Intrapreneurship (IP), also referred to as Corporate Entrepreneurship (CE) and Strategic Entrepreneurship, refers to entrepreneurial activities within the existing organization (Pinchot, 1985; Antoncic & Hisrich, 2001). These activities may span a wide range of scale and variety from making incremental process-based innovations to launching a new line of products. The evolution of the concept presents an interesting confluence of several disparate research streams and thus, opens many possibilities of study and application.

The concept of intrapreneurship has originated at the intersection of entrepreneurship and managerial discourses, owing to the realization that often times, a high growth organization needs employees who think and behave like entrepreneurs. This need is accentuated in turbulent and uncertain times (Duncan, 1979) or when avenues of expansion seem to be shrinking or plateauing (Miles, Snow, Meyer, & Coleman, 1978). Although originally, IP or CE was conceived and mostly understood to occur at the corporate level; however later, it came to be disaggregated to the individual level and the employee who facilitates CE behavior came to be called an entrepreneur. This was deemed necessary in order to ensure a clear line of sight between the organization’s macro-level strategic vision and the competence of its employees. To understand in comparison to an entrepreneur; an entrepreneur may be described as someone who is much less profit-oriented, is very much driven by the sheer excitement of work and of spearheading opportunities; his/her risk taking profile is substantially different and finally,he/she immensely values the resources that the organization has to offer in the execution of his or her work.

Scholars have made several attempts to operationalize individual level intrapreneurship and have variously taken approaches based on competencies (Hayton & Kelley, 2006), capabilities (Macchitella, 2014) and others. Davis'(1999) scale for selecting candidates looks at individual traits and personality for predictive power; however, it does not take into account crucial cognitive (such as intuiting, information processing style, etc.) processes, behavioral affinities (such as perseverance, risk/failure tolerance, perseverance, team working) and social competencies (Baron & Markman, 2003); and is not anchored to organizational, managerial and HR expectations. The most recent construct, that comes closest to mirroring the macro level conceptualization and at the same time has sound theoretical support is ‘Employee Entrepreneurial Behavior’ or EEB. It is defined as “the extent to which individual workers

proactively engage in the creation, introduction and application of opportunities at work, marked by taking business-related risks.[…]” (Jong, Parker, Wennekers, & Wu, 2015, p. 982). As evident from the definition, the three dimensions used to capture the construct are: innovativeness, pro-activeness and risk taking. Looking at this operationalization, the author proposes that EEB may be positioned as a vital meta-competence (Brown, 1994; Briñol & DeMarree, 2012) for organizations that want to refine their competence frameworks and make more robust predictions of desired employee performances.

To understand this positioning, it is relevant to look at the competencies subsumed within EEB and how they fare independently as well as together. Depending on the job, team and organization context, the three dimensions of EEB may manifest in different degrees and ways. This can be easily understood by taking the example of the medical profession, specifically of doctors. High performing doctors need to be innovative in their approach to medicine as techniques in this field are constantly evolving, i.e., they must be willing to try new treatments. This in turn means that they must keep themselves abreast of the latest research findings and share knowledge with colleagues in their specialization as also allied ones, as well as with medical representatives to get hands-on with new medicines; which calls for a pro-active attitude. Finally, they must be willing to take not just ‘safe’ or easy patient cases that inflate their performance ratings but also the unsafe ones. Here, the risk taking dimension comes in. It is possible that in private hospitals, the last dimension becomes more salient because complicated issues of legal and organizational issues may come into the picture. Between different teams or specializations in the hospital, as well there may be several observable differences along these dimensions. For instance, typically, the emergency surgical team tends to work under high pressure and adheres to sensitive deadlines, compared to non-surgical ones such as the outpatient department. For the on-call surgeon in the former; innovativeness and pro-activeness will be desired traits; but perhaps the most important indicator of successful performance may be a distinctively high tendency for risk taking. This is because this surgeon would be expected to not shrink away from accepting cases that have a significantly high ‘hazard‘ rate (i.e., the probability that the given treatment may fail).

Given that EEB is such an important and strategically requisite behavior, is the organization equipped to elicit it among its employees? The author argues that in order to realize the aforesaid outcome, HR strategists will need to rework their views around the concept of High Performance Human Resource Practices (HPHRPs). HPHRPs are defined as “coherent practices that enhance the skills of the workforce, participation in decision making, and motivation to put forth discretionary effort” (Sun, Aryee, & Law, 2007: 558). A concept that overlaps with it is the High Performance Work Systems (HPWS). However, while an HPWS might subsume several attitudinal and cognitive variables as well such as job demands and job resources (example: level of autonomy experienced, level of stress, etc.); HPHRPs focus exclusively on the HR practices implemented within organizations (example: whether there is 360 degree feedback, whether workplace mentors are assigned for new joiners et.).

