How to become an intrapreneur: a journey in 21 steps



[This guest blog by Noam Wekser is the second article in our mini-series on intrapreneurship (you can read the first one about Vodafone here). Whiteboard is a media partner for this year's Intrapreneurship Conference in Barcelona, the biggest conference worldwide on Intrapeneurship - ed.] 

It took me over 19 years to understand what kind of a manager am I.

19 years of hard, stressful yet enlightening as a senior manager in local companies and huge multinationals, brought me to realize that I was entrepreneuring from within the company. Could it be? Equipped with this discovery and many questions, I began researching if there is such a corporate animal named corporate-entrepreneur. Well, there is: it’s called  an intrapreneur.

Two years ago, Richard Branson gave a presentation in one of the annual local communication conferences. During his spectacular talk, he said that Virgin could never have grown into the more than 200 companies it is now, were it not for a steady stream of intrapreneurs who looked for and developed opportunities, often leading efforts that went against the grain.

The way I see it, there are 2 sides to Intrapreneuship:

  • The Organization’s side
  • My Side (the more important one for me)

Although, most of the material, research and attention you can find talks about the organization’s side – I would like to focus on MY side in this article, as I believe that intrapreneurship is a crucial topic for most employees and managers in companies of any size nowadays.

Recent researches shows that there is a decline in the employee’s level of satisfaction from their place of work globally.

The data show that this is true at all levels up to senior directors. As long as you are an employee – you might suffer from the cubicle-syndrome, where a person feels barred both physically (working in a cubicle) and mentally (working under processes, regulations and limitations). Hardly an encouraging environment for innovation. And when one dares to come up with a novel idea – he/she might hear one of the following:

  • “YOU ARE ON THE WRONG TRACK”
  • “LET’S PUT THE IDEA ASIDE FOR A WHILE”
  • ”IT IS TOO RISKY”
  • “WE HAVE ALREADY TOO MUCH TO WORRY ABOUT”
  • “WHO SHALL DO IT?”
  • “WE TRIED THIS TEN YEARS AGO”
  • “YOU WILL NEVER GET IT APPROVED”
  • “WE HAVE ENOUGH PROBLEMS ALREADY”

There are many more, just pick one.

It’s not that companies are trying to block employees from innovating. On the contrary, companies need to innovate now so it will meet next year’s target. Still, if an employee will not go “against the grain” as Richard Branson said – the novel idea will be transferred into a profitable reality by a competitor’s employee.

And as much as I would like to point the blame to companies’ top management and owners, it’s a waste of time and effort. There are two sides: ours and theirs. Focus on what you can change. Yourself.

Let’s face it, most people will not quit their jobs to become entrepreneurs. On the other hand, keep working unsatisfied for the rest of our working lives is not an option too. So the only way out of the cubicle-syndrome is to live an intrapreneurial work lifestyle.

Now, what does that mean?! How do I live an intrapreneurial work lifestyle?

First, open your mind to new ways and decide to act on the Blackjack list below. Here are 21 Ways to lead yourself out of the cubicle-syndrome:

1. Actively spot ways to improve a service

There is always a way to provide better service. Can you think of one? Is it cheaper than the current service? If yes, will the company be able to increase its revenue with your suggestion? If you are not sure – check.

2. Investigate how to save time, money, or make life easier in your department

To be able to investigate how to save time – you need to learn time management. To be able to investigate how to save money – you need to learn how to read financial reports, and to be able to investigate how to make life easier – you need to learn operational management. Not easy but not impossible. You don’t need to be a CPA or an expert – just make sure you are familiar with the basics and get advice when needed.

3. Visualize variations of current products or services your department is offering

I just love this one. How many of us are taking the time to visualize anything. Not many if any. But this is a cool exercise. You will amaze yourself with having ideas you never thought you might have. Just take 10 minutes, close your eyes and imagine new / improved products or features. Then write it down. Do 10 ideas at least.

4. Look for ways to enhance quality

Customers value quality. And if you manage to enhance quality with no additional or low costs, customers will favor you over your competitors. There is always a way to improve quality. It’s just a matter of costs.

5. When you’ve got an idea, test it casually with friends

Practice on your ability to casually test your ideas with others who can point out basic flaws and ask challenging questions. It’s not an easy thing to do, because you need to master the accidently-what-do-you-think-about-this method without making others feel odd.

6. Keep ideas from natural enemies as long as possible

Everybody that tries to “rock the boat” will have enemies. You’ll be naive to think otherwise. Novel ideas aimed to improve and increase effectiveness will always make someone else shine less. And the problem is that you’re not always aware of it, when you are exited with your new “baby” idea. So, to avoid opposition my advice would be to keep your ideas to yourself as long as possible.

7. Promote ideas modestly and constructively

Promoting an idea is an art. It’s more than just presenting it. It’s more than just meetings with potential stakeholders and talking about it. It’s about prospecting, investigating, planning, learning, testing and executing on your idea. To be honest, this is what differentiate the boys from the men. I struggled for years before I mastered this.

