Intrapreneurship: boosting your career by helping organisations grow
On this blog we’ve talked a lot about entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs. But what about intrapreneurs? If you have a great job or just don’t want to go it alone as an entrepreneur, intrapreneurship can be a great way to make progress with your career.
What is an intrapreneur?
An intrapreneur experiments with new ways to do business inside an existing company. Historically, the term was used for leaders given free reign to explore cutting edge projects with little to no supervision, but always with the business’ core goals at heart. It’s almost like starting a different business within an existing one – with the intrapreneur leveraging their business insights to explore, challenge and change the business that fosters them.
Intrapreneurs take the initiative in new ventures, explore emerging technologies and take ownership of developing these nascent projects into fully fledged products. They are proactive rather than reactive, a force for change distinct from the current ways of doing business. Yet their creativity is carefully focussed – on making money and adding value to the business as it is.
So what stops an intrapreneur just being a loose cannon? There are two key qualities the intrapreneur needs to embody – leadership and insight.
Leadership isn’t just about telling people what to do – it’s about effective two-way communication, persuasion and motivation. A good intrapreneur should support teamwork and both give and receive feedback in equal measure.
Insight – ah what an intangible quality! The intrapreneur needs several species of insight. Insight into their team, insight into the business, its goals and capabilities, and insight into the consumer of the product or service they are developing.
Don’t worry if you don’t tick all those boxes immediately though! There are lots of ways to aspire to intrapreneurship in your business – let’s take a look:
Where your business insights can help
You may be surprised by how much you know about the business you are in. It can be easy to take for granted just how much you know. It may be that you know the efficiencies, inefficiencies and day-to-day tasks of the business, or have very detailed knowledge of a specific area of the business. In either case, you can find ways to use this knowledge to improve and change the business you are in for the better.
New business ideas
You could investigate new ways of selling, different markets to explore, new routes to these markets… and this is just with your existing set of products and/or services. What additional products/services could you easily sell on to your existing customers, or use your business’ reach to sell to others? Are there new fields of product/service that you could develop, or at least begin growth towards?
Extending the company’s value proposition
Why do you have the customers that you do, and what makes them come back for more? The value that you deliver to your customers is hugely important, and a great place to innovate in. New ideas to boost customer satisfaction are always welcome and can be easy to implement. Improving the quality, quantity, speed, convenience or variety of what you offer can be good places to start.
Human resource planning may sound like an alien invasion scheme, but it’s actually a very basic need for businesses and can be a big step towards increasing the efficiency of the business. Making sure that you have the people you need, with the right skills and sufficient support in their tasks not only leads to a happier, more productive workforce but also ensures the business is spending money on the right things.
Identifying sustainable business models
It’s all very well (but by no means easy!) to come up with a killer product, a new way of doing business, or a new pricing scheme – but what’s important is that the result of your idea isn’t just a flash in the pan. Identifying and building sustainable ways of doing business will do the business more good in the long run than launching yourself at every passing opportunity. Identify reliable ways of generating wealth for the business, either in the business’ existing business model, or in potential ways the business could expand.
Insight into your market or markets is invaluable. If you can identify new trends to capitalise on, or understand what drives supply and demand in your market this can be great information to build an innovative intrapreneurial project on. Really understanding your business’ opportunities, market penetration and the ways in which that market could be developed could be just what the business needs to grow.
Knowledge of your competitors how they do business and why they are good at what they do is a great place to start your own intrapreneurial ideas. It may be hard to admit, but other businesses are likely doing some things better than you. Learning from these businesses and adapting their tactics for your own use need not be just playing copy-cat – you can find niches they don’t reach, understand how to create offerings that are more appealing to your market – and crucially – look to them to find out what isn’t working. Maybe you can do it better, or take it as a warning sign and avoid their pitfalls altogether.
Providing digestible business performance management reports
The areas of business above are great places to start honing your intrapreneurial instincts. The next step is learning to persuade your business to adopt the projects or approaches you have been working on. Some businesses may be immediately open to this, but as the original intrapreneurs found, there is a deep-set resistance to change in many established large businesses.
One way to accomplish change gradually is by influencing the way information is transmitted in your organisation. Use your project management skills to slowly overhaul the way in which reporting is received and used. Remember that developing effective communication skills is a big part of being an intrapreneur. Often you will need to convince people in other parts of the business of the benefits of working in new ways but do so by ensuring they agree with you, rather than forcing your views on them. You can encourage collaborative working by finding opportunities across the whole business to help shape organisational strategy. One of the best ways to transmit information across different departments with different responsibilities is to use business intelligence dashboards.
Is it in your job description?
No, but it’s how to get ahead of the pack and stand out if done in a considered manner. One of the dangers you’ll face as an intrapreneur is coming across as brash, or know-it-all. Remember that while you want to change the system you need to get agreement from those affected in order to do so successfully. If people aren’t consulted on the changes taking place, they may not do their best work. In addition, there may be very real difficulties in the changes you are considering – ensuring that everyone is on-board and giving them a chance to voice their concerns will reduce the likelihood that your project will meet unforeseen obstacles.
However much you drip into intrapreneurship it will develop you as a person and nurture skills that you otherwise might not have been exercising. Adopting the mindset of the ‘intrapreneur’ can also help you see ways around day-to-day issues your business is facing, not to mention strategic decisions. So, if you feel inspired by all this, go and inspire other people too!