As the need for Intrapreneurs grows so do the demands that are being placed on them.
Organizations are under pressure to be more innovative, generate new growth, provide social value, improve engagement and retain their best talent.
These are the same reasons why Intrapreneurs are getting the attention they deserve.
This in turn is placing increasing pressure on Intrapreneurs to deliver results that exceed expectations. It is not just about delivering a new product or service, business or process, but creating a new way of working, changing systems and processes, and building a new culture. The goal is to create value that is sustainable over time.
So, what is it like being an intrapreneur in this new environment?
It’s a journey, not a destination. It is a process of learning as you go. Adopting what works and discarding what doesn’t. Turning things inside-out and upside-down. Exploring the unknown, flying blind and walking a tight rope with-out a net.
It is a lot like riding a roller coaster. At times it can be exhilarating and at others it can plunge you into the depths of despair. There will be times when you find yourself in an endless loop. Once you are on the path there is no turning back. You want to go higher, faster. It’s the thrill of the ride. The challenge for intrapreneurs is that the ride has no end. Until you decide it is time to get off.
True intrapreneurs love the highs, the lows, the long hours, the heated debates, and the pressure to deliver something new. They are motivated by the excitement of being part of the future and making a difference. If you decide to come along for the ride, you must be prepared to hold on to your hat, because it will be a bumpy ride.
Individuals who are eager to join an intrapreneurial initiative may not understand the demands that such an endeavor can place on them personally or professionally. It is incumbent upon you to set the proper expectations up front.
There will be long hours, extreme pressure, resistance and reluctance to change. As one intrapreneurial leader told me, “There were times when I thought the whole team was coming unglued. They pumped themselves full of coffee or power drinks to keep themselves going. They were constantly explaining to their spouses why they wouldn’t be home until late.” It wasn’t something any of them had thought about in the beginning.
Given the high failure rate of new innovations, there is also a high probability that the initiative you are working on may not be successful. Are you and your team members prepared to deal with the consequences of failure? Are you committed to putting in long nights and weekends? Are you willing to break rules and step on toes to get things accomplished? Can you deal effectively with uncertainty, complexity and the unknown? These are only a few of the things you will need to deal with.
Despite all the rhetoric about the need to have a tolerance for failure, many companies are still unwilling to acknowledge failure as part of the learning process. Those who join an intrapreneurial initiative must be willing to accept the consequences of failure. Depending on how your organization deals with failure, it can be career-limiting or career-enhancing. In most cases, it is not looked upon favorably.
One intrapreneur, didn’t find out until after they were hired that the project they were asked to lead had already been tried once before and failed. Instead of letting that fact dissuade them from moving forward they took the time to explore why the last one failed. Ensuring that the same mistakes would not be repeated. This individual understood the risk and the potential for failure. Despite that they succeeded where their predecessor had failed.
The initial excitement of a new project can quickly turn into the harsh reality of aggressive timelines, resource shortages, and limited funding. The team doesn’t always factor in the unexpected or think about backup strategies, which create anxiety when things go wrong. They neglect to think about their own ability to absorb the pressure or consider the toll that long hours might have on their health or family life. They try to work through lunch to pick up precious time when a ten-minute break or a breath of fresh air may be more effective.
Although the pressure to perform is often self-imposed, there comes a time in every project when the pressure seems unbearable. The team starts to get trapped in a negative cycle, things slow down, and progress stalls. Individuals make sacrifices that may jeopardize their personal well-being. Tradeoffs will have to be made between family and work. Some team members will self-select out of a project if the pressure becomes too great. Others will call it quits and leave the company. It is important to find ways to deal with individual and team stress.
Every project goes through its own up and down cycle. We call it going through the Valley of Despair. It’s part of the change process. You will be personally and professionally changed by the process. Some of you will resist that change, others will thrive in it. You will have to let go of what is familiar, stable and grounded and move toward something that is shaky, unproven and foreign. That’s the only way change happens by letting go of what you know and having faith in what you don’t know yet.
Being an intrapreneur requires a certain degree of independence that often pits the individual against the organization. You are loyal to the organization but grow increasingly more loyal to the team and project. You find yourself torn between support for authority and taking measures into your own hands. The tug and pull are uncomfortable. You will be forced to make choices that are unpopular and politically incorrect. Those decisions can be gut-wrenching and threatening. You will want to find individuals who are not afraid to ask the tough questions and are willing to try new approaches.
Although intrapreneurs are willing to challenge and question authority they still maintain a healthy respect for authority. You will need people willing to challenge current thinking. Team players that can depend on each other and take responsibility for their actions. Individuals that are politically savvy, influential and effective at motivating others even when they have no control over them. It isn’t positional power but personal power that makes the difference.
Politically you and your team are operating inside the core business. Team members must realize that they are still a part of a larger organization. They must learn to live with the values of the core business along with their own values. The team will build its own identity which will eventually separate them from the rest of the organization. This creates tension and conflict that can slow things down. You will need to find alternative paths forward and speed things up to make up for lost time. You are always working against the clock. Every minute counts.
Like an entrepreneurial start-up, intrapreneurs operate in a less formal way. The informal nature of start-ups is foreign to many people with experience in hierarchical organizations. Everyone will be asked to sign up to do things outside of their current responsibilities. You will want to be sure that everyone is comfortable operating in a less structured environment. That they are willing to perform tasks that may seem to be beneath them and tasks that stretch them outside the boundaries of their own comfort zone.
Stress is a normal part of work but is magnified many times over when it comes to working on these intrapreneurial projects. It is an inevitable part of the process and it separates those who have the physical and mental capacity to deal with large amounts of stress from those who don’t. Being an intrapreneur requires a lot of energy and stamina to stay the course. It can help to find and identify, at the beginning, those individuals with high energy and a tolerance for stress. Individuals with a high tolerance for stress can deal with duress in a balanced manner. They will need every ounce of energy to endure the long days.
At the same time, intrapreneurship is exhilarating and a lot of fun. It is hard work that is extremely rewarding. There is a sense of pride and ownership. There is also the excitement of building something of value and making a contribution. It is a time of discovery and exploration. It is an adventure that you will treasure and look back on with pride.
If you like riding a roller coaster, then you know that it can be a bumpy ride. You will need to be able to deal with both the highs and the lows, the joy and frustration, success and failure, resistance and acceptance. But in the end, it will be worth it for what you learn along the way.
Set expectations that it will be a bumpy ride.