Until about a year ago, I did not know what an intrapreneur was. But I did know that throughout my life, I’ve always gone about things differently and I was never happy with “no” as an answer. I always wanted to do things better. If someone said do A, I would ask: “why not A and B and C?” I”ve always pushed the boundaries and found creative ways of making things happen.
So what exactly is an intrapreneur, you maybe be asking yourselves. It’s someone who takes an entrepreneurial approach within a large organization, challenges conventional thinking to drive innovation, thinks creatively and finds new ways to approach business.
When I was hired at Microsoft Canada to lead all PR and Communication activity, it was in the midst of the organization’s transformation. My team is responsible for creating compelling stories about technology and the impact on both consumers and businesses. This involved a departure for Microsoft because they wanted to capture the hearts and minds of consumers and businesses which would require a new approach.
As a brand, we tried to connect the brand with things it normally wouldn’t associated. One of the ways was to be build parallels between arts and technology. For the launch of the Surface 2 tablet, for example, we hired Deadmau5, one of the world’s top electronica DJs to launch the tablet into the Canadian market. Deadmau5 was a strategic fit because he relies heavily on technology to produce his music – a true intersection of passion and technology. By being provocative, different and disruptive, we were able to drive a change in direction and have a meaningful impact Because of advancement of technology and globalization, intrapreneurs are more important than ever. Markets are more connected than ever before, and we can do business anywhere and at any time without boundaries. As a result, competition is fierce and the barriers to entry are low.
With the rise of social media, consumers now have more power and influence on businesses because they can express their opinions on a variety of new accessible public platforms and spaces. This presents a challenge on how companies stay relevant and competitive given these external forces. The opportunity is to constantly drive innovation. Innovation is more than just launching new products to market, it is about being connected to your customers in interesting ways.
This is both the biggest opportunity and challenge for larger organizations. How can a big company innovate fast enough given that they are complex, process-driven and highly governed. My answer to this is to hire intrapreneurs. Here’s why:
1. They do things differently, challenge the status quo and most people are challenged with change. We are creatures of habit, we are most comfortable with what we know. If we are asked to change, we are going into unfamiliar territory and afraid to fail or of rejection.
2. They have a natural ability to spot trends and see things before they happen. Whether this involves social, economic or cultural trends, they are constantly researching, observing, listening and reading. This insight enables them to tackle business problems from relevant information.
3. They cultivate ideas. They are not just 'ideas people' – they can create a full drawn-out plan based on a seed of the idea. Intrapreneurs know that people may have objections to the idea or plan and have proactively accounted for this and have created ways to address any potential gaps.
4. They know how to pivot. They can essentially change directions and do so without fear based on confidence and strong intuition. They remain focused on the end goal.
5. They’re driven by passion and by what they really believe in, so they’re naturally producing their best possible work.
6. They are the trailblazers within your organization that become the very change they wish to see. They don’t just drive change; they pave the way so others can change as well.
7. We need to recognize that the value of intrapreneurs and foster these great minds within an organization.
We need realize that innovation alone is not enough. Organizations need to provide context for innovation; find the right people, determine the right ways and cultivate the right environment to harness the power of intrapreneurship. These elements are all intertwined, they are tied together and you need them all to be successful.
Chitra Anand is the head of public relations at Microsoft Canada She is a graduate of the Kellogg-Schulich Executive MBA program, attended the Harvard Executive Leadership, Authentic Leadership Program hosted by Dean Nitin Nohria, and is currently pursuing a part-time PhD at the University of Bradford in the UK. Follow her on Twitter @chitra_anand