant. When this political culture is propagated and entrenched, intrapreneurship is frustrated as intrapreneurs’ performance is dependent on organization-wide cooperation. Related to this territorial politicking dogma is the myopic appreciation of growth potential (e.g. positions and income generation opportunities). It becomes a zero-sum game rather than a win-win situation for traditional managers wanting to control their organizational space.

On the contrary, if in setting corporate goals priority is given to innovation, then engendering intrapreneurship will result in new businesses and new profits for all to share. Functional (e.g. HR, Finance, and Marketing) loyalties born mostly out of its denizens’ need for recognition within a rather huge corporate establishment, tends to make its members insular and very closed to cooperation with so-called intrapreneurs coming from ‘outside’ the functional unit.  

Innovation-centered corporate establishments as a remedy to the turf control syndrome must allow the Intrapreneur and his/her core team to sell their ideas across the functional units with the receptive mentality of learning from the various units so as to bring it to bear on the development of the innovation. This creates a sense of shared ownership. By so doing, it breaks down turf barriers and builds loyalties around the innovative idea. 

The flip side (paradoxically) also is that the more secured persons are in their functional areas the more receptive they become to cooperate with entrepreneurs. How? For example, the marketing group when secured in controlling a distribution channel or brand name will not prevent others from bringing similar products to market through other channels, or other brands. Management must, therefore, ensure that secure turfs are places from which persons can promote their visions, rather than sources of power to deny access to others passing by.       


Going forward, management will require organizational leadership that is able to synthesize all interacting and competing forces to create effective organizations. This will require relationships among different stakeholders, tapping into diversity and human potential, and the appreciation of a higher essence or purpose for organizations. Like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory, organizations must allow their employees to self-actualize. For some, Entrepreneurship is their only means of self-actualizing. Will your organization present opportunity for Intrapreneurship?


Kwesi Benyi, Business and Organizational Development Consultant 


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