It’s the age of the ‘intrapreneur’. Are you one?

8th Sep 2017
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I came across the term ‘intrapreneur’ recently and was rather taken in by it. I didn’t know that one form of full-time employment – the one that I truly relate with – actually had a name, a pleasant surprise if there ever was one!

To give you a little background, I have never really completely understood the importance of taking and giving micro-directions at the workplace. I listened and learned, sure. But the decisions that were made by my team, had to be the team’s alone. Shared goals are great for motivation, but how one reaches that shared goal must be defined by their own style of work and interpersonal skills. Policies are a necessary devil to bring in some semblance of discipline and structure at the workplace. But must they be set in stone if they don’t amount to productivity and great work?

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

For instance, if your teammate is single-handedly working on a crucial new business pitch that needs their complete attention, must they come in to work at 9am sharp even if that means unnecessary time spent in commute, morning greetings, small talk, and tea breaks? That is good time they could have used thinking and working on time-sensitive deliverable! And finally, do you really need your boss to solve all your work problems?

After a decade of full-time employment, I have learned that the three most important tenets of great work in addition to technical skills include –

  • Complete accountability for what your role demands of you (and often, much more)
  • Basic human decency
  • Common sense

If you, like me, feel that much of the rest is just unnecessary fluff, you are probably an intrapreneur too. Simply put, an intrapreneur is anyone who takes complete control and accountability of their own corner at the workplace. He or she is an entrepreneur in a sea of employees.

That being said, in our work culture – where pandering to hierarchies, taking instructions, and always looking for a “cushion” for every potential blow are often just “normal programming”, an intrapreneur is a bit of an oddity. Sure, every organization puts entrepreneurial spirit in its list of core values. But how many actually empower their employees enough to make important decisions independently? Almost none. But you can’t blame organizations alone if employees don’t showcase the first, most important trait of intrapreneurship – complete accountability – it can’t be easy for organizations, leaders and managers to let go of control. Like most things at work, this too is a two-way street.

Why should you want to be an intrapreneur?

For me, it is just a matter of work satisfaction; of being able to carve individual path and impact at the workplace. I don’t take well to authority that doesn’t add constant value (an unreasonable expectation, if you ask me). I like to make my own decisions at work. But most importantly, I find “cushions” for every blow truly unnecessary. I often found that meeting my line manager to take instructions on what is essentially just common sense, was a roadblock in my productivity. As a team leader, I still insist on truly owning not only to our failures but also our successes.

For a whole new and restless generation in the workforce, intrapreneurship is about making true impact. This generation truly values its conditioning and interests, individualistic style and core personal and professional skills. These new additions to the workplace form a powerful force. They are the ones that will shape the future of workplaces. According to Alexa Clay of the League of Intrapreneurs, “It’s also good for business. So many industries, from law to advertising to media, are in flux, and they need new ideas and new talent to reinvent themselves. This creates conditions for intrapreneurs. You have to reprogram these goliath organizations and make their cultures be more future friendly – that’s the role of the intrapreneurs.”

But is everyone cut out for intrapreneurship?

No prizes for guessing that the answer to this is a resounding “No”. Some people do need directions and guidance at every step of the way. Intrapreneurship also means an uncanny ability to embrace change wholeheartedly and be solely accountable for all decisions – big and small, right and wrong. It can get a little lonely too.

Most importantly, not everyone is cut out to have his or her own head on the line at all times. And unfortunately, not all organizations view mistakes and pitfalls as part of the learning curve, contrary to all that is said about the correlation between trying new things and making mistakes.

How to tell if you (or your employees) are cut out for intrapreneurship?

  • They say ‘yes’ more often than ‘no’: They take to new responsibilities and expectations easily. And they rarely fail.
  • Their ‘yes’ doesn’t come with ‘but’: They make no excuses. They don’t think authority or rules, company culture or heritage should come in the way of delivering and doing what is right.
  • They communicate solutions: They are not so much about setting up time with their managers to communicate the issues they are facing. All they do is keep their managers in the loop on solutions they believe will work.
  • They run a tight ship but know when to ask for guidance: Intrapreneurs are aware of their limitations. While they do like to make their own decisions, they know they don’t know everything. They ask for help and guidance on areas that are not their core strengths.
  • They ‘manage up’: They earn their manager and client’s trust by keeping them in the loop on new initiatives and ideas, issues and solutions. They don’t operate in stealth.
  • Their radar for potential issues is always on: Even as intrapreneurs take risks and change course on their own accord, they are aware of potential pitfalls. They manage expectations early on and insist on a relationship of ‘no surprises’ with all stakeholders – teams and bosses, clients and management.
  • They are good, unbiased, productive people to have around: Simply put, intrapreneurs don’t operate with hidden agendas. They are transparent and unbiased, and truly believe in the concept of shared goals. For them, running their own ship is all about choosing the right yet individualistic path to achieve organization goals.

Clearly, intrapreneurs will shape the future of work. This future promises to entail much more emphasis on remote employees, flexi timing, gig economy and consequently, independent action and accountability than our workplaces are currently used to. The sooner organizations recognize, empower, and reward their intrapreneurs, the sooner they will be prepared for the future of work.

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