From Buzzword to Action: 10 Tips How to Be an Intrapreneur

September 15, 2017

Group of people laughing with their hands up

“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” Albert Einstein

This is a guest post by our Social Innovation Management Fellow Ina Bogdanova  (Bulgaria/Spain)

Everyone is an entrepreneur nowadays. Or, at least an aspiring one. Or, wants to be one in a near future.

However, many of us are still working in large or small organizations and companies. And great part of the world is still dominated by these organizations or companies and their work culture. Entrepreneurship is therefore not the panacea for creating a change in the world. We need to start talking about intrapreneurship and furthermore, start considering how to use the tools and “changemaker” elements spread already across companies and organizations.

Among these large teams, managers, team managers, directors, head of directors, and so on, there are intrapreneurs.

Intrapreneur Paula Goncalves

There are many definitions of what an intrapreneur is or should do. How companies and managers are to cultivate an intrapreneural culture and motivate, or even uncover, the so called intrapreneural spirits in their teams. Yet, no one talks about how to be an intrapreneur. What is needed to be one, the internal and external fundamentals required to be a good intrapreneur. Or at least, not to vanish in the attempt.

Here I share my personal experience as an aspiring intrapreneur in the hospitality industry-one of the most traditional and hierarchical environments to be found out there. A good, yet tough start, full of insights and moments of doubts and discouragement.

1. As an intrapreneur- aspiring one or an established one, you have to know that it is absolutely essential that you believe in your company’s or organization’s project.

If that’s not your case, you should consider either looking for another job or just put aside the idea of intrapreneuring. There is no innovation process or any motivation that would last for long enough to be considered as an intrapreneurship, if there is no strong belief that all the effort is worth it, and it will take your organization one step further

2. This basically means that you and your manager(s) share the same values and long-term vision.

It’s a prerequisite, and an important one, that you and your manager(s) are aligned in your value system. You might not share same work strategies, ideas, work culture, approaches, objectives or goals, but a common long-term vision is required for any long-term work relationship. As an intrapreneur you need to be aware of that otherwise strength, motivation and persistence will not last for too long. Despite good will and belief in your project or idea.

Intrapreneurs build alliances

In my case for example, I wanted to be something -an intra- or entrepreneur, so much and as a result of my life conditions, my new job (which I only chose due to urgent bills to be paid) became the scenery of this attempt to start with innovating no matter where and how. However, my commitment to my managers vision was very low, and this was making it very hard to stay focused. Yet, I tried hard to stay positive and persist in my will to bring little improvements around the communication management in the company, but I couldn’t find any common ground to share with the owners. This made my motivation flip and go down, since I didn’t feel my values were aligned with theirs, nor did I see a common goal to be reached.

3. You don’t become an intrapreneur when given a “problem” to solve by your manager(s).

It’s a mistake to belief that one becomes an intrapreneur by innovating around a problem considered as such by the manager(s). These “problem(s)” happen not to be the “real problem”, but often the symptom of something coming from a completely different aspect/ organizational level. If this is not taken into consideration, it can contribute to a waste of energy, time and money by not solving the real issue and just palliating a symptom.

Intrapreneurs at work

I thought I have something to solve -a problem stated by the owners, and would become an intrapreneur by offering new ideas. That’s absolutely not the case. You become it by living the problem on a daily basis, and developing an understanding why things are not working out. Only months after I started working, I was able to have the whole picture of the working environment, and not a simple and incomplete idea based on judgements and partial information.

4. Becoming an intrapreneur is a process. Iit is not an overnight event or decision.

Many times we make a decision to start innovating in our organizations or companies. We feel inspired, motivated. We start trying out different tools, methodologies, strategies. And expect a “visible” change by the end of the first month. Well, most of the times this won’t be the case. It takes time. And many reiterations, adjustments, stepping back and beginning anew. As an intrapreneur you get better with time and experience.

I believed that by stating in my mind that now I have an intrapreneurial outlook and problem-solving approach makes me an intrapreneur overnight. It takes more than a decision: actions taken over the long-run, results and evaluation.

5. As an intrapreneur you need to have a deep knowledge of your company’s or organization’s ecosystem.

  • How is power distributed?
  • Which are the decision making styles?
  • The leadership styles?
  • The communication styles?
  • The priorities of your manager(s)?

