In my last post, we discussed the definition of an intrapreneur and detailed a few traits that can help you recognize intrapreneurs around you. It can be rewarding – and quite relieving – to recognize your inner intrapreneur. At least, it was for me.
For the entrepreneur-minded who are eyeing corporate roles, their skills may not be as applicable as you may think. They must be prepared to learn how to operate in a new grid, while growing and relying on skills that may not have been as important outside the corporate world.
An intrapreneur is not an entrepreneur
Let’s clarify something: Intrapreneurship is not synonymous with entrepreneurship. Yes, the definition of “intraprenuer” is an entrepreneur inside a larger corporation; however, it is more like being in a different country with a different language, currency, and governance.
Intraprenuers are often constrained much more with excessive consensus building, limited budget freedom, and mind-numbingly slow progression. There are overlaps among these realities, yet the strength and application of the intraprenuerial spirit often vary dramatically. Nevertheless, the common goal is to find a convergence point, where new value is realized and pain points are resolved.
Often, this ignites conversations in areas that many team members may find boring, distracting from current priorities, or far outside their organization’s responsibility. Also, going “off the grid” usually puts the business area on someone else’s grid to navigate complexity. The intrapreneur must be able to communicate in the company culture in the context of language, currency, and governance. And for the creative entrepreneur, this environment could be considered toxic.
The journey: Finding who you are
In a previous role, I was asked to move a rather large initiative at SAP, which taught me about the role of intrapreneurs within the concept-to-reality lifecycle. One of my key intrapreneur moments happened in the midst of a heated steering committee exchange. We were years into this initiative and solidly within the reality stage, generating tens of millions in revenue with the potential to rev up this e-commerce engine even further. While debating over go-to-market strategies and marketing approaches, I found very little reception of my ideas and proposals based on best practices.
That’s when it hit me. We were focused on a different challenge. We had built this amazing engine; yet, it still lacked many fundamental elements such as standardized processes, support agreements, and standard operating and IT procedures that governed the rest of the company.
At that moment, I realized two things:
- I continued to innovate
- My team was focused on stabilizing the operations
I became part of the problem. My skills were no longer bringing the kind of value needed to take the initiative into the operations phase. Once I realized what was happening, I immediately removed myself from my lead role. It was simply the right thing to do for my company and allowed me to find another way to channel my intrapreneur-self.
Lesson #1: Assess your strengths and value add at different stages of your initiatives. You may just find that you need to be who you are on some other project.
It’s okay to have a net
On the flip side, many intrapreneurs crave – and thrive within – the stability of a corporate environment. Many find the insecurity of entrepreneurship overwhelming and, at times, unhealthy.
As my career matured, I began to recognize a yearning to follow my passions and make a social impact in business. I even quickly adopted the term “social enterprise” – but in reality, I was looking to go beyond talking about certain social issues and to become part of a solution. At the time, I decided to venture out into the world of entrepreneurship. It was a tough and humbling experience. I found myself much more effective working within the stability of a corporate environment.
I’m still battling the comparisons of living the “big E” life-without-a-net lifestyle by working to fill skill gaps that those ventures uncovered in my personal development. There is still hope for me yet. Yet, I learned another good lesson…
Lesson #2: You don’t have to leave your job and launch a startup to make an impact.
Intrapreneurs are increasingly accelerating innovation, which is very relevant to the digital business conversation. As the hyper-convergence driving this transformation continues, we will continue to see major shifts in the required skills and capacities of employees along this journey. Plus, we should expect to witness a true convergence of the intrapreneur and entrepreneur worlds.
I’m curious to see how all of this morphs into a completely new type of employee-owner. My guess is that it already exists, and someone has already coined a term for it. Please pass along that information when you see it, and I’ll continue to search for a nice skills comparison. Still, I’m relieved to know that I am an intrapreneur and that it’s okay for me to struggle as an entrepreneur.
Learn more about the business and economic impact of hyperconnectivity in the Economist Intelligence Unit report The Hyperconnected Organisations.