Entrepreneur versus Intrapreneur
In skill development, a teacher should expose the students to a real-life situation and watch their performance. This requires time and money with no sure-shot success. The alternate is case-study method. I have prepared a short case for finding out entrepreneurial (not intrapreneurial) abilities in students. (difference between the two has been explained later). They are confronted with a real-life intrapreneur to see their response.
A real-life story
An engineering company, at Faisalabad, had a reputation for being a "good place to work". Employees were not unionized. They were rewarded for any new ideas to improve quality or cost reduction. They were also provided opportunities to conduct their own research in a specially designed workshop.
Mr. Asghar was a supervisor in the Electric Motor Department. He was successful in making some improvement in the electric motor to make it energy saver. Before submitting his suggestion, he decided to try out his idea. He asked the workers to carry out the electric motor production according to the modified version. After testing about 50 motors and finding them satisfactory, he moved them to assembly area, where they would eventually become parts of automatic looms costing about Rs.1,000,000 each.
His idea was appreciated and found thoroughly sound. A sum of Rs.10,000 was recommended as suggestion award. In the meanwhile, an inspector had noticed a change in the design of motor which he did not like. He was also not on good terms with Asghar whom he termed as "swollen head" and recommended for his immediate dismissal.
As a chief executive, you have both the recommendations are at your table? Which one you would accept?
Relevant facts can be summarized as follows:
- The company encouraged improvement and rewarded its employees for any useful ideas.
- The employees were provided a specially designed workshop.
- Mr. Asghar, a supervisor in the Electric Motor Department, was successful in improving the electric motor for energy savings.
- Before submitting his suggestion, he decided to try out his idea and asked the workers to make the electric motor as per modified version.
- After testing 50 motors and finding them satisfactory, he moved them to assembly area, where they would eventually become parts of automatic looms costing about Rs.1,000,000 each.
- An inspector noticed the change and recommended for his immediate dismissal.
As is evident, the changes were made without any authority or approval. Hence, the inspector was right for dismissal of Mr. Asghar.
Disregarding this aspect for the time being, the change may improve the sale of automatic looms for the time being. (It would soon be copied by other manufacturers and the edge would be lost.) But in a worst case scenario, the change in design may lead to short-circuiting and potential destruction of looms valuing 50 x 1,000,000= 50 million. It must be remembered that Mr. Asghar was a supervisor and not a design engineer for electrical motors.
Since Mr. Ashgar has taken a dangerous step, he should immediately be removed from fabrication workshop.
However, keeping in view his innovative ability, he may be permanently posted in R&D lab and provided with some facilities or funds for continuing his research work.
Mr. Asghar is typical ‘intrapreneur’. The term refers to ‘an employee who tries to turn an idea into a better product through assertive risk-taking and innovation.’ Such a person is different from a researcher employed by the company in its R&D Division. An intrapreneur will bend any rule, scale any wall, flout any procedure and interfere in any process to try the idea.
They keep low profile until they succeed in their pursuits. Such a person believes that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission. This is not on account of any desperation rather than motivation.
An intrapreneur differs from his boss, the entrepreneur.The intrapreneur has free access to assets of the company without incurring a risk or financial loss. While the owners (entrepreneurs), safeguard their systems, the other lot (the Intrapreneurs) finds the loophole, challenges the status quo and try to change it. In the process, they may lose their jobs but they come to work each day willing to be fired.
On the other hand, they think and behave like an owner. Traits like conviction, zeal and insight are common to both. They think alike seeking out opportunities for the benefit of the business.
Way back in 1943, Maslow noticed that “What a man can be, he must be.” This leads to realizing full potential or a move towards self-actualization. Many companies have taken advantage of this human nature and have created environment to promote innovation within their ranks. 3M gives certain freedom to its employees and provides them with some funds for development of their own projects. So are Intel , Google and Lockheed to name a few.
Steve Jobs of Apple says, “Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service."
Looking back at the 'real-life-episode', one should not have any doubt that Mr. Asghar flouted the rule and exposed the company to a dangerous position. His removal from the operations would be justified. But at the same time, he has exhibited his burning desire for innovation in product design which would ultimately benefit the company. So he must not be thrown out rather kept contained within the laboratory-walls for a continued research.
But who knows when he would jump the walls and resume his passion. Only one safe-guard: Take R&D away from the factory and post gun-touting guards at its gate specifically briefed against the likely attempt of Mr. Asghar to enter the area for changing the design.
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