You need some soft skills -active listening, observation skills, intrapersonal skills and a lot of communication and leadership skills. No intrapreneur can get around it. You need the curiosity of a psychologist or sociologist in order to find ways to influence your manager(s) and to make yourself worthy to be listened to. You need to learn to speak the language of your manager(s) if you want them to pay attention and not panic because you suggest some kind of change, and not make them feel patronized or minimized.

In my attempt, I analysed well from the beginning the owner’s styles related to leadership, communication, management. This doesn’t only take a lot of observation but also awareness of one’s own. The most important was to understand when is a good moment for suggestions and how to present it in order to achieve the highest impact possible. I had one formal meeting with the owners where I was able to talk directly about my observations, and few informal chats where I made an attempt to influence them by little comments and suggestions-rather than talking about “problems”.

6. An intrapreneur is not a lone warrior. Get yourself allies!

Another mistake is the “hero” attitude of an intrapreneur. Yes, you have an idea or project which is absolutely innovative and great. Yes, you want to change and improve your organization. Yes, you foresee the better future…But, you won’t ever be able to bring it to life by yourself. You need to look around and see who are your best allies in this venture. Who are the colleagues with more power of decision than you, or better position to help promote you and your idea or project. Be clever and surround yourself with supporters.

Intrapreneurs need allies

When you work in a team-you can only achieve improvements and changes as a team, not separately. In my team there is a great working styles diversity. In order to be able to even speak about the changes, I had to detect who are the ones in power to make it happen, and also who are the most sensitive and interested in my idea  -not all my work mates were interested and had the time to dedicate to this.

7. An intrapreneur is not some kind of superhero.

We aren’t born intrapreneurs. You will have to learn the best way to be one. You will fail. Many times. You will need help. You will have doubts, disillusions, you will get disappointed by yourself, by others and by the results. There is no such thing as a superhero aura -it’s team work, and it’s not easy. You better be prepared for it.

At the beginning I thought that I was packed with all the skills necessary for the new challenge. I had studied Social Innovation Management after all. I started with this mindset only to see myself a month later in front of a completely different situation than the one I imagined starting to work in this company. I had to stop, revise my approach, and humble myself in order to double check why and how I was trying to bring improvements.

8. An intrapreneur is not necessarily the most visible figure in the company or organization.

If your ego is too big, you might need to re-consider becoming an intrapreneur. Many times an intrapreneur is not the one in the spotlight receiving the applause. An intrapreneur is someone who teams up with others, facilitates and prepares the environment for the change.

Almost immediately I understood that being a new member of the team, in this context, I could barely come up with suggestions and improvements. Therefore I had to look for the most appropriate person to talk to and influence in order to bring my idea forward. If I wanted to achieve any change, I had to put myself at second place, and the final goal-improvement of the work environment, at first place. 

9. Sometimes your manager(s) are not ready for your idea/ project. Take a small step towards it, instead. But don’t give up.

Many times an intrapreneur is ahead of his team or manager’s vision. Then he or she needs to step back. Re-shape the strategy and take a different route. Sometimes the moment is not ripe for innovation, and it’s better to make just a little step towards it, rather than get the idea or project dismissed.

When I started I had many ideas of what to improve and how. However, many times there was no time nor space for changes due the characteristics of the context, the dynamics inside and outside of the team. Big steps towards a change in such a context are almost impossible, but little adjustments here and there make a difference and prepare the people and the environment. I gave up the first idea of completely changing the communication dynamics across teams, to the little adjustments of the day-to-day communication tools inside of the team I am working with.

10. The 3 golden rules for any intrapreneur: LISTEN, OBSERVE and ADJUST.

Being an intrapreneur is not an easy task. It requires, same as for the entrepreneur, resilience and endurance. But this means nothing if it’s not based on a genuine process of understanding the organizational ecosystem and environment, limitations and possibilities in the long run.

This is because a good intrapreneur is committed to his or her company’s sustainable growth, and is knowledgeable about the ecosystem he or she is part of.

If you want to join a thriving community of intrapreneurs in the social impact sector, learn what it takes to become an Amani Institute Social Innovation Management Fellow – check out our program page here. 

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