intrapreneurship in higher education

In 2022 this webinar explored three key questions:

1) Defining intrapreneurship in Higher Education

2) Graduate intrapreneurs

3) Intrapreneurship in practice

Our speakers were:

Chris Friedl, SHINE Project Partner, Austria🇦🇹

Mart Kikas, Guest Speaker, Estonia🇪🇪

The event was moderated by Paul Coyle, SHINE Project Founder, France🇫🇷

We were pleased to receive registrations from people in 9 countries: Austria🇦🇹, Belgium🇧🇪, England🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿,

Estonia🇪🇪,France🇫🇷, Germany🇩🇪, Norway🇳🇴,Saudi Arabia🇸🇦 and Scotland🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿.

Intrapreneurship is not just a way of thinking, it is also about taking action. Consider the lessons provided by our speakers and participants. Which lessons will inspire you to take action?

Key Question 1) Defining intrapreneurhsip in Higher Education

5 Lessons shared by Chris

1 Too often we see the intrapreneur as a lesser version of the entrepreneur.

2 The behaviours and mindset of an intrapreneur are distinctive in comparison to typical employees.

3 Intrapreneurs, for example, rethink the strategic alignment, the DNA, of the organisation.

4 Intrapreneurship is about new venturing within an organisation, trying new things, cross-fertilisation and building on existing resources.

5 It is a concept that has huge potential in the public sector and although creative destruction is not easy in Higher Education it is possible to create more efficiency and have more purposeful use of resources.

5 Lessons shared by Mart

6 Clarifying the terminology of intrapreneurship is important because we need to question our assumption that we are all talking about the same thing.

7 Intrapreneurship can be defined as entrepreneurial behaviours of employees inside an existing organisation, innovative behaviour of employees or employee-driven innovation.

8 Intrapreneurship can be seen as a process not a single event or behaviour.

9 However, intrapreneurship as a process is a broad definition and it is useful, therefore, to try to understood intrapreneurship as a project-based activity which can be measured and assessed.

10 There is lots of published research about intrapreneurship that can help to guide practice in Higher Education.

20 Questions and observations raised by our participants

11 What is it about intrapreneurship which makes it distinctive in comparison to the standard processes (e.g; project and change management) within organisations?

12 Intrapreneurship is about challenging the status quo so by its very nature doesn’t that mean it will always struggle to gain support? 

13 There is a sense that intrapreneurship is about having to fight for change.

14 How is it possible to challenge the well-established and dominant organisational narrative with new ideas?

15 Intrapreneurs needs good communication, persuasion and political skills to advocate a convincing case for change.

16 Being prepared to be different, promoting an alternative point of view and championing new options, might not be a comfortable experience. 

17 Intrapreneurs might be seen as being difficult, even though they have a genuine purpose eg improving the education of students or creating new opportunities for the organisation.

18 There might be negative consequences for intrapreneurs including damage to one’s personal reputation.

19 To be successful, intrapreneurs need to understand change management and the common barriers to organisational transformation.

20 It is helpful to think of change at different levels of the organisation and create guidance for people at each level?

21 Is there any evidence that intrapreneurial people have successful careers in Higher Education?

22 Changing the whole organisation is almost like mission impossible. However, product innovation (eg the courses, the programmes) in Higher Education is more feasible and achievable. Therefore, an important consideration is how HEIs validate updated and new curricula and programmes.

23 Some of the change needed in Higher Education is cultural and this could take many years.

24 Doesn’t accreditation tend to reinforce traditional, known ways of education rather than encouraging new ways of thinking?

25 The annual cycle dominates what happens in Higher Education. Intrapreneurship doesn’t have a place within this ‘yearly wheel’ so how can it gain sufficient support from employees and managers?

26 HEIs work hard to bring about conformity and isn’t this is totally at odds with any claims of wanting to be more innovative?

27 Are there too many forces against intrapreneurship in Higher Education for it ultimately to be successful?

28 How should HEIs be led and managed so that innovation in encouraged, resourced and rewarded? 

29 Do we need an entrepreneurial style of leadership rather than a public management approach? 

30 Do HEIs need some new, alternative or additional KPIs related to innovation and intrapreneurship?

Key Question 2) Graduate intrapreneurs

Observations from our speakers and participants

31 Students often enjoy studying entrepreneurship. However, the majority of students who study entrepreneurship do not go on to be entrepreneurs. 

32 Every student can use the study of entrepreneurship to develop an entrepreneurial mindset that can help them to act as an intrapreneur, innovator and a change agent in an organisation.

33 In a publicly funded organisation people are likely to say we don’t have enough resources, nothing more can be done without additional resources. An intrapreneur says how do we make the best of the resources we already have, how do I make this happen?

34 Lots of students don’t know what a company is and have no relevant work experience.

35 Are we setting students up to fail by encouraging them to be intrapreneurial knowing that employers may kill off this approach?

