Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

3 Ways to Build a Thriving Intrapreneurial Workforce

By 3p Contributor

By Dusty Wunderlich

Depending on your perspective, millennials are either fickle and unreliable, or they just have really high standards when it comes to their careers.

Gallup reports that 21 percent of millennials have changed jobs within the past year, a trend that cost the U.S. economy $30.5 billion. Only half of millennial workers intend to stay with their current companies for more than the next 12 months.

Older generations don’t understand the millennial approach because it’s antithetical to their experiences. They grew up with the understanding that once you landed a good job, you climbed the ladder at that company -- no matter how unfulfilled you were or how much you came to resent the work. Millennials demand more than that from their careers. They crave autonomy and purpose, and they’re willing to switch jobs frequently in pursuit of those values.

Is all of this job-hopping a headache for employers? Absolutely. But it also presents a unique opportunity. Millennials make up the largest percentage of the American workforce, so companies can’t afford to maintain the status quo. Younger generations reject traditional, hierarchical models -- and that might be the best thing to ever happen to U.S. businesses.

The intrapreneurial generation

Millennials move quickly between positions in pursuit of better salaries, work-life balance and a sense of purpose. They’re not trying to avoid responsibility; they’re seeking a culture in which they can thrive.

Although Millennials are often touted as the most entrepreneurial generation, not all of them want to start their own businesses. The potential for failure (coupled with high student debt) prevents many young professionals from striking out on their own. Likewise, the current financial climate has made Millennials the most risk-averse generation in nearly a century. Yet they still desire the freedom and creativity that comes with being their own bosses.

Here’s where employers can benefit. By offering the stability of employment and the creativity of intrapreneurship, they can engage and retain Millennial workers. Intrapreneurship programs give employees the freedom to explore their ideas and learn from their failures. When people know they’ll still have jobs to come back to the next morning, they’re willing to take risks that could pay off handsomely for their companies.

Some of Google’s most significant products -- including Gmail, AdSense and Google News -- began as intrapreneurial projects. Zappos took the concept a step further by implementing its Holacracy, in which no one holds managerial titles and decisions are made democratically. Both approaches empower employees to ship products quickly instead of getting hung up on bureaucratic details.

Building the new workforce

Startups are intrapreneurial by nature. The teams are small, so everyone needs be self-motivated and autonomous. As companies grow, they must decide whether they want to continue to support intrapreneurship or adopt a more traditional model. Intrapreneurship programs take businesses beyond initial profitability because they focus on growth and innovation. They also boost employee engagement.

If employees are invested in an organization’s success, they’re likely to stay with the company long-term. Team members who feel empowered to act on their ideas take ownership in the business and work doubly hard to help it grow. They feel connected to the larger vision and they appreciate the opportunity to work as they see fit.

Businesses can use the following guidelines to cultivate intrapraneurship:

1. Stack the deck in your favor. The best way to inspire and encourage an intrapreneurial spirit in your team members is to bring in new employees who already have that fire in their bellies. Not everyone works well without continuous oversight, so conduct personality tests to ensure each hire is a good fit.

Look for self-directed, ambitious candidates who will thrive in a nontraditional environment. A track record of taking initiative, passion for the industry and ideas about how to improve the company are all signs that someone is an intrapreneur in the making.

2. Provide support, but don’t micromanage. Millennials may be risk-averse, but given the right supportive environment, their creative minds will take off. Give employees the flexibility to try new concepts and the freedom to fail. Don’t insist that they report to management at every step of a project. Offer mentorship but let them have the autonomy that was promised.

Intuit encourages intrapreneurs through coaching, training and publicly recognizing quality work. But final products are devised and executed by employees. The more people can make their jobs their own, the more significant their contributions will be.

3. Expand opportunities incrementally. Trust builds over time. Rather than handing over the reins to company-defining projects right off the bat, greenlight smaller initiatives that let employees test their skills without jeopardizing the business. If they make mistakes, they’ll learn from them and be more prepared next time. Create a clear path toward bigger products while providing opportunities for learning and gaining experience along the way.

Intrapreneurship answers the question “How can companies retain Millennial talent?” This generation values purpose and accomplishment over money and titles, a fact that should delight employers. Intrapreneurship programs satisfy Millennials’ career requirements and help businesses bring more innovative solutions to the market.

Image credit: Flickr/Robert Scoble

Dusty Wunderlich is the founder and CEO of Bristlecone Holdings, a high-growth network of consumer and business-to-business finance platforms and financial technologies. Its mission is to democratize the world of finance for the better. Dusty is a current recipient of the Twenty under 40 Awards in Reno, Nevada, and is a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council.

TriplePundit has published articles from over 1000 contributors. If you'd like to be a guest author, please get in touch!

Read more stories by 3p Contributor