For our second topic in September Dr. Amit and I chose ‘intrapreneurship’ and the role it can play in personal branding in Japan and India. In 1992, The American Heritage Dictionary acknowledged the popular use of the word, intrapreneur, to mean “A person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation”. Intrapreneurship is now 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.
September Topic #2: ‘Intrapreneurship’ and Personal Branding
View from Japan: Peter Sterlacci
In the January 2011 issue of Entrepreneur, Richard Branson shares an interesting story about being a “belonger” where he resides in the British Virgin Isles. The airport signs for the immigration lines read “Belongers” and “Non-Belongers,” rather than “Residents” and “Nonresidents.” He goes on to say that when a nation embraces its own as “belonging here” as opposed to just living there, it breeds a different form of loyalty: “It reminds us that this is where we belong, and so our efforts are not just on our own behalf, but also to benefit the community.” This small semantic difference made him think about the business world: What if companies had belongers rather than employees?
Intrapreneurship and “Belonging”
When you “belong” to a company you are given the freedom to break the rules to create and innovate. Your leaders enable you to follow your vision, not simply your job description. You become so passionate about what you do that you no longer feel like you simply work for someone else.
This defines the essence of “intrapreneurship” – internal entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are needed to start a company, but internal champions who look for and develop new opportunities are often the catalyst for the next breakthrough product, service, or system. Look at any great invention at just about any major company and you are bound to discover that an intrapreneur invented it.
In the past, most of these intrapreneurs worked ‘on the fringe’ in complete secret because their job description did not entitle them to engage in such projects. But today companies like Google enable their employees to spend 20% of their time working on any project of interest regardless if it is related to their current job or not. Google’s 20% time policy has led to some of it best products such as Google Earth. They know that to be cutting edge they absolutely need employees to drive new projects and explore new and unexpected directions for business development. In essence, Google is embracing the “belonging here” concept Richard Branson is talking about.
Branding Yourself in a “Belonging” Culture
This idea of “belongers” actually makes perfect sense in Japan. Japanese employees generally feel a very strong allegiance to their company, often considered their extended family. Entrepreneurship is not particularly valued as it means you have separated yourself from a group identity. William H. Saito in the August issue of the American Chamber of Commerce Japan Journal shared that only 12 percent of Japanese dream of being their own boss, versus 49 percent of Chinese. And where 73 percent of Americans respect entrepreneurs, only 32 percent of Japanese feel the same way.
While there is an adversity to entrepreneurship in Japan, perhaps intrapreneurship is the perfect way for Japanese to establish a personal brand. Group identity can still be maintained while individuals tap into their personal brands to explore new and unexpected directions for business development. While entrepreneurs are looking to break-away from the group for individual success, intrapreneurs can capitalize on their unique strengths and take pride in developing the next breakthrough product or service while belonging to the group. As Richard Branson said, “It reminds us that this is where we belong, and so our efforts are not just on our own behalf, but also to benefit the community.”
View from India: Dr Amit Nagpal
“There was a very cautious man
Who never laughed or played.
He never risked, he never tried;
He never sang or prayed.
And when he one day passed away
His insurance was denied.
For since he never lived,
They claimed he never died.”
Sometime back I had attended the lecture by the Head-HR of DuPont India. The topic of the lecture was ‘Process Orientation’ and he spoke about how his company lost scores of rupees in a financial deal recently. The point emphasized by him was that since the employee had followed the laid down process, he was not fired because the loss was due to market fluctuations and hence the employee who had followed the process could not be held responsible.
The important point is to give employees certain freedom to take risks with defined boundaries and laid down processes. If the organization wants to produce and quickly launch innovative products, it must empower employees and encourage employees to become intrapreneurs. If we take a look at some of the most innovative and successful organizations like 3M, Google and so on, the credit for their huge successes largely goes to the culture of intrapreneurship.
The concept of intrapreneurship has been brought to India largely by MNCs and very few Indian companies (except in new sectors like IT) encourage intrapreneurship. If we take a look at Indian organizations, the smaller businesses may encourage some risk taking by employees in consultation with owners but as the organizations grow bigger, they become bureaucratic and risk taking is seldom rewarded. But this culture is changing and has to change due to competitive dynamics.
A culture of intrapreneurship is unavoidable to survive and employees have to be both trusted and empowered besides of course rewarded for taking risks. In fact one ex-boss of mine had remarked, “The best manager puts his job at risk because if he does not he cannot be the best.” But a healthy work environment is one where employee risks company money and not his job all the time.
There is an interesting saying in Punjabi language of India, Pehle saal chatti, duje saal hatti, teeje saal khatti. (Approximate translation: you experiment and spend during the first year of business; set up shop in the second, and earn profit only in the third year of business). The saying emphasizes on the fact that it takes time to plan, set up and especially break even and make profits in business. The top management has to keep this in mind that some risks will have immediate impact and some will have long term impact, sometimes the positive/negative impact may be felt after the concerned employee has resigned.
Branding oneself as an intrapreneur of course will help a manager to be on fast track in highly professional organizations. In fact many large organizations today give preference to children of parents who are entrepreneurs, respecting the spirit of enterprise in them. Consistently take risks to build your brand as an intrapreneur. But build your brand as a professional who is a calculated risk taker. If one takes wild risks, the probability of loss becomes high and the reputation/brand can also get destroyed.
Remember the evergreen words of Leo F. Buscaglia
“The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live.”