Applying Intrapreneurship to Business Development

By Denise McLaughlin, WW Integrated Marketing, Enterprise Business Group

As professionals, the way we work will have an obvious impact on the companies for which we work. During interviews, hiring managers seek the best candidates by assessing not only practical knowledge, but also behavioral skills, such as goal setting and persuasion, professional maturity, adaptability, and learning orientation – the key personality attributes for driving change and innovation. One person that’s always an integral member of a team is the intrapreneur.

Success Failure road sign

The intrapreneur makes conscious, incremental changes both in themselves, and in their work. They also find champions who help them to either stay the course, or to change it. Journalist, Jake Swearingen, showcased some of the greatest intrapreneurs in business history, illustrating examples of great innovation, noting that “it takes more than one person to launch a new idea.” There is constant refinement of ideas to help foster change in a company. These ideas are sometimes years in the making.

The self assessments I mentioned in my Career Perspectives post can be applied to businesses as well. Here are a few examples noting the ways companies have used intrapreneurship to make beneficial changes to the way they work internally and how those changes led to successful business results.

  • Look for different perspectives in the same story – This is illustrated well in a classic management class exercise, where the group is presented a hypothetical business dilemma involving a series of events, a central character, and a colorful cast of personalities. Each character advises the main protagonist about the best course of action to handle a difficult problem. The class is then asked to rate the advice from least to most helpful. Everyone usually thinks the exercise is a no brainer, since each one finds only one character that had shown honestly, loyalty and moral fiber, wisdom, grace under pressure, leadership, etc. But the class quickly discovers that no one reached the same conclusions. Even with identical facts, we see things others don’t. The classic example in business for turning something around a few times to see it differently was 3M and the now legendary launch of “post-it notes.” Years after its invention, a colleague of the employee/inventor suddenly noticed how his bookmarks repeatedly fell out of hymnals during his church’s choir practice. The rest was history.
  • Always remind yourself that a strength might also be a weakness – The best businesses regularly assess their own weaknesses to see a new market opportunity or uncover customer issues they aren’t addressing. This works surprisingly well by looking in areas where your business is very successful.  Sun Microsystems, now part of Oracle, challenged its own success in the days of workstations to make a bold move to the PC consumer market, when it used own employee’s innovation to give its Java language away.
  • Mean what you say when you ask for input – In business, this is the classic “socializing” concept.  Belsky talks about the “myth of the lonely genius” and that there should be no shame in self marketing. This is true as long as you’re not really only trying to convince everybody to agree with you.  According to Ben Zimmer of the NY Times, not only does that phrase sometime rankle those in business, but “socializing” has become a dirty word in today’s politics, in its implication to “bring under public control.” Despite the business hangover we might have around socializing, building support and coalitions fuels an idea into tangible actions. Head nodding in a conference room is certainly not the same as support. Many people learn that the hard way.
  • Learn to recognize and acknowledge credible contributions Sony execs nearly fired Ken Kutaragi after discovering he was working on an independent and unapproved project for a new gaming system. Thankfully, a keen executive saw the benefits in time for him to stay employed so Sony went on to launch the first PlayStation. Perhaps it’s a dramatic example but none the less, shared beliefs and support for your ideas (eventually) does matter.

Are there lessons you’ve learned that helped your business thrive as well?

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