Social intrapreneurship: what role does it play in attracting and retaining talent in companies? Interview with the winner of the ICOR prize and Professor Marescaux

April 25, 2019


Elise Marescaux

As companies and organizations face new challenges and pressures relating to corporate social responsibility and demands from their stakeholders, social ‘intrapreneurs’ (employees can who help their employer to promote solutions to different social or environmental challenges) have become increasingly important assets. However, can “social intrapreneurship” also play a role in helping organizations in terms of attracting and retaining talented people to work for them? This was one of the questions that IÉSEG student Marie Sipos sought to answer in the context of her Master’s thesis*, which recently won the ICOR prize. We spoke to Marie and one of her thesis directors, Professor Elise Marescaux, about the findings of this research.

1. Could you explain why you chose this topic for your research, Marie, and why this is an important topic for companies/organizations today?

Marie Sipos

Marie Sipos

Marie: I think that Millennials and the new generations question everything and try to find meaning at work and in their personal lives. My first motivation was to understand what the Millennials’ issues and motivations were. Since the last decade, we have been seeing a gradual change in people’s minds concerning social engagement and work mentality. My second motivation was to focus my research on how companies could respond to these emerging changes (new generation, social and environmental issues, digital age, etc.). It is challenging to see how companies can reconcile business and societal challenges and place human beings in the center of their business. My third motivation was to promote social intrapreneurship, as I met, during my internship, two incredible social intrapreneurs in the logistics sector. Both women really inspired me and convinced me that social intrapreneurship was crucial for the future of “work”.

Elise: In addition (to the points mentioned above) organizations are increasingly faced with difficulties to attract, motivate and retain talented employees, as the war for talent is fierce. While earlier generations were often looking for security, stability, and opportunities for advancement within companies, we see newer generations searching for opportunities to contribute to societal challenges and find meaning in their work. Yet, this potentially requires organizations to make a shift in their talent management approach, in terms of how they design jobs and how they hire, train, or reward employees. As young employees seek more opportunities to work on social intrapreneurship projects, organizations might need to find creative ways to offer employees such projects, develop their skills to deal with such projects and reward them for engaging in them. Marie’s thesis explores just that, whether organizations can take active measures to engage young employees in social intrapreneurship, thereby making them more motivated, engaged, productive, and loyal.

2. What were the main findings of your research?

Marie: Generally speaking, my study showed that opportunities for social intrapreneurship can help attract and retain talents by combining both an “innovative and flexible way of working” and a “social aspect”. Firstly, it is a way to attract young talents by providing them with “meaning” through their autonomy, their responsibilities, their social impact, etc. Secondly, I understood that young employees feel the need to work for a company that shares the same values as them. Millennials mostly seek transparency, flexibility, ethics, exciting day-to-day conditions, which fits well with the idea of social intrapreneurship. Finally, social intrapreneurship can help to attract and retain talents by offering a personalized project to employees, in which they are valued, where there is visibility about their future, and where they learn, grow and develop competences.

Elise: What is also interesting is that the study shows that the talent management practices that attract, motivate and retain young employees are not necessarily the same as for previous generations. The employees that Marie interviewed were clearly looking for meaning, and a social impact within their firm, which does not necessarily resonate with all employees. This subsequently implies that organizations might feel a strong need to manage their employees differently, depending perhaps on the generation to which they belong, and what they specifically value as an employee to stay motivated, engaged, productive and loyal. This calls for a more “individualized” approach to talent management, rather than implementing standardized policies and practices that apply equally to all employees in the firm, regardless of their personal values, preferences and interests.

3. How could this be useful for the management and HR teams today?

Marie: It can be useful for management teams and HR departments, as they can find part of the knowledge they need to design a talent strategy adapted to their employees. Offering employees the possibility to be social intrapreneurs is an opportunity for them to be listened to and valued, but also for them to find meaning, to do something they really care about, and something that makes them autonomous and responsible. For a company that wants to attract and retain young talents, the main way forward is to propose meaningful actions, create a visionary company culture based on being proactive in terms of innovation and adapting the talent strategy to employees’ expectations. It is often said that talent is a company’s number one asset, which implies that people drive the mission and are the heart of an organization (Merkle, 2017).

Elise: I agree. Companies often claim that human resources are their biggest assets and that they care for their employees, yet their policies often do not take into account a fundamental aspect of the “human” side of people, i.e. that we are fundamentally different in terms of our values, preferences, interests, desires, ambitions, etc. While this study certainly does not wish to claim that the entire Millennial generation should be turned into social intrapreneurs, we do want to highlight the need for organizations to know what drives and engages their employees, so they can tap into that and prosper in return.

*Marie’s thesis was entitled “Relationships between social intrapreneurship, people’s motivations and company attraction and retention” and her thesis directors were Professors Elise Marescaux & Bryant Hudson.