Entrepreneurs are synonymous in many people's minds with innovation. But while I'd love to believe that this is true, the reality is that the majority of breakthroughs and out-of-the-box thinking don't usually come from the top. Nor should they.
If structured correctly, members of the team should be empowered to be the ones who drive company progress. While traditional corporate structure often stifles such growth, modern-day unicorns pride themselves on helping their individuals flourish. This fresh outlook has made the term "intrapreneur" quite the buzzword in recent years.
If you consider yourself an intrapreneur, or you'd like to become one, here are some practical tips to aid in your success.
The late Zig Ziglar used to tell a story about two men who started working on the railroad on the same day. One man, Dave Anderson, remained a laborer for 23 years, while the other worker, Jim Murphy, went on to become the company president. When other workers asked the laborer why Murphy had gone on to such success while Anderson had not, he answered, "Twenty-three years ago, I went to work for $1.75 an hour and Jim Murphy went to work for the railroad."
While intrapreneurship is about creativity and freedom, remember that it is not all about you. Any good entrepreneur puts the company above all else, and so does a good intrapreneur. Learn to live the company values and never lose track of the company’s ultimate goal: to produce a profit.
In my company, there is no single attribute I praise more than initiative. As an intrapreneur, you don’t wait around to be told what to do. When you see an opportunity, you need to create a plan to capitalize on it. It doesn’t need to be a flashy PowerPoint; a simple outline is a great start. Once you’re confident in your plan, take it to leadership to enroll them in your vision. Be sure you are clear on the needed resources and the benefits of your expected outcome.
Here is something you should never do as an intrapreneur: Bring a problem to leadership without a recommended solution. While your solution may not ultimately be the one that is used, it shows that you’ve thought it through. With time, you won’t even need to report problems that need solutions but rather problems you’ve already solved.
Being a great intrapreneur means that you are target-driven. At the end of the day, it is all about results. Make sure to regularly track statistics for all projects that you own and provide regular updates to your superiors. When things go well, praise your team. When things go poorly, always take full responsibility. This level of accountability is what earns you respect from your co-workers at all levels.
If you are thinking to yourself, “That’s not the way it works at my organization," then you might be working for the wrong company. A company that encourages team members to be entrepreneurial will understand that failure happens. In fact, great leaders appreciate mistakes as they know they are needed to achieve game-changing growth.
If you go the extra mile and make a massive impact, you should be rewarded. This usually comes in the form of a bonus structure tied to growth or savings. Remember that you are already paid to do your job, so anything you propose should be based on making a significant change in the company’s trajectory. If presented correctly, it should be a no-brainer for any forward-thinking owner or manager.
The conversation could go something like this: “As you’ve seen, I’ve been working really hard to increase X. We have already achieved Y, and I believe over the next three years, we can reach Z. I’d like to figure out a way that my compensation plan can be tied to achieving this goal. Are you open to some ideas that would incentivize me to create that type of results for the company?”
The timing of this conversation is critical. Always put some wins on the board before you bring up money. Also, try not to do it immediately following a victory. Be sure that you pre-frame the conversation so they know what they are walking into. The key is to convey your interest in being with the company for the long-term and you want to work together to make that happen.
One thing that comes as a surprise to intrapreneurs is how often their new ideas are not utilized. While there are technically no bad ideas in brainstorming, an idea is not valid just because it sounds good. There are many more factors to take into account. How does your idea fit into the larger company strategy or affect other departments? What other initiatives would be lowered in priority to tackle this one?
It is important to understand this concept to help avoid disappointment. Keep pushing, but don’t be deterred if your ideas are not utilized right away. Few ideas stick immediately, and those that aren’t rejected often just need more refinement. Generally speaking, any proposal that improves upon existing programs and processes is going to be easier to push through. The bigger the idea, the more forethought and preparation are needed.
Think of your ideas as seeds. You need to plant many before one will blossom, and when it does, that is when the real work begins. You must battle the elements and continually feed your idea until it grows. It’s a labor of love, but that is what it truly means to be an intrapreneur. Sure, more money is great, but it is the passion for bringing something to life that is most rewarding of all.
And with that, you are officially empowered to change the world, starting from the inside out. Remember that the more results you produce, the more valuable you become. Now go make it happen.
FOUNDER & CEO