8. Test casually on potential customers

Everybody has a customer he/she likes more than the rest. It’s natural. People like to do business with people they like. Use this. Leverage on this. Have a few customers that you can test with them to check the idea is doable and profitable. You don’t need contracts department to draft POCs. Just make sure you are in a safe working environment and in agreement with these customers. The benefit of learning what your customers need is key.

9. Accept suggestions gratefully

As much as you think you are open to different points of view – you’re not. Trust me. Especially when you have a new “baby” idea. You will find yourself protecting it and pushing back on any offer without noticing. To overcome this you can ask a team member to point out to you when you are not open in real-time. It takes time to get used to this. But It works

10. Always look to network the idea so it can be thought about from many aspects

Your network is powerful even if you don’t see it now. Social networks are about spreading ideas and getting feedback. So use your network and look for all kinds of feedback: positive, negative or indifferent. And try to learn what does this mean for you? And how can you implement on it? Easier said than done.

11. Don’t give up at the first sign of disappointment

Not at the second, nor at the third time. Keep going at it. An entrepreneur will succeed once for every 4 trials. Why should you be any different?!

12. Come to work each day willing to give up your job for the innovation

Wait. Don’t act on this before you fully understand the meaning. You and your idea are the main focus here. Not the company’s. You will not carry out your idea being gentile and asking for permissions. So, get ready to be intimidated and even threatened to be fired. Get it?

13. Circumvent any bureaucratic orders aimed at stopping your innovation

Be careful and smart here. What you need to do is to find a breach in the current processes to squeeze your idea. Don’t break any rules. If you can’t find breaches, maybe it’s time to pack and move to a new place of work where there are breaches that will allow you to innovate.

14. Ignore your job description, do any job needed to make your innovation work

This one is key to success. Entrepreneurs are people that do stuff they never learned to do (e.g. read financial reports, recruit funds, etc). Intrapreneurs are no different – you have to work outside your comfort zone. And most of the time do other people’s work, as it’s not their responsibility – it’s yours. Don’t wait for others, simply take action. Don’t worry, they will say they helped you if you succeed.

15. Build a spirited innovation team

There in no NBA player that can win a game by himself. He needs the team. On the other hand, if there are no stars in the team – the team will lose. So, it takes a team of stars to win. Get close to stars in the company. Socialize with them. Get their interest in working with you. And most important – don’t try to rush and overload your friendship with them before you earned their trust.

16. Keep your innovation “underground” until it is prepared for demonstration to the corporate management

This is a tricky one. One one side you need to use your network to get information, check feasibility and to decide if to go ahead. And on the other hand, you need to keep your idea close so it will not get “shot” before you present it. There is no metogology other than to choose your unofficial team members well.

17. Find a key upper level manager who believes in you

You need to find a person that also believes in your ideas and will serve as a sponsor to your innovation. It’s not easy to find one without being considered a bootlicker. This means that you need to find what is it that senior manager needs and be the one that provides it. Exchanging value with support.

18. Permission is rarely granted in organizations, better seek for forgiveness

I got 3 boys. Two ask for premisson, the 3rd one ask for forgiveness. And he is the first to step on unfamiliar grounds. Same here, if you focus on getting approval and permissions you will not get far nor you will be the first. So, practice with asking for forgiveness and then permission to carry on. You will get it.

19. Always be realistic about the ways to achieve the innovation goals

I believe that everything is doable. It’s only a question of how much and how long. So, be realistic and even skeptical about how to achieve your goals. Maybe there are other ways you overlooked. If you are offering a new way to provide a service – You have a list of actions to carry out to change the service. Examine your actions well.

20. Share the glory of the accomplishments with everyone on the team

Success has many fathers while failure is an orphan. Don’t forget to share the success with your team. You wouldn’t have done it without them. Trust me.

21. Convey the innovation’s vision through a strong venture plan

Plan your work and work your plan. If you don’t have a plan, you will not know what is the next step or to monitor your progress. Learning to plan is key to succeed as an intrapreneur. You don’t need to be a professional planner – just put into writing your steps and keep track on it.

To summarize my post, the work environment is changing. In 10 years from now, there will be new job descriptions that we never heard of, and worst – we are not equipped with the knowledge to be hired for those job positions. So, if you are ~45 years old, as I am, you will need to change your point of view on what it takes to stay employed. I suggest an intrapreneurial work lifestyle as a way out of the cubicle-syndrome.

[Photo: Jordan Anthony, Flickr]

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About the author

Noam Wekser

Noam Wekser is a born intrapreneur with more than 19 years of professional experience. Noam has developed a unique active workshop designed to encourage hired employees to evolve into internal entrepreneurs within their place of work and become Intrapreneurs. Parallel to his current place of work in a leading software multinational , he serves as a lecturer and Key Note Speaker in leading universities and academic institutes. Noam has extensive knowledge of international software implementations and Change Management methodologies, and as such, he is a subject matter advisor for many CEO’s. Noam graduated Recanati’s prestige Executive MBA Program at Tel-Aviv University and holds an Engineering degree from Tel-Aviv University. Follow Noam on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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