Sometimes when the sense and feeling of moving from stable employment are overwhelmingly strong, the thought of lack of a steady income, and possible failure deflate you like a balloon and you resign yourself to stick to the job.

It’s not always that the desire to leave the job is driven by a bad work environment, or the scary thought of having to live on a pension and your lifestyle falls short of your dreams. Sometimes, it is the deeply set creative juices seeking release and not having the proper channels in the currently held position.

It is this element that we analyze today and see how we can capitalize on it to grow a career and even possibly prepare one to change jobs or get enough courage to start their own enterprise or discover hidden talents and abilities. Not to be confused with entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship is the practice of building a business or product or service within an already established organization. In entrepreneurship, one does the same but there is no established organization to take on the risks or provide the capital or cushion any failure. Intrapreneurship can only be successful within organizations whose culture encourages, embraces and celebrates staff driven innovation and continuous improvement activities.

Intrapreneurs are risk takers (as long as the environment assures them of a safety net in case they fall) and innovators with an element of creativity and proactive decision making.

I would dare say that organizations which embrace intrapreneurs within their structure have increased chances of increased profits and diversified products/ portfolios which ultimately causes them to outlive and outdo the competition.

Intrapreneurs do not wait for decisions to be made for them. They take the initiative to enable the proper decisions to be made in an organization Click To Tweet

So what characterizes an intrapreneur?

Understanding the organization and its mission

A successful intrapreneur has a deep understanding of the organization, its mission and its strategy. In order to enhance or generally change anything, one needs to understand what they are dealing with. You need to understand what mission and strategy is pursued by the company so that you can either make changes or giving it a great competitive advantage in its current strategy and activity. One company in India (Wipro)started as a small vegetable company. Intrapreneurship allowed it to evolve and transform into a software outsourcing company which employs more than 150,000 people with a market capitalization of about $35 billion. This is an example of intrapreneurship changing the strategy and mission of the organization. Zappos have Mr. Tony Hsieh as its intrapreneur and it was expanded from a simple footwear seller to an online retail company. Currently, the company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Amazon.com. In our current African market, intrapreneurship may not initially have as tremendous results but there is something that can be done. Intrapreneurship caused Safaricom (in Kenya) to increase its profits by embracing Mpesa (mobile money transfer services), Okoa Jahazi (credit offered for airtime). Intrapreneurship has enabled Equity bank to bring in the concept of thin SIM available to its millions of customers with the intention of increasing the money that flows through the bank.

Creative thinking

Many people say creative thinking requires one to think outside the box. In truth, many are now advocating for the box to be thrown away because there is always the temptation of peeping inside the box to see what was previously in there and borrow ideas from it. An intrapreneur must of essence be creative. Thinking of new ways to do things or new products/ service that people may need. Without the concept of money transfer, Kenya would not have conceptualized the ability to pay for parking using their mobile phones without having to look for the dodgy parking attendants.

One of the most simplified forms of intrapreneurship I have come across is that of a couple who have been running a fruit and vegetable stand. Through creative thinking, they decided to extend their structure to have a 1st floor where they set up a café. In the café, they use their fruits and vegetables to make fresh juices and they also cook fresh food for their clientele. Their revenue and profit base are thus expanded.

Proactive decision making

Intrapreneurs do not wait for decisions to be made for them. They take the initiative to enable the proper decisions to be made in an organization. Intrapreneurship normally has the face of projects. Projects require a project leader who can make decisions and defend them accordingly. Projects are ideas put into action with visible impact/ results for the larger organization. Intrapreneurship has newness and brings discomfort for change as many people will tend to be hands-off so that they are not pinned down and penalized for wrong decisions and actions. If you are going to be an intrapreneur you will have to be decisive and assertive in the project you are intending to handle right from conception to its absorption in the overall company strategy.

Accountability

As an intrapreneur, the organization has entrusted resources to you – financial, structural and human resources. All these could have been used for something else but since the management has trusted you with the innovation, it is imperative to be responsible and accountable for these resources. This means being able to maintain budgets, submit timely reports, and most critical is show expected results.

On the human resources front, accountability is more critical as it is not just to the management but also to the team members in the project. They need to know that they are not being used for some personal gain. They need to know that they are going to make a great impact. When something wrong happens, they need to be in the know and when something good happens they need to be recognized for their role in it.

Self-Motivation

Intrapreneurship will not be welcomed with pomp and color and most of the time it has gone unrewarded. So if you intend to do it with the hope and expectation for a larger salary, a corner office, increased perks/ benefits or a promotion, it is best you don’t go down that road. Because of its nature to override bureaucracies and sometimes go against the grain of conventional management, intrapreneurship is usually treated with skepticism until two things happen: the initial investment is recouped, and the sustainability of its positive results is proven. That might take years and so only a personal drive/ motivation can keep the intrapreneur going.

Leadership

Strong leadership skills are needed to strengthen the team involved in the innovation and to persuade others to follow and perform within the project. The difference between a manager and a leader as an intrapreneur is that a leader is comfortable to make rapid decisions under uncertainty. Managers more often than not work within established patterns and are not willing to exit from that comfort zone. As an intrapreneur, one has to be able to overcome bureaucracies, use office politics to their advantage and get adequate resources to realize successful projects.

If you are going to be an intrapreneur you will have to be decisive and assertive in the project you are intending to handle right from conception to its absorption in the overall company strategy Click To Tweet

A lot of organizations have come across W. Chan Kim’s and Renée Mauborgne’s concept of Blue Ocean Strategy. Some organizations have even been known to take their senior managers through the associated course with the expectation that it will set them apart from the competition. Yet in many cases, the lessons learned do not go beyond the first six months of returning to their desks.

It is not for lack of understanding but sometimes it is because the senior managers are not exactly intrapreneurial in their personality.

If organizations will succeed in establishing uncontested market spaces and go on to gain the benefits therein before the competition ventures into the same, intrapreneurship must be woven into the culture of the organization.

This article is in no way exhaustive in demystifying the concept of intrapreneurship. For now, however, if you are willing to take the risk of being an intrapreneur, we encourage you to explore the numerous resources available online such as IntrapreWHO!? – What is an Intrapreneur? and The Power of Social Intrapreneurship by Kate Aitken…

For more insights to help with intrapreneurship, we recommend the book  INTRAPRENEURING: Why you don’t have to leave the corporation to become an entrepreneur by Gifford Pinchot III

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