Until I recently stumbled upon an unfamiliar term – intrapreneur – I considered myself a typical Mind Tools’ blogger who keeps up with the business world’s latest trends and lingo. Imagine my shock when I then learned that it was coined 30 years ago by Gifford Pinchot (Gifford, P. (1985). “Who is the Intrapreneur?” Intrapreneuring: Why You Don't Have to Leave the Corporation to Become an Entrepreneur. Harper & Row). Ironically, I live less than 100 miles from the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, named after the author’s grandfather.
If the term is new to you as well, your assumption about its wordplay is likely valid: an intrapreneur is an “internal entrepreneur.” (Gillaspie, D. (2015). “5 Essentials for Cultivating Intrapreneurial Employees.” Entrepreneur. Retrieved from http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/247483.) Michael Assaf says, “They constantly nurture new ideas; they do not fear change; they greatly value integrity on the workplace, along with respect of their colleagues, and humility.” (Assaf, M. (2015). “Intrapreneurs: the New-Generation Employees.” LinkedIn. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/intrapreneurs-new-generation-employees-michael-assaf.)
Intrapreneurs are passionate and determined, writes Dan Schwable. They “chase business opportunities… and think outside the box.” He shares the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report that 94 percent of intrapreneurs “think they have the skills and knowledge to start a firm of their own, and 76 percent say that fear of failure would not prevent them from starting a business." (Schwable, D. (2013). “3 Things You Didn’t Know about Intrapreneurship.” Entrepreneur. Retrieved from http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/227725.)
“Google, Facebook and 3M are well known for giving employees leeway to hatch their own ideas” (Price, S. (2015). “6 Steps to Becoming an Intrapreneur.” U.S. News Money. Retrieved from http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2015/03/09/6-steps-to-becoming-an-intrapreneur.) and a study by Entrepreneur and American Express found that 58 percent of managers are now willing to support employees who want to chase business opportunities (Schwable, D. (2013). “3 Things You Didn’t Know about Intrapreneurship.” Entrepreneur. Retrieved from http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/227725.).
Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? But be a little careful before declaring yourself an intrapreneur. The trend may be moving in this direction, and using this label may leave a dramatic, lasting impression, but it can be risky too.
Many managers – especially those in an entrenched hierarchy – will likely feel threatened that your efforts may overshadow them. Furthermore, most managers rate performance on how many hours you put in to fulfill your duties. If you have an intrapreneurial attitude, you likely feel that, “I’ll handle my job duties as quickly as possible so that I can attend to my pet project.” You seek to be judged not by your willingness to be chained to a desk, but by the value of the outcomes you achieve (Gillaspie, D. (2015). “5 Essentials for Cultivating Intrapreneurial Employees.” Entrepreneur. Retrieved from http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/247483.). How will your manager feel about your adventurism?
Even if your manager and organization support your intrapreneurial genius, be cautious. Until you are recognized as a creative wizard, you will still be expected to perform your “regular” duties. It will take months at best before your project wins full approval. Despite your best preparation and forecasting, your projects will have dead ends and mission creep requiring even more of your time. Do not seek special projects until you are certain that your personal life and daily duties can tolerate a stressful, heavy work load.
Still interested? Great! That means that you have the passion, personality and risk-tolerance to perhaps give this a try. I hope that you’re in a supportive environment to maximize your chances for success. The following is a concise version of the risk mitigation guidelines offered by Susan Price (Price, S. (2015). “6 Steps to Becoming an Intrapreneur.” U.S. News Money. Retrieved from http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2015/03/09/6-steps-to-becoming-an-intrapreneur.):
- Create a business plan that clarifies the problem you are solving; who will benefit and how; the revenue generated (or saved); the resources required to make it happen; and the timeline to make it happen.
- Break it down again. What steps and time are required of you to get this to the point where your manager can reorganize your job to accommodate your leadership of the project’s implementation?
- Find an internal supporter. You don’t want to do this alone, especially if your idea is likely to step on others’ toes. A skillful and trustworthy associate can provide advice and counsel as you develop the idea and then pitch it to the boss(es).
- Identify the gaps. You won’t have expertise in all the areas impacted by your ideas. Find employees with the skills you need, and decide how and when you might bring them on board. In other words, start building your team.
- Be ready to pivot. When do you keep pushing ahead, and when should you back off and try something else? Determination is good until it degenerates into stubbornness, which can be fatal.
Now, get out there and live your dream!