36 A negative experience of intrapreneurship may well discourage you from behaving in a similar way in the future.

37 What is distinctive about intrapreneurship is that you are pro-active, you keep going even when you get knocked back, you find the way round.

38 If we want the students to be intrapreneurs then isn't it essential that academics also need to be intrapreneurs themselves?

39 Does having more graduates who have an entrepreneurial mindset support greater intrapreneurship in society as a whole?

40 Is HE doing enough to fulfil the potential of helping intrapreneurial graduates to change society?

5 Additional lessons shared by Mart

41 Academics probably don’t describe themselves as an intrapreneur because the term is not widespread or well understood either in academia or society.

42 People can move between entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship over the lifetime of their careers.

43 Intrapreneurship is probably not a completely new idea - it can be thought of as entrepreneurship that has been set within the context of an existing organisation.

44 It  can be considered a new idea in the sense that until recently intrapreneurial behaviour was not expected of employees.

45 In a knowledge economy good ideas need to come from employees not just top managers and so intrapreneurship is increasingly identified as a desirable skill for employees.

Key Question 3) Intrapreneurship in practice

Observations on the need for intrapreneurship

46 Intrapreneurship means acting on opportunities, it is about implementation, getting things done.

47 It rejects the typical excuses for inaction e.g. lack of resources, politics, competing priorities.

48 Intrapreneurship offers the possibility of getting the best out of every employee and thus improving organisational efficiency.

49 We need to ask if intrapreneurship for the few or the many?  Can we expect all employees to be intrapreneurs?

50 How can we measure the benefits of intrapreneurship for an organisation, employees, customers or stakeholders?

Observations on ideas for change

51 It can’t be change for change’s sake. You need to find the problem, identify what needs to change and present the beginning of the solution.

52 Intrapreneurship is about evaluating the many opportunities that exist within an organisation and that fit with the strategy and culture.

53 It is also about evaluating your ideas and asking do I really want to do this? There can be resistance and kick back for intrapreneurial projects that challenge the status quo.

54 What could be learned from examining intrapreneurship projects that were killed off? Would this help us to understand how to create more success in the future?

55 Cultural change takes a long time, many years. 

Observations on intrapreneurship knowledge and skills

56 Intrapreneurship gives people the ability to do something different, to go against the grain for the benefit of the organisation.

57 Intrapreneurs need to know, like an entrepreneurs, how to pitch and how to sell.

58 They need to work on stakeholder management, and be able to navigate the tensions that exist between employees and managers.

59 Intrapreneurs need abilities in communication, teamwork, recognition of opportunities, business modelling, project management and implementation, and productivity.

60 Intrapreneurship is a process but it also needs to be defined in terms of the behaviours of people, so that everyone knows what to do and what not do.

61 The description of expected employee behaviours needs to be distinctively intrapreneurial.

62 People should understand how intrapreneurship adds value by going beyond standard and traditional management approaches.

63 It would be helpful to identify the most important, published research on developing intrapreneurial knowledge and skills.

64 Intrapreneurship also needs to be described in terms of common sense practical ideas. Guidelines or design principles need to be of practical use to people.

65 When we talk of guidelines for educators or managers, we must recognise that these are broad categories which need further definition e.g. by academic discipline.

Observations on motivation, incentives and rewards

66 Who are the stakeholders, the people who can offer or withdraw the support that you need as an intrapreneur?

67 There is need for management support, incentives and rewards e.g. career advancement.

68 But are true intrapreneurs motivated even if these incentives are missing? Are intrinsic rewards sufficient to an intrapreneur than extrinsic rewards? 

69 Extrinsic rewards can encourage people to keep going, when they meet obstacles, when they see nobody else is trying.

70 Incentives and rewards probably create the idea that intrapreneurship is an extra, a nice to have, something for a few people, an additional burden which is not a core duty and responsibility within a job.

71 What happens when you don’t get any recognition but you just get more work? Are intrinsic rewards enough? Might you feel exploited?

72 At certain times in your career, it may not be desirable to take the risk of being an intrapreneur e.g. because of family commitments.

73 The fact that some ideas are not ultimately successful should not deter us with coming up with more suggestions for change.

74 Talking to like-minded people can help to keep motivation high; it can also lead to “underground innovation.”

75 Let’s not forget intrapreneurs can have fun!

Observations on delegation

76 Delegating power and authority to team members is important so that the speed of decision-making can be increased. You cant work fast enough in a command and control management system. 

77 People on the front line need to be empowered to resolve problems on behalf of customers.

78 Do managers need to be able to role model intrapreneurship to employees?

79 Should managers encourage employees to take more risks, empower people to act, so that each person can make their best contribution?

80 Is it best for intrapreneurs to assume they have delegated responsibility, not wait for permission to act but seek forgiveness if things go wrong?