The Rise of Intrepreneurs in Real Estate

intrapreneur,ˌɪntrəprəˈnəː/, noun – a manager within a company who promotes innovative product development and marketing.

With the increasing need for real estate and construction sectors to innovate to stay ahead, as well as developing the cultures that drive it, at Holtby Turner Executive Search we’re seeing a major shift with regard to the people needed to lead this change. As managers are increasingly required to be entrepreneurial in approach, the need for intrapreneurs within organisations has grown exponentially. How does this translate to real estate?

Whether through mergers, acquisitions or partner-led incubators, real estate businesses need to pay heed to fostering a start-up culture within their organisation. As PropTech forces the industry to face inevitable disruption, we’ll see a major call for more intrapreneurship in the years ahead. For the real game-changers, it will be imperative to know how to identify, direct and develop corporate entrepreneurs; and equally to know when you’re better focusing on executors, innovators, disruptors, or all of the above.

Entrepreneurs vs Intrapreneurs

The characteristic drive for an entrepreneur is rarely one of external motivation or monetary incentive. Rather, their motivation stems from a mind-set and an energy predisposed to create, a desire to leave a mark and make a difference. In almost all instances, the reward is the innovation itself.

An intrapreneur, on the other hand, is employed and accountable to their employers and the company’s shareholders. This strategic direction is underpinned by a desired commercial outcome, set by others in some shape or other, be that entering a new market or diversifying a product range.

Intrapreneurs look for results and a way to say, “I did this”. This tendency for results and seeing the fruits of the same can be a challenge, but also a great boon.

Spotting Potential Intrapreneurs

So, who are the intrapreneurs – those who want to enact change and see results? As an executive search firm, we spend hours assessing motivations, IQ and EQ. As a result, we can often spot intrapreneurs even before they’ve realised that’s what they are.

Passionate, determined and highly driven, intrapraneurs are sparky, dynamic and engaging. They’re change agents, whose nature is to challenge and question – non-conformist team players.

True intrapreneurs do not challenge status quo to gain attention or be obstructive. Their motivation stems from a collective sense of winning, and a deeper desire to secure opportunities for an organisation to succeed.

Successful intrapreneurs will have spent time to earn trust and respect, and have shown an understanding of your organisation’s strategy and culture. Once they’ve “earned their stripes” however, intrapreneurs will look for ways to boost the value of your company’s offering, disrupting some things, but often for the (far) better.

Creating Creative Calamity

Intrapreneurs suit organisations with an explicit innovation strategy, or ones who are committed to delivering change. But if your resources are focused on delivering a single strategy, or growing a specific new market opportunity, intrapreneurs can be a challenge, distracting and even threatening successful execution.

Your challenge, then, is to figure out what is most important to you: playing it safe, sticking to the knitting, or being a change agent. The latter is rarely the easiest, or the safest option. However, in an industry facing tremendous change, you need to ask yourself if “safe” is actually safe, or just a way to ignore major changes.

A Time to Shine?

For real estate firms wishing to enter a new market, develop their products or services, or test new ground in business development, intrapreneurs are an excellent creative force. That said, managing them isn’t easy. Despite their enthusiastic drive for experimentation and abundant innovative ideas, intrapreneurs can be a major disruption, particularly if the time’s not right.

If a CEO is seen to favour new, edgy ideas over existing viable revenue streams, without clear corporate communication as to why and how they will both be working together, agenda clashing is inevitable. Internally this is stressful; externally, it can be very damaging.

What real estate leaders need to do is to balance the creative energies of intrapreneurs with the more staid approach of current performers. Appointing an intrapreneur signals that times are a-changin’ in your organisation. Now, not everyone likes change, or will be cooperative with it. Whilst most intrapreneurs have a sincere intention to create a greater good, they can be seen as arrogant and insensitive newcomers by staff who’ve been around a while.

Managing the Wild Child

Managing this divergence must come from the very top, i.e. the CEO, as innovation demands the vision, command and execution of the Chief Executive Officer, and the cachet that this brings. Intrapreneurs need to be led, and reminded that their hypotheses are just that until proven as viable. They require thorough testing, on many fronts, from multiple stakeholders, and a leader who can handle this. The inevitable conflict between those who “get it” and those who don’t, can rapidly create an atmosphere of distrust, and is as such another challenge for leadership. Open lines of authority and communication, coupled with clear assignment of responsibilities, is part and parcel of leading intrapreneurs.

They, as well as innovation, are challenging to manage. Without a razor-sharp brief, and a reporting structure to senior management, intrapreneurs can wax and wane, leaving stakeholders in the dark. Giving intrapreneurs unchecked power is risky for an established business. Intrapreneurs may take risks that are beyond what the organisation can handle, and play things too safe to garner praise, and in both cases you’re paying far too great a price.

Maximizing Intrapreneurial Value

There can be no doubt about the potential value of intrapreneurs, and the innovation that they can engender. We’ve however spoken far too little about the challenges of managing them, and what needs to be done to fully maximise their value.

The first part of this is trust – which is a two-way street. Intrapreneurs need to feel trusted, but at the same time they need to show that they’re team players. Managing this requires a form of translation between two fundamentally different cultures.

The second part is resources – intrapreneurs need to be given the tools and the space to realise new ideas and innovations. This means that managers need to be able to explain to the rest of the organisation why such experimentation is beneficial for all.

The third part is selection. Your intrapreneur can’t be just anyone with a big idea, but someone capable of both imagining and executing. That’s often where we come in as an executive search firm and help assess candidates.

Sometimes, as an organisation, you need to burn down the house to build something better, newer and more valuable. Apple did just this in launching the iPhone, which marked the death knell of the iPod, which at the time was their most profitable product.

Intrapreneurship is not for all organisations but can be invaluable to those large enough to embrace their enormous transformative drive.

Read more about PropTech & Innovation in our Insight Report here, A Brave New World? Innovating Real Estate