But HPHRPs are not just about measuring the effect sizes of different practices impacting different kinds of behaviors. The high performance paradigm emphasizes that it is not just the individual HR practices that need to be well-crafted to create the appropriate stimulus for the employee, but that they should be combined so as to form the most effective ‘bundle’ of HR practices. In other words, attention needs to be paid to the collective ‘configuration’ that emerges as a strong and effective stimulus. An additional point to keep in mind is that these practices must have continuity between themselves (also referred to as ‘horizontal fit’) as also be congruent with the overall business strategy (also referred to as ‘vertical fit’) (Baird & Meshoulam, 1988). Can the HR strategist compose the appropriate configuration so as to foster entrepreneurial behavior among the employees? Going beyond fostering, can it be ensured that a specific bundling of practices out of a set of several bundling options, would yield a specific range of effect sizes with respect to the individual dimensions of EEB? These are some questions that the author argues are in need of urgent attention.

Investigations around the questions raised in this article will make a number of contributions towards HR strategy and practice. First, employee entrepreneurial behavior can have substantial implications for talent management and succession planning. Meta-competence profiles of employees may help not just to fit them in the right job or team but also to match them with previous successful incumbents of higher and sensitive designations and thus, maintain the talent pipeline. Various competencies may also be mapped to the broad dimensions of EEB and facilitate a simpler and more holistic, heuristic-based mode of decision-making. Second, the bundle-based approach to HR practices i.e., the concept of HPHRPs generally, and the specific configuration of practices that foster EEB may serve as an important tool for health audit of the HR function. Organizations that pride themselves as being agile, highly competent and innovative in their business approach must take cognizance of the fact that the HPHRPs are in continuity with the overall strategic vision. To recognize inconsistencies and correct them where required, organizations must take a re-look at both their employee competence vision and HR strategy from time-to-time.

“Those who have learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed” - Charles Darwin.

This quote may have been lost in time and uttered mostly in evolution theory circles, but its relevance in today’s VUCA environment is higher than ever before.

A closed group of distinguished business and HR leaders representing technology, manufacturing, FMCG and pharmaceutical sectors came together in Bengaluru to discuss the future of the workplace and took an educated view to not just the workplace but how “work” itself will take shape in the future. The discussions both as a plenary and in small groups pointed towards three conclusive themes…

1. Work of the future will cease to operate like a singular continuity and function more like an aggregation of projects or “gigs” capitalizing on experts across different disciplines to come together and deliver a business result

2. There needs to be a transformative change in mindset right from how leaders prepare for the business of the future to how employees remain agile around skills to remain relevant in a fast changing yet demanding environment

3. The first step to realizing these truths would be to accept the fact that generalists would be a thinning herd and specialists/experts and aggregators (human or virtual) would be the future

…and the glue that would bind these three themes together and help crystalize the workplace is collaboration. During the discussion around collaboration the think tank that brainstormed around it tried answering are some interesting questions -

What is collaboration of the future? Collaboration in the future workplace would be a kaleidoscope of dimensions involving man and machine that would change the very fabric of modern enterprise. Right from planning an outcome to staffing a project to finally executing and disbanding would require collaboration at the center. Intuitive tech, skilled professionals and access to a gargantuan data universe is the key to success in such an environment.

How would people collaborate in gig economies? In a gig economy, success and failure would depend solely on how quickly and effectively skills and expertise can be sourced and managed. Revolutionary platforms like Slack would allow virtual workgroups and communities to come together to solve unique problems and create value. Data democracy would therefore be a critical parameter for collaboration breaking down level & grade barriers and transparency would be the core principle driving key business decisions in the future workplace.

How would structures change to accommodate a collaborative environment? As HR professionals, it is important for us to understand how people constructs would change in the future. The concept of collaboration will evolve to the idea of pod-collaboration where geographies and pyramids would become irrelevant but the key to success would be availability of information when needed. Digital and Agile would no longer be special teams but core capabilities across the organization. An inordinate amount of focus however, will go towards building communities of practice instead of traditional hierarchies. These communities would be the custodians of skills and capabilities and provide the necessary fuel for collaboration across the future workplace.

