Last week I was reminded that not everyone understands the term Intrapreneur or how it is different from being an entrepreneur.  While being interviewed about my book Intrapreneurs I was asked how I would describe an Intrapreneur to someone not familiar with the term. This interchange made me realize that we still have a way to go in letting people know what it means.

For those of us that are intrapreneurs, we may have forgotten that there was a time when we too did not understand the term.  Many individuals performing this role had never heard the word.  They never thought of themselves as an Intrapreneur.  They had a title and a well-defined job description – or so they thought. It wasn’t until they took a deeper look at their work that they began to understand the implications of what they were doing.  It was a gradual awakening – an evolution.

They had never seen themselves in this way before.  No one had brought it to their attention.  They pondered it, explored it. and then began to experiment with it. The result was an acknowledgement of their differences, their capabilities, and the secret behind their success.  It was only then that they began to believe that anything was possible.  That no problem was too big, no challenge was too difficult.  They went on to build a career – they did it their way.

These intrapreneurs were able unravel the mystery of who they were at the core and explore the depth of their own capabilities without the aid and assistance of their organizations.  In doing this they are more self-aware, more present, and more enlightened about what it takes to succeed as an Intrapreneur.  It was not about climbing the corporate ladder but climbing the ladder of self-awareness.  It is a journey of self-discovery.

One of my favorite Intrapreneurs seems to have floated through her career in a Fortune 100 company.  Not only did her organization not understand what she did, they didn’t know how she did it. Yet her success, time after time, spoke volumes about her capabilities.   There was a time when she had to write her own job description because the organization was unable to put into words what she did.  To this day she continues to break new ground, find new solutions, solve pressing problems, and contribute to society.  She has endured because she keeps learning.

It was not by accident that my first book was titled Entrepreneurs Inside. Originally it was titled to denote the difference between entrepreneurs outside an organization and those inside. Over the years the term Intrapreneur has taken on a new and more important meaning.  It is not just about being an Entrepreneur Inside an established organization.  It is being an Entrepreneur Inside yourself – your mindset, thinking, perspective, behavior etc.  This is the true essence of being an Entrepreneur Inside.

Back then it was clear that educating individuals and organizations was the key to unlocking the mystery behind the term Intrapreneur.  Although the term had been around for decades there was still a large percentage of organizations that were struggling to understand what it meant.  We were often invited into organizations to brief the executive team.  It was usually someone in the organization that got the concept and wanted us to educate the rest of the organization.  You could tell right away if the executives and employees understood by the questions they asked.

Even today we see that there is a large percentage of the population that does not grasp the concept behind Intrapreneurs and Intrapreneurship. So, we may need to step back and remember that we need to educate first before asking organizations to sign on to this concept. Especially today when organizations are reluctant to make new investments in ideas that are not fact based or proven by past experience.  This has raised the stakes on whether Intrapreneurs will be embraced in this new normal or take a back seat.

The McKinsey & Company article, Innovation in a crisis: Why it is more critical than ever – stated that “Pausing innovation efforts until the world has stabilized is a short-sighted view – and one that may have lasting consequences for companies’ ability to grow in the years to come.” The article goes on to say that “Prioritizing innovation today is the key to unlocking postcrisis growth” but the article also states that “Few executives feel confident that they are prepared to capture new growth opportunities.”

Intrapreneurs are needed to help prioritize those innovation efforts and unlock that growth.

The challenge for intrapreneurs will be articulating the value that intrapreneurs and intrapreneurship bring to organizations especially now. Here are five reasons why each are important and are linked together.

Intrapreneurship – What!

  1. Growth – helps organizations generate new business growth.
  2. Innovation – provides an environment to support and sustain innovation over time.
  3. Leadership – best ways to attract and retain your most entrepreneurial leaders.
  4. Change – enables organizations to effectively accelerate and manage change.
  5. Engagement – helps employees stretch and grow while keeping them engaged.

Intrapreneurs – How!

  1. Growth – develop new Ideas that create value and generate new revenue growth.
  2. Innovation – build new systems and processes to support innovation over time.
  3. Leadership – effectively navigate and lead through uncertainty and the unknown.
  4. Change – intrapreneurs are the catalyst for change, they model and drive change.
  5. Engagement – they inspire, motivate, and engage workers to exceed expectations.

Intrapreneurship is not something that everyone will grasp right away.  It often takes time and experience for individuals to see what you see, do what you do and appreciate the value you bring to organizations. Keep this in mind when you are advocating for Intrapreneurs and Intrapreneurship.

Now it is more important than ever to promote intrapreneurs and intrapreneurship.  Recognizing that you may need to educate first and then show them the way forward through your work.  It may not be easy, but it will be worth it for you and the organization.

Intrapreneurs are entrepreneurs inside (inside organizations, inside themselves) building new businesses, products, services, and processes.

As intrapreneurs it is incumbent upon us to continue to push forward by educating others on the value that Intrapreneurs bring to organizations in order to push through the roadblocks and barriers that you will inevitably encounter in this new environment.

The bottom line is that organizations that implement Intrapreneurship statistically perform better.  They achieve higher levels of productivity, innovation, growth, employee engagement and financial returns but it is Intrapreneurs that make that happen.

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