How to Be an Intrapreneur

If you Google, “How to be an intrapreneur,” Google will inquire, “Did you mean, “How to be an entrepreneur?” In writing up notes for this blog post, Microsoft Word flagged the word “intrapreneur” as a spelling error; TextEdit on my Mac actually changed “intrapreneurship” to “entrepreneurship” in an unwanted attempt to help me. Intrapreneurship is still not well-known, which is unfortunate because millions of people can likely benefit from learning about intrapreneurship and applying intrapreneurial concepts into their career management.

How to Be an Intrapreneur

While popular culture hasn’t caught up yet, the word “intrapreneur” has been in dictionaries since the 1990s. I like Wiktionary’s definition: “…the practice of applying entrepreneurial skills and approaches within an established company; being creative with ideas and procedures.” Intrapreneurship is a wonderful way for innovative progress to occur in a speedier way than it would otherwise happen in more traditional environments.

The advantage of intrapreneurship is that the intrapreneur has the benefit of all the financial support and resources of a large organization. The challenge for the intrapreneur is that business objectives must be met while continuing to navigate the structure and complications inherent within any large organization. (Some writers argue that intrapreneurs can ignore the corporate structure when working to achieve their business goals, but I think that is naïve).

So if you want to behave in an intrapreneurial way, here’s how to proceed:

– Choose a project to launch and implement. The project should have clearly defined objectives and metrics via which you will define success. This project should be congruent with the overall mission and values of the organization that employs you and should be clearly beneficial to your employer if you succeed.

– At minimum, make sure you have buy-in from your immediate manager and try to find out if your manager’s manager is in agreement with your goals and proposed strategies to achieve them. Also consider your surrounding colleagues who might be necessary and instrumental in assisting you. Think about how you will persuade them about the value of your project and how you will convince them to be helpful to you or at least stay out of your way if they are not directly involved.

– Check your ego. If what you really want is to operate unfettered by organizational complexity and you resent any involvement by any corporate employee in what you are doing, ditch intrapreneurship and go start your own company, stat. (Then you’ll get to deal with other types of complexity, but that is a different blog topic).

– Honestly assess your strengths and find colleagues to complement them. The ideal team is made up of people with a variety of strengths. If you don’t have the luxury of a large team to assist you, then create a plan for how the work will get done given that you are not going to be able to exclusively play to your strengths.

– Implement. Know that you may fail, and honestly discuss this possibility with the powers-that-be that gave you permission to proceed with your venture.

– If you succeed, your team might be integrated into the larger organization. This can be experienced as bittersweet for the intrapreneur, so be prepared for some feelings of loss.

– Choose your next business goals and start again.

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