The economic meltdown has crippled governments already challenged by global warming, health care crises, collapsing social structures, and growing public safety concerns.
Faced with such overwhelming challenges, it is tempting to hunker down and depend on well-established approaches to meet objectives. This is a mistake. To have any chance of success, governments must become adept at developing and adopting new practices that will advance innovation.
Frustrated because they can’t change the system, people that would drive that innovation are leaving government en masse. Such losses (on top of boomer retirements) are creating a talent deficit. The consequence: government is suffering from paralysis when it comes to its transformative change efforts.
If government wants to achieve different and better outcomes it needs to identify, develop and unleash a unique breed of public servants – the intrapreneurs, who will drive ideas, develop innovative approaches and deliver new models.
An intrapreneur has been described as the entrepreneur of the millennium. Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO (one of the world’s leading design companies), explains that “IDEO actively seeks out intrapreneurs because they are natural integrators, problem solvers and facilitators.” Brown describes such intrapreneurs as “likely to have honed less celebrated, but perhaps more reliable, characteristics of innovation such as political savvy, tact, teamwork and patience. Rather than getting their way via force of personality or charismatic zeal, these innovators learn how to bring projects to life through the deft manipulation of the latent intellectual and financial capital inside their organizations.”
In John Elkington’s The Social Intrapreneur: A Field Guide for Corporate Changemakers, intrapreneurs are often seen as “hybrid individuals, who persistently champion a vision of change in the face of frequent cynicism and resistance. They flourish when the organization provides them with an effective base from which to create and leverage innovative societal solutions and understand business process and priorities as well as sustainability imperatives.”
Intrapreneurs are willing and able to take risks in the name of an idea. They realize their vision by moving across and between organizations and sectors. Most important, “intrapreneurs compel their organizations to look outside their comfort zones – to see both the strategic risks and profound opportunities that exist beyond the purview of traditional business units,” Elkington asserts.
Intrapreneurs need acceptance, a support network of mentors, and good leadership to help master their skills and concepts. Given the ever-increasing rate of change before us, it is more critical than ever for government to tap into the expertise of this unique talent pool rather than drive it away.
Leadership support is vital for intrapreneurs. “They need to receive internal recognition for the value of their intrapreneurial solutions, as well as acknowledgement for the significance of their vision and agenda,” insists Elkington.
Management scientists encourage us to celebrate failure. By the nature of their work, intrapreneurs are going to fail occasionally. Providing a supportive environment that promotes lessons learned rather than fear of disciplinary action will help intrapreneurs not only realize their potential, but also help government effectively deal with today’s challenges and achieve its goals.
Game changers are being sought after all over the world. Why? Game changers are not interested in incremental improvements; they are interested in facing our biggest challenges head-on and finding solutions that fundamentally shift the way we do things. They are usually more ambitious for social change than for personal wealth and advancement. Game changers thrive on redesigning systems and are relentlessly in pursuit of the greater good. They are destined to lead transformational change.
The only answer to more problems is more problem-solvers. Intrapreneurs are government’s greatest assets. Yet, it continues to stifle these assets. Leadership is an act of liberation, not of control. To achieve transformational change, government needs to unleash the potential of the intrapreneur and let these real game changers get in the game.
Colleen McCormick works in tourism for British Columbia. She represents Victoria new professionals on IPAC’s board of directors and is the founder of the non-profit Social Innovators Network.