Unhappy at Work? Be an Intrapreneur
If you’re unhappy at work, join the club. Many studies over the past few years continue to show the majority of Americans don’t like their jobs. You might not get along with your boss. Maybe the work is unfulfilling, or you don’t feel valued. Whatever the reason, you may wish you could just break away, start your own business, and “stick it to the man!”
I’ve met many people who think they can work for themselves and finally be in control of their career. But sometimes they discover that entrepreneurship is the furthest thing from control in their life, because the realities of being an entrepreneur—the time investment, stress, and unexpected sacrifices—suddenly fall into their lap. Then they become dissatisfied all over again, because they didn’t really think about what they were running to. They were just thinking about what they were running from.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe America needs entrepreneurs and small business growth in order to remain healthy and vibrant. But I also believe that some people who are quick to think that entrepreneurship is their fix-all career solution might be better suited for an endeavor that is equally vital, yet generally off the radar: intrapreneurship.
Intrapreneurship borrows from the principles of entrepreneurship. Whereas entrepreneurship is the act of spearheading a new business or venture, intrapreneurship is the act of spearheading new programs, products, services, innovations, and policies within your organization.
Being an intrapreneur can give you the ability to gain greater job satisfaction, because you’re able to exercise your creativity, take a leadership position, build your credibility, and make a meaningful impact on the business, all within a reasonably safe environment. Intrapreneurship can be a perfect option if you think, “I need to do something different that lets me use my talents, share my passion, and satisfy my urge to be in control, but without making a major career change.”
Intrapreneurship is also crucial because all companies need people who will take initiative and use their entrepreneurial spirit to drive innovation and sharpen the company’s competitive edge. As a result, intrapreneurs are some of the most valuable employees to an organization, strengthening your job security and earnings potential.
There’s more good news. Becoming an intrapreneur can be simple and easy. Here are five methods you can try today.
- Stop with the “buts.” When I suggest intraprenurial ideas students can take to their organization, they’ll often come up with excuses for why their company culture or boss would never let them do it. “How about you try running this new marketing strategy by your boss?” I say. “I love that idea, BUT …” is the reply. Stop with the buts. Stop with the excuses. While it’s important to recognize challenges, don’t let them douse your creativity and drive. If you turn the buts around, you’ll find opportunities. For example, if you believe your boss isn’t open to new ways of doing things, then look behind the façade and find out why. Ask her what she would need from you to be open to a new way of doing things. You might learn that with a little more research and planning, your neat idea can indeed be an opportunity for you. Find creative ways to overcome obstacles to help propel the business toward its goals.
- Deliver solutions. Your boss knows about problems. What she needs is solutions. You’re only doing a small and easy part of the job if you just discover a new problem. You can be even more valuable by bringing a viable solution, or solutions, to the table. If you have multiple solutions, parse the differences, pros, and cons for the team to understand the options and guide the organization to a sound decision. Recommend a concrete first step to get the ball rolling.
- Show your smarts. The expert is the one who knows more about a topic than anyone else in the room—even if it’s just a little more. Offer your ideas and guidance in meetings and email discussion threads internally and with clients. Provide suggestions and counsel to members of all levels of your organization. Become a source of creativity, knowledge, and guidance, and your organization will start to see you as an intraprenurial leader. Learn how to make suggestions diplomatically. Sometimes the best suggestion starts with a simple open-ended question that moves a person or the group in a new direction. For example, you could say, “What would happen if we looked at this problem this way …?”
- Be a hero to your boss. Your boss has objectives and quotas he needs to meet. Your job is to help him get there. When you do, you can become a shining star to your boss—and word can pass on to his boss. Fully understand and appreciate what your boss is required to achieve, and then don’t just support his mission, but help him achieve it better, faster, and more cost effectively. If you don’t know what your boss’s goals are, then ask him what they are and how you can help. Keep focusing on creating new value. That’s innovation—the bread and butter of intrapreneurship.
- Use positive executive behaviors. A big part of intrapreneurship is being able to rise through the ranks in your organization. But no one is going to believe you should be promoted if you don’t exhibit the positive behaviors of someone already in that role. If you want to become a vice president, act like one. I had a student who was grumpy because he felt he deserved to be a director, but his organization didn’t see it in him. I told him the promotion follows the behavior. Fill the position you want—which includes exhibiting the required skills, attitude, and behaviors which will lead to achievements and can set yourself up for earning the title.
Intrapreneurs have a lot in common with entrepreneurs. They take initiative. They aren’t afraid of risk. They’re innovative. They’re creative. They’re problem solvers. They don’t give up. These are attributes the business world has always valued, and they are none the less important today in our job economy. What’s more, they are attributes that can steer you to career advancement and happiness.
You’ll get a sense of the stature you’re achieving when colleagues—especially those above you—ask you questions about things that confuse them, bring you into high-profile meetings, and assign you hot projects for major clients. Start carving your new leadership position today, and come back here to tell us about your experience.
The other important part of this discussion is the flip side for employers. Intrapreneurs flourish in innovative, creative, open environments. So how can employers create a culture of intrapreneurship in their organization? I hope to give ideas in an upcoming article. Until then, it’s worth reading this piece from my colleague, Don Mroz, about how to create a culture of innovation in your organization. There are many overlapping ideas.
What are you planning to do next to become an intrapreneur or strengthen your intrapreneurial role?
Douglas S. Brown is an academic program manager for the Online MBA degree program offered through The Malcolm Baldrige School of Business at Post University.
Originally published on wired.com.