How to Infect Your Startup’s Culture with a Mentality of ‘Intrapreneurship’

Fast Company senior writer Ellen McGirt spoke with Zappos’ Will Young and Shopify’s chief culture officer, Daniel Weinand, at GROW 2013 on how to infect your startup’s culture with a mentality of “intrapreneurship.”

Both experts agree that intrapreneurship is a buzz word, but they also agree that doesn’t make it any less meaningful.

“We have ways for even call centre people to get involved,” says Young on his company’s efforts to give employees the opportunity to engage their inner entrepreneur.

“Anyone can walk up to an executive of our company and talk to them about their ideas,” says Weinand of Shopify’s pro-intrapreneurship culture. Shopify hosts regular “hack days,” during which employees can build absolutely anything and pitch to their fellow staff.

Zappos has a program called Z-Frogs. Similar to Shopify’s hack days, it allows absolutely any employee to pitch any idea (not just product or feature ideas) to C-level executives.

But what’s the ROI on intrapreneurship? How can results be measured?

“The value of a mentality of ownership, that an employee is part of something, is big,” believes Weinand. Shopify has no intrapreneur-based metrics to track, but is confident that the ROI is positive

Young agrees, noting that it’s “hard to measure happiness.”

“Measuring the impact of culture is really, really hard,” Weinand affirms. But he says that knowinng employees go home from work happy is hugely important. If for no other reason, Shopify believes in intrapreneurship because “it just feels right.”

But before implementing any programs to support intrapreneurship, a company needs to make sure its culture is poised to foster that spirit within employees to begin with. A more formal, corporate, conservative, or button-downed culture probably doesn’t have enough craziness flowing through the office veins to sustain a worthwhile system of intrapreneurship.

If you’re concerned that your culture isn’t pro-intrapreneur, ask employees: would you fear being fired or punished for pitching a crazy idea to   an executive? “If employees are afraid of that, then something is fundamentally wrong with the company,” Weinand says.

Ultimately, Young and Weinand say that not every company needs to cultivate intrapreneurship. But if it’s a natural fit with your startup’s culture, then look for creative ways to foster employees’ inner entrepreneur.