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Unlocking intrapreneurial talent

Unlocking intrapreneurial talent

Overcoming flaws in leadership development with pharma companies


Disruptive innovation may be a rapidly evolving business trend, however properly harnessing it, particularly in the pharmaceutical sector, is still proving challenging. Yet igniting innovation such that it leads to the creation of cost-effective, tangible improvements in healthcare is the obvious way forward. Morphing the current organisation structures into new forms that nurture collaboration, discovery, experimentation and development – and result in new business models - can and do lead to explosive new growth opportunities.

What we are currently witnessing are global pharmaceutical organisations grappling with technologically intensive and complex agendas. As a result flaws in traditional approaches to talent management and leadership development are increasingly visible. And that’s not all, according to Deloitte's recent survey of millennials (those in their twenties and early thirties), 78 percent of the sample 8000 people interviewed are influenced by how innovative a company is when deciding if they want to work there. Yet most claimed that their current employer does not actively encourage creativity. The pharmaceutical industry certainly is not perceived as cutting-edge and innovative and could therefore be missing out on attracting top game-changing talent.

Large traditional organisations, such as pharmaceutical companies, could learn a great deal from more agile counterparts in other sectors, particularly when it comes to unlocking potential intrapreneurial talent.

 The transformational potential of taping into intrapreneurship is not new - the 1991 issue of Journal of Business Venturing defined intrapreneurship as the process of creating new business within established firms to improve organisational profitability and enhance a company’s competitive position or the strategic renewal of existing business.

Employees are usually given the opportunity to work on projects where they can use their entrepreneurial skills to develop new products or services that become profitable ventures for the company. Unlike entrepreneurs, however, they don’t incur the risks associated with these projects, but neither do they gain the huge financial rewards if their new product or service is a blockbuster.
However, in many organisations innovation has become something of a paradox. Everyone knows that it’s probably essential for survival but it can be regarded as time-consuming and expensive, it diverts the company away from its core business and comes with a strong downside of failure. It seems more important to remain rigidly blinkered but still moving forward – irrespective of how slow – rather than adopting a more open view and adjusting tack to take advantage of better conditions that are likely to prevail in the future.
There is also a belief that corporate intrapreneurial activity has a higher failure rate than that of external entrepreneurs. Not that there is any evidence that intrapreneurial start-ups are less successful. If anything corporate venturing is less successful because insufficient time, commitment and money are invested in innovative activities. Furthermore, because intrapreneurs operate within the structural and procedural constraints of an established organisation, they lack the innovative freedom that the entrepreneur enjoys. What entrepreneurs don’t benefit from is the financial, administrative and operational support that is provided to intrapreneurs.
Nevertheless, where deeply entrenched beliefs and practices – many of which run counter to innovation and creativity – exist within an organisation’s culture, then corporate venturing is unlikely to get off the ground.
One of the ways for organisations to start exploring their own intrapreneurship potential is for management to make it part of their key growth strategy. They must actively champion a vibrant and innovative environment where internal start-ups can fuel growth by monetising new ideas. This means empowering the workforce to innovate and support teams by removing the roadblocks that get in their way. 
Building an organisation that supports this way of thinking requires a conscious commitment from current and future leaders. A commitment to building a supporting culture that values change and knows how to make it happen
Certainly the next generation of employees are primed to make a change and they want to join organisations that let them do just that. They are not old-fashioned "organisation climbers” - it is down to pharmaceutical organisations to nurture and harness this untapped vitality. 
About the author:
Michail Sotirakos is an engineer by training and an entrepreneur. After 11 years in academia he branched out into business and has successfully launched a number of companies. 
He is the CEO of Watershed Entrepreneurs ( and, as a business modeling expert, also works with companies in the development of their intrapreneurial programmes.