Olajide Olutuyi, Co-Founder/ CEO, Top-Olax Energy Limited

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Subjects of Interest

  • Frontier and Emerging Markets
  • Private Sector Development
  • Sustainable Development

Promoting intrapreneurship in Nigeria’s public sector 12 Jul 2019

Head of Service of the Federation, Winifred Ekanem Oyo-Ita

In my last column, I highlighted the imperative of promoting Entrepreneurship Education (EE) in Nigeria given the positive correlation between EE and innovative start-up activities, which have positive impacts on the economy. This month’s column focuses on intrapreneurship, which is a way of expressing “entrepreneurial” abilities within an existing organisation.
The term, intrapreneurship, was first coined by Gifford Pinchot and Elizabeth Pinchot in a paper the couple wrote in 1978. The concept was further promoted in a 1985 book, Intrapreneuring in Action, by Gifford Pinchot and Ron Pellman. While entrepreneurs are concerned with starting an organisation to provide a service and contribute to the economy, intrapreneurs innovate and create value within organisations as employees or as public servants. Intrapreneurs are not focused on starting their own businesses. Rather, they are focused on the organisations they work for to improve their performances.

If you have ever worked with or had any dealings with state and the federal government agencies in Nigeria, you must have experienced the inefficiencies and outdated operations in most of those agencies. As someone who deals with the government at both the state and the federal levels, I can say the lack of innovation in the public sector is alarming. It is arguably one of the greatest impediments to our development.

There is a dire need to promote intrapreneurship within the Nigerian civil service. Intrapreneurs are employees with the mentality of entrepreneurs. They are invaluable to their organisations because they think big and do beyond the bare-minimum.

When organisations give some autonomy to their workers on certain projects or provide the enabling environments for their intrapreneurs to thrive, they often reap the rewards. Notable results of intrapreneurship include the building of the P-80 Shooting Star, a fighter jet designed by the Skunk Works at Lockheed Martin in 1943 and which was a game-changer during World War II. Skunk Works is a moniker for the Advanced Development Programs (ADP) of the US-based global security and aerospace company. Some of the well-known aircraft used by the US military and the air forces of a number of countries today, such as the SR-71 Blackbird and the F-22 Raptor, were engineered by this group.

Another intrapreneurship group is the Xerox Corporation’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), the birthplace of laser printing, computer mouse and Ethernet. There is also the Nokia Bell Labs, which is the birthplace of transistors and some of the well-known programming languages. The Post-it Note, Facebook’s ‘Like’ button, the Sony PlayStation are all products of intrapreneurs within organisations. A classic example of an intrapreneur is Paul Buchheit, who led in the development of Gmail while working at Google. He is also known for his work on Google AdSense.

These intrapreneurship achievements were possible because the organisations and their leadership did not allow Corporate Immune System (CIS) to hamper the “entrepreneurial spirit” of their employees. A CIS develops when organisations allow bureaucracy and various rules to become stumbling blocks and impede employees from expressing their skills to achieve innovation. It is not only very imperative to empower managers; all employees should also be empowered to become more innovative and flexible in carrying out their daily activities and routine tasks.

For the Nigerian public sector to become efficient, an environment that promotes innovation must be established. The leadership of the civil service, beginning with the President, needs to show strong commitment because leadership is ultimately responsible for providing the conditions that facilitate an intrapreneurial attitude.

In developed economies, much focus is on the public sector to improve and deliver services to citizens efficiently. In 1990, the Institute of Public Administration of Canada's (IPAC) Award for Innovative Management was instituted to recognise federal and the provincial governments who demonstrated exceptional innovations in addressing the wide range of issues facing the society. As part of the country’s drive to improve public service deliveries, senior level bureaucrats were directed to explore ways to foster innovation in delivering government policies and priorities. One outcome of this policy is the engagement of Canadians through their smartphones to provide awareness on energy efficiency.

Governments at all levels operate in environments where change is a constant. To provide effective leadership and optimal service delivery, government institutions have to move from the sporadic to the systemic. Lack of innovation is the reason for much of the government inefficiencies and failures in the delivery of public services in Nigeria. We are not moving forward and the country has lost competitiveness largely because senior civil servants are scared of change. Government ministries, departments and agencies are unable to determine the cost to society as a result of their inefficiencies, let alone improve their performance.

Every low score on the indicators of the ease of doing business rankings of the World Bank can be linked to the inefficiencies and lack of innovation within the public sector. A couple of months ago, the signpost of my company located in one of the Southwestern states was forcefully taken away by the state’s advertising agency on a spurious charge. The agency alleged we had not paid a particular tax, even though we already made payment. The agency could not find our payment because of the absence of a proper database management system. Mine was definitely not an isolated experience.   

To achieve efficiency, service delivery should be measured against certain key performance indicators (KPIs). In healthcare, for instance, key deliveries could include shortening the average length of stay in hospitals and the average waiting times. When these are known, it helps in the allocation of resources. In the judiciary, a key delivery would be shortening the average time it takes for a case to be concluded. Slower courts decrease citizens’ confidence in the justice sector. This, in the long run, deters private investments. For tax administration, a key delivery would be to reduce the cost of collection ratio – which is administrative cost divided by the total revenue collected.

There is an urgent need to transform our public service. We need a modern, people-centered public sector that is flexible, responsive, adaptive and innovative. To meet the expectations of Nigerians, we need to accelerate the pace of the modernisation and renewal. The current laws, rules and structures in the public sector are neither flexible nor responsive enough to allow for a virile intrapreneurial environment.

In his 2002 book, “System Failure: Why Governments Must Learn to Think Differently,” Jake Chapman highlights the obstacles to learning and innovation in the public sector. These obstacles include the pressure of uniformity in public services, the reliance of civil servants and ministers on command and control mechanisms, lack of evaluation of impact of previous policies, pressure for immediate response to the crisis of the day and a tradition of secrecy that limits feedback and learning.  

Today, Nigeria is faced with the dilemma of providing unique identification (ID) for every Nigerian residing in the country and abroad. However, last month, Director-General of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Aliyu Aziz, said the government plans to provide digital identification of all citizens by 2024. Achieving this would require innovation, especially because it would entail consolidating the existing databases such as the Bank Verification Number (BVN); the voter registration database; biometric data of mobile phone users, among others.

Public sector innovation is always aimed at addressing a public policy challenge and a successful public innovation is one that achieves the desired public outcome. To build a virile, efficient and innovative civil service where intrapreneurs are allowed to showcase their skills, there is a need to institute a governance process that can deliver on clearly articulated objectives. Government institutions must have well-articulated job descriptions, not the type of job descriptions that put employees in a box. Personality tests can also be used to create intrapreneurs. These tests provide insights into employees’ habits, needs and strengths. Role switching is another way through which intrapreneurs can be created. Letting employees remain stagnant in a role that doesn’t match their skills does not encourage innovation.

A well-defined pay structure can also encourage dedication and innovation. A pay structure that rewards employees who go the extra mile and are innovative also helps to create an intrapreneurial environment. Some organisations even ask for presentation of formal proposals or business plans from their employees.

Creating an intrapreneurial environment where innovation thrives is not an easy task. But an organisation that doesn’t have intrapreneurs will remain stagnant or eventually cease to exist.