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3 Phrases That Kill Intrapreneurship As a manager, you want your employees to feel like owners. So avoid words that say the opposite.

By Jill Schiefelbein

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Creating a culture that supports and encourages entrepreneurial thinking is important in today's global economy. The idea of intrapreneurship—bringing an entrepreneurial mindset to the office—is rising in popularity. People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, and businesses that cater to this sense of belonging see increased employee buy-in.

Businesses that look internally for solutions to problems, ideas for expansion, and processes for improvement make employees feel like an integral part of an organization, and are more likely to retain top talent.

Those that don't are headed the way of the dinosaur.

Employees are increasingly mobile. Millennial and Generation Z employees, in particular, aren't afraid to leave and find new jobs if they don't feel valued. For these groups in particular, how you communicate feedback and issue requests is personal—each and every word matters.

If you want to retain good employees, attract talent, and cultivate intrapreneurial spirit, DO NOT use these three phrases.

1. "Stick to your job. That's not in your job description."

Want to make an employee feel that she has no use beyond her immediate job description? This phrase kills any organizational buy-in and stops any incentive the employee has to think of ideas outside of her immediate purview. This phrase communicates to an employee that her thoughts have no value to the organization as a whole, and that the only thing that is important is her singular function.

Instead, ask questions.

  • How do you see this idea fitting in with your current charge?
  • How do you see this idea expanding your responsibilities?
  • How do you see this idea benefiting the organization as a whole?

Asking questions gets the employee to make the connections on his own, instead of you making it for him. It also can give you enhanced understanding of the employee's vision and how it can contribute to the greater organizational mission. This aids in putting the right people in the right places to maximize skills and increase inter-team collaboration.

Related: The 6 Words That Are Holding You Back

2. "We don't have the resources."

This phrase is commonly used by managers without regard to the consequences. When you tell an employee this, you're also communicating that his idea isn't worth exploring or that her contribution isn't good enough to warrant consideration. Managers who want to increase innovation find a way to provide resources for promising and invested employees, or encourage the employee to find the resources for him or herself. They also know that creativity thrives in the face of constraint, and will reframe the negative response into a thought-fueling competition.

Instead of saying, "We don't have the resources," issue a challenge.

  • I don't have the resources immediately at my disposal to approve this today; however, why don't we think of a couple of ways we could rearrange our priorities to make your idea a possibility.
  • I like this idea and want to think about how it fits into our overall strategy a bit more. Come up with a few solutions for how we could integrate this idea within our current operational plan and let's meet tomorrow to discuss.

These alternatives let the employee know that you do value the idea, and that you want to consider how the idea could come to fruition. It also encourages the employee to invest more time in his or her idea, which will increase buy-in to the organization and to your leadership.

Related: 7 Things You Should Never Say to Your Employees

3. "That's not the way we do things here."

Want to make an employee feel like she's on an island and not a part of the team? Use this phrase. Telling an employee that she doesn't know the way things are done communicates two negative things: (1) that she doesn't know the organization well, and (2) that outside ideas, perspectives and innovations are not welcome.

Although organizations have rules and policies, it doesn't mean that they should never be re-examined. Maybe now is the time and this is the place to do that introspection.

Instead, encourage integration.

  • In the past we've approached this idea from an XYZ perspective. However, I think this new idea has promise. Let's see how we can integrate your solution with our existing operations to improve the organization as a whole.
  • Last time we attempted this implementation it didn't work, but we now have new people in place and new products on the market. Organize a meeting with your peers and see how we could approach this process differently from your perspective. I look forward to hearing your findings.

You can also challenge the employee to think of those means of integration and bring possible solutions to you for a conversation.

Spend time investing in your employees. Create an environment where ideas are allowed to come to the surface without fear of retribution. Communicate and provide feedback in a way that doesn't shut the door on collaboration.

Remember, as a leader your team's success is your success. Establish a culture of intrapreneurship, and celebrate the results.

Related: Two Words That Kill Your Relationship With Employees

Jill Schiefelbein

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Professional Speaker and Business Communication Expert

Jill Schiefelbein is a former professor, professional speaker, and business communication expert. From analyzing documents obtained from military raids of terrorist camps to dissect jihadi communication strategies, building an online education office serving more than 60,000 students, to her own award-winning entrepreneurial ventures, Schiefelbein loves a strategic challenge. Her business, The Dynamic Communicator, creates and executes communication strategies that help companies solve problems, retain talent and produce revenue. Pre-order her new book Dynamic Communication (Entrepreneur Press, March 2017) today.

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