Executive Health Administration

Healthcare Intrapreneurs: Driving Organizational Innovation and Performance

[fa icon="calendar'] Dec 13, 2016 1:15:00 PM / by Anna Montgomery, MPA

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Healthcare leaders face challenges as competition increases, public policy changes, technology advances, and collaboration becomes necessary.

Organizations that can pivot prove to be more flexible and agile in handling these challenges. Intrapreneurs, employees that can think and act like owners within the organization, not only increase innovation but improve the competitive advantage of companies. Increasingly, healthcare leaders are looking for ways to identify and encourage intrapreneurial behavior within their own work context.

Research indicates that there are specific characteristics and patterns of behavior that intrapreneurs exhibit that can aid leaders in their objectives to improve innovation. The benefits of intrapreneurship and ways to nurture it within the company are important tools for creating buy-in and participation at all levels of healthcare organizations.

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Govindarajan and Desai, in their article in Harvard Business Review, describe unique characteristics to help leaders and managers recognize commonalities among intrapreneurs.

Employees can be identified by their sense of ownership, of their own work products but also the broader functioning of the team, unit, department, or company. These employees not only see the big picture but have ideas they want to enact to improve processes, products, and infrastructure. They understand that implementing novel ideas requires them to maneuver through the political scene and overcome obstacles on the way.

This requires patience, emotional intelligence, and perseverance. Since intrapreneurs are motivated internally it is more likely they will stick with ideas through resource problems, organizational resistance, and difficulties with implementation.

However, without trust and management support intrapreneurs may leave to become entrepreneurs or disengage from innovation within the company (Rigtering & Weitzel, 2013).

Patterns of Behavior

One of the keys to identifying and nurturing intrapreneurship within an organization is seeing and encouraging patterns of behavior.

To innovate, employees need to seek new and external knowledge. Govindarajan and Desai (2013) also emphasize that these employees understand that information gathering is only the first step, knowledge and ideas require rumination to become useful.

Analysis over proper problem definition, usefulness, and the realities of implementation occupy intrapreneurs during this time. Many will use visual tools such as brainstorming, mind maps, or design thinking techniques to further develop their nascent ideas.

Once this process has matured their ideas, they must act courageously to bring these ideas to fruition within the organization. Authenticity and integrity are ways that intrapreneurs may garner support from their team and leaders.

Leaders that understand the benefits of intrapreneurship have an advantage because they can both support the initiatives with resources, especially time, and nurture the process of change.

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The benefits of intrapreneurship have been established in the literature. Advantages of intrapreneurial behavior include making organizations more competitive and responsive.

Agility, calculated risk taking, and innovation all contribute to the overall health of the organization and its ability to respond to the environment (Covin & Slevin, 1991; Lumpkin & Dess, 1996).

As the pace of change accelerates these benefits provide organizations with the ability to pivot, identify new markets, and become more efficient and effective.


Ways to Nurture

Healthcare leaders that want to encourage employees to create these benefits recognize there are ways that organizational culture and structure, and resources, influence intrapreneurial behavior.

Organizational culture that is conducive to intrapreneurship is acceptance of failure, continuous learning, facilitating internal and external networking, and encouraging champions of change (Moriano et al., 2011).

Organizational structure influences development of intrapreneurship as well. Flexible (Menzel et al., 2007) and flat (Kuratko & Goldsby, 2004) organizations have been identified as better incubators for intrapreneurship.

However, trust may be the largest mitigating factor in whether intrapreneurs introduce innovation (Rigtering & Weitzel, 2013). Internal resistance to innovation can be intense and employees that can trust their supervisors are more likely to engage in intrapreneurial behavior.

The leadership style of managers and executives also impacts intrapreneurship.

Transformational leaders engage employees by aligning individual values and motivations with organizational objectives.

Transactional leaders may see time spent on creativity and innovation as wasteful or limited to individuals specifically tasked with research and development.

However, transformational leaders empower and recognize employees that display ownership, curiosity, and a desire to improve organizational function. This type of buy-in from employees improves engagement and organizational citizenship behaviors (Moriano et al., 2011).

Transformational leadership, organizational structure, cultural encouragement, and individual trust all improve intrapreneurship within organizations.


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Covin, J. G., & Slevin, D. P. (1991). A conceptual model of entrepreneurship as firm behavior. Entrepreneurship theory and practice, 16(1), 7-25.


Govindarajan, V., & Desai, J. (2013). Recognize intrapreneurs before they leave. Harvard Business Review.


Lumpkin, G. T., & Dess, G. G. (1996). Clarifying the entrepreneurial orientation construct and linking it to performance. Academy of management Review, 21(1), 135-172.


Kuratko, D. F., Goldsby, M. G., & Hornsby, J. S. (2004). The ethical perspectives of entrepreneurs: An examination of stakeholder salience. Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship, 9(4), 19.


Matt, D. T., & Rauch, E. (2009). Promoting employee intrapreneurship to enhance corporate agility.


Menzel, H. C., Aaltio, I., & Ulijn, J. M. (2007). On the way to creativity: Engineers as intrapreneurs in organizations. Technovation, 27(12), 732-743.


Moriano, J. A., & Molero, F., Topa, 0., & Mangin, JPL (2011) The influence of transformational leadership and organizational identification on intrapreneurship. International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal, Published online July, 14, 1365-01.


Rigtering, J. P. C., & Weitzel, U. (2013). Work context and employee behaviour as antecedents for intrapreneurship. International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal, 9(3), 337-360.

Topics: Innovation

Anna Montgomery, MPA

Written by Anna Montgomery, MPA

Anna Montgomery earned her MPA at USC Price and is pursuing her EdD at USC Rossier.

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