5 Foundational Elements to Become an Intrapreneur & Drive Organizational Innovation
Unleash your entrepreneurial spirit, drive disruption and grow your career inside a large company with these five tips.
I respect and admire the world’s greatest entrepreneurs. Hewlett Packard was started in a garage in Palo Alto, California by its two founders. Facebook was founded in a college dorm room. Sitel Group® was founded in a flat in Nice, France by friends working together on a business management project. These innovators embody the entrepreneurial spirit of leadership and success.
I’ve never had the opportunity to build a business from the ground up, but I have taken big risks, turned ideas into innovations and disrupted markets – all while working in larger companies. I realize now that I’ve always thrived as an intrapreneur, combining my entrepreneurial instincts with the resources of global enterprises to make an impact and drive meaningful change.
My career has spanned public company powerhouses to private equity turnarounds but I consider where I am now to be my home. I am part of a company where our employees have access to their leaders and nurturing and growing intrapreneurs is paramount.
1. Have a Deep Financial Knowledge
As an intrapreneurial leader, you are responsible for the financial viability of a team, department or business unit. In finance, ignorance is your enemy. Effective leaders stay close to the numbers. They understand their balance sheet, income statement and cash flow statement. They know their net profit margin and customer acquisition costs. They anticipate and financially plan for employee and customer turnover.
If you always consider the profit impact to your company – “will doing X result in money coming in or money going out?” – and you can effectively explain this to others, in a way that they can understand, you are providing a uniquely valuable service. Let this financial knowledge guide your performance and steer your productivity so you not only grow the business you serve but also your career.
2. Develop Operational & Delivery Mastery
The business world has no shortage of new ideas, but the ability to define, prioritize, structure and execute strategic and operational initiatives is, for me, what makes a leader stand out.
Execution is hard. Aligning the highest-level company priorities with effective day-to-day operations takes discipline, influence and the ability to constantly flex and adjust. An intrapreneurial leader confronts reality, sets goals and objectives and holds themselves and their teams accountable for delivering on time and on budget and exceeding expectations.
3. Be Client-Focused and Relationship-Driven
At our core, Sitel Group is firmly grounded in our values to Be Bold, Build Trust, Work Together and Wow Customers. All these values are critical but the ability to Wow Customers is indispensable for an intrapreneur.
To dramatically exceed a customer’s expectation, you need a deep understanding of their issues and concerns, their career ambitions and personal dreams. You must build trust and common bonds. What are their hobbies? Do you know their family? What is their vision for the future—for their company and for themselves?
Fostering deep, personal relationships not only helps you build trust but it helps you build solutions to problems your customer may not even know they have. This is, of course, at the very core of innovation.
4. Adopt a Strategic Mindset
In order to adopt a strategic mindset, you must first understand the characteristics of a strategic thinker. Intrapreneurs always think before they act. They are continually aware of the impact and consequences of their decisions on the business of their organization. Think long-term and understand the risks and/or rewards before taking action.
Welcome new opportunities to brainstorm and adjust to meet the changing demands. Accept that you do not know everything and always be willing to learn and grow. Essentially, be open to new ideas, better ways of doing things and learning. An intrapreneur must have a holistic view of the business and must always ask, “What are three things I could do better?”
Understand how the world operates and interpret signals and gain insights to actively shape the future. Seek out these answers from your managers and mentors. Commit and act. An intrapreneur is not a title or a position – it is a mindset. It is the disruptor, the innovator, the leader within you.
5. People Management
The question I ask my leaders is, “Are you motivated for your people to outgrow you?” For many, this is a scary question, but people management requires humility and exceptional service. The best way I can be a people manager is to provide my team time, listening to their needs, checking in on them to see how they are doing and letting them know I care about their career progression.
As an intrapreneur, you are an agent of change. You are part of changing and redefining an environment where you are motivated and encouraged to eventually outgrow and outperform your leaders. An environment where you actively participate.
Your challenge is to build support while you are trying to bring about change. You must not only understand how to innovate, but how to inspire others to do the same. Find ways to effectively communicate why change is important and also how it is attained.
Believing in yourself is a crucial attribute of an intrapreneur. This self-belief and confidence encourages others to believe in you. In turn, your organization trusts and supports you with the money and resources necessary to be innovative. Your intellectuality agility, grit and passion that embodies the intrapreneurial spirit makes you an asset to your organization. Seek out the forward-thinking companies committed to innovation because those are the organizations in which you have the best opportunity to reach your fullest potential as an intrapreneur.