Four Steps to Instigate True Social Intrapreneurship in Your Organization

There's something in the air when it comes to intrapreneurs. Something infectious - the spark that ignites a flame in projects, teams, and when they really succeed, organizations.

The Aspen Institute's Business and Society Program describes them as ' innovators who integrate profitability and social value while working inside major organizations'. We explored this a little further in our blog post‚ "Understanding Social Intrapreneurs and their impact on business."

The truth is there's more and more information out there about how to succeed in making a difference from the inside. It's easier now more than ever for employees who want to have impact in their work, to find the tools and understand the challenges they face to get there. But every story has more than one side. Where are the companies at?

The evidence of the benefits that intrapreneurs bring to the company is growing:

- They model new ways of working (collaboration, empathy, design thinking) required for 21st century business
- They actively develop 'shared value' innovations aligning business strategy with societal needs
- They help carve new pathways for employees who want to have meaning in their work

I hear more from executives and entrepreneurs seeking ways to support them and often struggling.

They see that spark and the effect it has on their people, their vision, their goals and the resulting business success. The empowerment and fulfilment goes beyond their projects. It reaches their hearts.

How can your organization foster intrapreneurship?

There are some key things you can put in place to help your current intrapreneurs thrive, and foster new ones.

1. Legitimize

"We have to let our employees know that it is okay to think different" - Gib Bulloch, Accenture
Show you are aware of the subject and you understand what intrapreneurship really is and how you support it.

Share the opportunities to create social intraprenuership, and the potential benefits. Inspire through stories of successful intrapreneurial initiatives. Give them a license to operate.

Action: Organize inspiration sessions to share and foster ideas to generate engagement and legitimize action.

2. Build

A strong and solid support network. An intrapreneur without senior support, air cover, visibility, and a supportive ecosystem is like a fish without water.

While intrapreneurial projects always start with an entrepreneurial individual, the successful ones always succeed with a diverse, committed team, a large network and in most cases with an "executive godfather."

Build an "ecosystem", by engaging and relying on the support of a key player in the HR, CSR/Sustainability or Innovation team.

Action: Expose a selected group of senior executives who have a track record in caring about talent development and who are open to new forms of innovation to the topic through organizing briefing breakfasts or peer groups. Have them participate in cross-company communities of practice and consider rethinking their incentives.

3. Foster

Leave room for experiments and prototypes. And give new models and tools a chance to develop and evolve.

To innovate across sectors, give some free space to hungry, young talent. They are your secret weapon; they see everything through new eyes. Expose them to other cultures, countries, sectors and perspectives, then harvest and channel their ideas and passion. Support speedy pilots.

Action: Experiment with internal and external programs, competitions and collaborations for your talent, such as Ashoka Changemakers, The League of Intrapreneurs, MyImpact, TechChange or The Impact HUB. Consider running an internal competition to incubate intrapreneurial initiatives.

Companies such as GSK, PepsiCo, Syngenta or Vodafone have celebrated the success of their intrapreneurs in these types of competitions.

4. Develop

If your top performers are those who adhere to company processes best without challenging the status quo and questioning, then you're not fostering intrapreneurship in the first place.

But if you want strong and creative personalities that bring true responsibility, then you must offer your senior social (or potential) intrapreneurs options that will develop their need to truly innovate.

"There is a longing for a sense of meaning with many executives," says Filipe Santos, INSEAD Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship. Here's a chance to meet it.

Action: Create internal peer groups supported by senior executives. Support the participation of senior talent in leading development programs such as the Aspen First Movers Fellowship.

Walmart, for example, has had their managers participate in almost every year of the program so far.

Good intrapreneurs are like good entrepreneurs.

All of this is food for thought, but keep in mind: You need to mean it - no "fig leaf".

Intrapreneurs are driven individuals who really want to make a difference and who will pursue other options if they don't see prospects. They want real opportunities not just talk of them.

Whatever your role, make sure you understand the potential of social intrapreneurship and the limitations that bureaucracy poses to them.

Do your research, talk to your peers and be open to experimentation - supporting corporate intrapreneurs is not a road well-travelled, yet.

Who knows, maybe you're a social intrapreneur yourself?

This post by Joanna Hafenmayer, founder and CEO, MyImpact and Aspen Institute First Mover Fellow, in support of the Aspen Institute First Movers Fellowship, is part of a special blog series focused on the growing importance of social intrapreneurs (change-agents within organizations large and small who are fusing business success with positive social and environmental impacts) and the value they are adding to their organizations and society.

Click here to meet the Aspen Institute's newest crop of social intrapreneurs - the 2014 Class of First Mover Fellows. Click here to visit the HuffPost Aspen Institute page and see more posts in the series.