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Employee empowerment is the future. Here’s how it works.

Oftentimes it seems that startups have all the fun. Many of the most shared and discussed stories involve innovative entrepreneurs who develop groundbreaking ideas for products or services. Larger businesses, meanwhile, often don’t get as much attention because they’re generally locked into the products and services their customers expect.

It won’t be this way forever. Through intrapreneurship, large companies have begun employing many of the practices used by startups in their own daily operations. Business leaders find this to be a desirable approach because it can help large companies better meet challenges posed by ever-changing markets.

This trend will only amplify in the years to come. Here’s what you should know about intrapreneurship and how it will transform the future of business.

What is intrapreneurship?

The term intrapreneurship can cover a wide range of business behaviors, each emulating the practices of a startup. Intrapreneurs think outside the typical corporate box, taking risks and dreaming up innovative approaches to major decisions. If a big company isn’t highly adaptive like a startup, it may not stay competitive.

Intrapreneurship isn’t necessarily limited to leadership behaviors. In some organizations, a small task force is assigned the duty of developing innovative ideas, sort of working as an internal incubator where employees are encouraged to create new product lines or corporate divisions in a manner similar to startups.

AT&T’s Foundry is an example of an internal incubator that creates cutting-edge products in the spirit of the company’s existing vision. Foundry team members also come up with ways to refine existing products and services. Each of the company’s foundry “innovation centers” encourages collaboration between entrepreneurs and AT&T employees to foster creative thinking.

Employee empowerment is the future.

As younger generations enter the workforce in droves, employers face challenges. If they’re feeling bold and have the resources, highly motivated millennials just might start a small business of their own instead of working for a large company. Meanwhile, numerous startups as well as mid-size businesses are trying to recruit top young candidates by providing some of the benefits workers only once enjoyed had they chosen to work for a large corporation or government agency.

Therefore, big companies are now rethinking their internal culture, and trying intrapreneurial approaches to snag top millennial talent. LinkedIn accomplishes this by inviting employees to come up with new ideas each quarter, gather a team, and pitch the idea to the executive staff. If an idea is approved, the team then is allotted three months to bring the concept to fruition. This helps foster the very environment of innovation that attracts millennials.

Businesses will continue to find various ways to empower their employees, including them in brainstorming sessions rather than making decisions and handing down assignments.

Rethinking what you do in real-time.

No matter what products or services you sell, continuing to do something because you’ve “always done it this way” is becoming increasingly unacceptable. It’s important that businesses regularly reevaluate everything they do—from internal HR policies to the way they approach providing services.

One of the best ways to accomplish innovation is through appointing smaller think tanks within a larger organization. Businesses can put together a team of forward-thinking employees who review current methods and devise new approaches. These teams can come up with solutions and processes that existing leaders might not consider. This serves the dual purpose of empowering employees while also encouraging innovation.

One attention-capturing think tank is Xerox’s Innovation at Work, which aims to imagine what work will be like in the next decade—and then invent it. Xerox uses its Innovation at Work platform to find new and better ways to serve the businesses that rely on its products. Part of this effort also includes a focus on sustainability with projects geared toward reducing the environmental impact of everything the company does.

In the years to come, intrapreneurship will become an even more integral part of running a large corporation. Both big businesses and government agencies will need to continue to create open, encouraging cultures to attract younger workers. This type of culture also will help large businesses harness innovative thinking that will help them remain competitive as the world and their industries continue to evolve.

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