Millennials, More Prone to Intrapreneurship

How to capitalize the entrepreneurial potential of the youngest employees

Millennials, More Prone to Intrapreneurship

Three different generations work side by side in the majority of organizations: baby boomers (born 1944-1964), generation X (1965-1980) and generation Y or millennials (1981-1995). Moreover, generation Z (1995-2010) is already starting to enter the workforce. The presence of several generations in a single organization is a challenge in itself, particularly when designing work incentive and performance strategies, given the differences in work values, motivations and attitudes that usually characterize each of these age groups.

Despite the complexity of managing such a diverse human capital, the interaction of these intergenerational teams offers an opportunity to create value and competitive advantages. In particular, the youngest generations are usually more entrepreneurially inclined and, at the same time, could transmit their entrepreneurial spirit to the older generations. Policies that encourage millennials’ propensity for entrepreneurship within organizations can go a long way towards generating new business units, innovation and disruptive strategies.

To prove this hypothesis, we conducted a study on corporate entrepreneurship based on a sample of over 20,000 employees in 28 countries using date from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), an international research program focused on the phenomenon of entrepreneurship.

We examined the findings of this study in the article “Do employees’ generational cohorts influence corporate venturing? A multilevel analysis” (2019, Small Business Economics Journal), coauthored with Maribel Guerrero, from Newcastle Business School, and David Urbano, from Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona. This paper proposes a conceptual model for understanding how a generationally diverse workforce can raise the entrepreneurial profile of an organization, increasing participation in intrapreneurship initiatives as well as their probability of success.

What determines an organization’s entrepreneurial profile?

Corporate entrepreneurship refers to employees’ entrepreneurial behavior inside an established organization, creating new initiatives, such as business units, affiliates or innovative strategies, to benefit the organic growth of the same. This type of behavior can benefit from reward systems and incentive policies, but, to achieve positive results, they must be aligned with the characteristics of the human capital (their knowledge, experience, performance and productivity) and their attitudes towards entrepreneurship.

Each generation has a very different background. Consider how socioeconomic, technological and cultural conditions have changed in the world over the past 60 to 70 years. As a result of such change, each generation shares common traits:

  • Baby boomers are excellent mentors, with strong experience in leadership positions, hardworking, competitive, willing to take risks, but are loyal to their companies and concerned about job security.
  • Members of generation X are passionate mentors, with greater technical competence and updated knowledge, although they distrust institutions, are less inclined to take risks and are not loyal to a single company, but look for empowerment and higher pay.
  • Millennials are digital natives connected 24/7, love challenges and learning new things, display self-confidence, outcome-focus, ambition and personal responsibility, and are serial entrepreneurs.  

The millennial profile is more prone to entrepreneurship, but how can we design an appropriate strategy for a multigenerational structure?

Autonomy, self-fulfillment and incentives

In general, to assure that employees become intrapreneurs, the work climate should favor employee autonomy in doing their job and exploring new opportunities; self-fulfillment through work that is in line with their personal values and beliefs; and a reward system. 

The results of our study confirm that young employees are increasingly independent and individualistic. They are less committed to their organizations, considering them to be “transitory” in their careers, and aim to satisfy their own personal goals in the same.

Derived from these findings, organizations that hope to foster intrapreneurship should follow these recommendations:

  • Prioritize entrepreneurship initiatives that can meet employees’ need for personal growth.
  • Implement corporate entrepreneurship programs as a means to attract and retain talent.
  • Form multigenerational teams that drive creativity, flexibility and a combination of short- and long-term goals.
  • Design an appropriate work environment for each generation’s distinctive features: for example, millennials prefer jobs that have a social impact and respond to incentives, while generation X is more interested in autonomy.
  • Identify generational attitudes towards entrepreneurship and analyze how they can be transmitted to other generations.

This study is useful for strategic leaders and human resource directors interested in creating entrepreneurial, innovative teams, guiding them in the re(design) of functions and jobs, taking into account their organization’s goals and the available human capital. This study also has implications for public officials who are in charge of designing support programs for companies with an entrepreneurial orientation, directly or indirectly reinforcing entrepreneurship ecosystems, particularly in emerging economies.

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