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Do you have an 'intrapreneur' in your lab?

Do you have an "Intrapreneur' in your lab?

Not all people with the spirit of Henry Ford or Famous Amos strike out on their own to become entrepreneurs. Many hang on to the security of a salary and let their employers benefit from their pioneering tendencies. They are "intrapreneurs'--the term coined by management consultant Gifford Pinchot III for individuals who act as entrepreneurs within the existing organization.1 You may prefer to call them corporate entrepreneurs.

Intrapreneurs are not the same as idea people. The latter are creative but may or may not convert their ideas into action. Some idea people don't even accept responsibility for their suggestions. In contrast, intrapreneurs may be a bit short on originality. Their bright ideas often come from others or from something they read or observe. They may just improve somebody else's work. What makes them unique, however, is their ability to put ideas to use and their willingness to accept full responsibility for developing pet projects.

Typical intrapreneurs are dedicated, determined people who push through against the odds, overcoming formidable obstacles. They can visualize complex steps from an idea to its actualization.1 They are more than willing to accept responsibility, even thrive on it, with little fear of failure. Since they need the cooperation of others and the support of their supervisors, effective intrapreneurs are good, persuasive negotiators. They get their kicks from putting ideas into action rather than from creating them.

Let's consider the differences between Sue, an idea person, and Laurie, an intrapreneur. At a laboratory staff meeting, Sue proposed developing a computer program for monitoring and evaluating performance appraisals. She presented all its advantages and overcame objections. The director and staff were impressed; they agreed this would be a worthwhile effort. But the idea died a quiet death because nobody, including Sue, was willing to sponsor it.

Laurie, on the other hand, came across an idea and did something about it. An ongoing reduction in force was in progress at her laboratory. The work hours of the many part-time employees had been cut back, and positions were being eliminated by attrition. She remembered that when the lab office was shorthanded, temporary help was obtained from a local agency. She also read about a company that lends out the services of its employees.

Putting these bits of knowledge together, Laurie came up with a proposal: Part-time laboratory technologists could be trained as backup personnel for doctors' office labs. She spoke to some of the part-timers and called several physicians with office laboratories. The responses were encouraging. The lab director, although not enthralled with the idea, gave his approval. He relieved Laurie of a couple of her routine tasks and authorized her to launch the project.

Six months later, the new service is off to a good start. Laurie is proud of her accomplishment, and the lab director is pleased with comments from physicians who use the service. The part-time technologists are grateful. Some have switched to full-time jobs in physicians' offices.

The goal of entrepreneuring is to come up with new or better products or services. In times of rapid change, the alternative to this kind of creativity is stagnation and decline.1 Right now the health industry sorely needs both idea people and intrapreneurs to counter the snail's pace of bureaucratic processes. Unfortunately, these individuals are in short supply. Many are converted into conformists by managers who suffer from tunnel vision. Others take their talents to competitors, or they establish their own businesses.

Still, intrapreneurship is beginning to take hold in the health industry. For-profit hospitals and ambulatory care centers are growing at the expense of hospitals that failed to change with their customers' needs. Belatedly, many hospitals are actively seeking new customers and providing new services. Even small ones are becoming medical centers with satellite clinics, health maintenance organizations, and preferred provider organizations, and most provide outpatient services and home care.

Through holding companies or other devices, surviving hospitals will thrive. They will form umbrellas under which numerous entrepreneurial services can be subcontracted.

The care and feeding of intrapreneurs is every manager's responsibility. Creativity is present at all hierarchical levels, but it is often dormant. Through statements and actions, managers must show that they are receptive to ideas and that they support efforts to realize them. This is not always easy; intrapreneurs tend to think and act differently from most. They may be nonconformists, and this plus their determination can make them hard to work with. Some are regarded as problem employees.

While stereotyping is dangerous, intrapreneurs share certain characteristics that provide clues to the best ways of supporting them. These individuals represent a mixture of what Keirsey and Bates call "analyst' ad "troubleshooter.'2 Being told how to do things or assigned repetitive tasks irritates them. They are frustrated by red tape and restrictive policies.

Given the right encouragement, however, potential intrapreneurs will blossom. They like compliments on ideas and on the flair of their actions. Motivation comes from loose reins, complex assignments, appeals to intellect, and freedom to do things their way.2

On specific projects, intrapreneurs should be given full responsibility, authority, and accountability.3 Timetables should not be too restrictive, but supervisors must exercise some control, especially over such areas as work objectives and planning strategy. You don't want the project to end up out in left field or other important activities to be neglected.

Supervisors should not wait until formal performance reviews to follow up. Many efforts have gone down the drain because management wanted to see a complex project completed before uttering a word of praise. Supervisors should know what's going on and provide support without harassing or offering unwanted suggestions.

Managers themselves can be nudged in the direction of innovation through appropriate challenges. One objective could be: "To develop new services within the next year that will account for a 2 per cent or greater increase in net profit.'

Take a closer look at your staff. Can you spot a potential intrapreneur? Maybe he or she is that employee who makes you uncomfortable. Is it Julia, who asks those difficult questions at staff meetings? Is it Joe, who complains about policies and assignments? Your job is to encourage these special people to make better use of their talent.

So look around. One potential intrapreneur might even be you.

1. Pinchot, G. III. "Intrapreneuring.' New York, Harper & Row, 1985.

2. Keirsey, D., and Bates, M. "Please Understand Me,' 4th ed. Del Mar, Calif., Prometheus Nemesis, 1984.

3. Clark, L.A., and Kuyper, L.A. The intrapreneurial alternative. J. AMRA (Amencan Medical Record Association) 56: 22-24, September 1985.
COPYRIGHT 1986 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Umiker, William O.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Sep 1, 1986
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