How will the nature of work change in this collaborative environment? Unlike today’s linear, continuous work environment, work in the future will be fluid with people carrying different levels of expertise coming in at different stages of iterations through an environment of collaboration. This means it will be essential to build a directories of expertise or communities of practice/interest to staff this kind of work on a realtime basis. The important question would be how we can bring squads together in Tour of Duty style staffing so expert teams can perform an operation and then disband immediately after.

How will knowledge get managed in the future workplace? For the collaboration paradigm to take shape, knowledge has to be collected, curated and stored in a way that is easily accessible to all. Free flow and access to information is the key to the success of project/”gig” style of work. Sentient machine learning databases would replace traditional knowledge management systems to make this a reality.

How can we action this change? What will it take? This question sought answers at different levels.

  1. For an employee this would require roles to be reimagined and rewards to have a stronger alignment to project outcomes. Performance metrics would track project outcomes rather than individual goals and in turn reward collaborative behavior. Project based compensation would essentially replace monthly salaries.
  2. Processes need to be reimagined not only to create virtual teams but also to include intuitive tech for real-time information sharing and collaboration.
  3. Organization development engines would need to produce communities of practice and expertise so as to constantly fuel the gig economies.
  4. Leaders would need to build the tenets of collaboration and front run the culture change in the future workplace.

The future holds a huge spectrum of opportunities that we possibly can’t fathom in its entirety. Yet it is important to ponder on some of these questions which inexorably point to possibilities which could shock the way work and employment would exist in this world.

Structures, policies, practices and beliefs will be shaken out of their foundation and replaced with new, more nimble constructs which would serve the connected world. Purists will be compelled to rethink the meaning of 'jobs', 'work', 'enterprise', 'performance', 'capability', 'resources' and 'rewards'. The true essence of business may remain the same but the current shape and form of modern organizations will most likely cease to exist. In a world like this, we need to adapt rapidly and prepare ourselves by being early adopters of some of the principles that emerged through this initiative.

Antoncic, B., & Hisrich, R. D. (2001). Intrapreneurship. Journal of Business Venturing, 16(5), 495–527. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0883- 9026(99)00054-3

Baird, L., & Meshoulam, I. (1988). Managing Two Fits of Strategic Human Resource Management. Academy of Management Review, 13(1), 116–128.

Baron, R. A., & Markman, G. D. (2003). Beyond social capital: The role of entrepreneurs’ social competence in their financial success. Journal of Business Venturing, 18(1), 41–60. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0883- 9026(00)00069-0

Briñol, P., & DeMarree, K. G. (Eds.). (2012). Social metacognition. Psychology Press.

Brown, R. B. (1994). Refrain the competence debate: Management knowledge and meta-competence in graduate education. Management Learning, 25(2), 289–299.

Davis, K. S. (1999). Decision criteria in the evaluation of potential intrapreneurs. Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, 16(3–4), 295–327. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0923-4748(99)00013-2

Duncan, R. (1979). What is the right organization structure? Decision tree analysis provides the answer. Organizational Dynamics, 7(3), 59–80

Hayton, J. C., & Kelley, D. (2006). A Competence-based Framework for Promoting Corporate Entrepreneurship. Human Resource Management, 45(3), 407–427. https://doi.org/10.1002/hrm

Jong, J. P., Parker, S. K., Wennekers, S., & Wu, C. H. (2015). Entrepreneurial behavior in organizations: does job design matter? Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice, 39(4), 981–995.

Macchitella, U. (2014). The Effect of Human Resource Management Practices on Organizational Performance through Corporate Entrepreneurship. In IX Workshop dei Docenti e dei Ricercatori di Organizzazione Aziendale.

Miles, R. E., Snow, C. C., Meyer, A. D., & Coleman, H. J. (1978). Organizational strategy, structure, and process. Academy of Management Review, 3(3), 546–562.

Pinchot, G. (1985). Intrapreneurship. New York. Sun, L. Y., Aryee, S., & Law, K. S. (2007). High-performance human resource practices, citizenship behavior, and organizational performance: A relational perspective. Academy of Management Journal, 50(3), 558–577.

Roshni Das
Doctoral Student
Indian Institute of Management, Indore

For more information, please write to us at talentscapes@aonhewitt.com
Follow us on LinkedIn at Aon India & Twitter @Aon_India
Get in touch
Aon India Consulting