The Rise of the Intrapreneur

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With Kathryn Dyble

Entrepreneurialism is a concept we are all familiar with. Entrepreneurs are the ones who build companies from the ground up. They’ll take control of everything from budgets to operating procedures to product development and sales. While entrepreneurs are necessary and important, businesses need to pay attention to the intrapreneurs within their organisation. Intrapreneurs differ from entrepreneurs in one key way: they focus on the growth or advancement of an existing, established organisation. Intrapreneurs take the elements currently in place in an organization and make them bigger and/or better.

Kathryn Dyble manages a capability and planning team within a government agency. We chat to her about her role as an intrapreneur, the key skills it takes to become an intrapreneur and how you can start intrapreneurial initiatives within your own organisation.

Kathryn’s story of success began out of frustration. There had been a recent change of leadership within the organisation and as part of the ‘getting to know you’ process, the new executive director invited staff to share the things about their work that drove them crazy or were deemed a waste of time. The result? A list of processes needing review. As the manager of the capability & planning team, it wasn’t surprising to Kathryn that most of the list related to corporate and administrative elements necessary tasks which occur so seldom that people forget what they need to do.

“While the original objective of the exercise was to remove as many of the things from the list as possible, it soon became evident that much of the frustration was not the what—the tasks themselves were generally accepted as necessary—but the how—a lack of access to the information needed to ensure the task could be completed efficiently. Our existing information sharing processes relied heavily on the subject matter expertise of key staff, and if they were unavailable it contributed to the overall frustration and inefficiency.

At a business level there was a need to improve the way we were doing things, to better use our resources, change the way our internal customers could access information, and build capability across the organisation. But at a personal level, there was a need to just make things easier and to remove the frustration people were feeling about aspects of corporate work. We knew the solution lay in information sharing and that SharePoint was an established platform that could work for us,” Kathryn described.

Ultimately, Kathryn’s situation required her and her small team to take it upon themselves to transfer the company’s information sharing system to a different system from what they were using previously. Their initial pitch was approved but would have taken too long and cost too much, so the team holed away in an office and learned the ropes of the new system on their own. They became the intrapreneurs of the organisation.

Having the right attitude

Not everyone can think up innovative changes to make within an existing organisation, but with the right attitude, the right person can. It turns out, determination isn’t the key factor that drives intrapreneurs; it’s curiosity and the ability to think creatively.

“Initially when we started the project it was about solving a long-standing problem for our business, and the outcome was very important. But from the beginning I was very conscious that my approach was different. I’ve always been a reasonably determined person, but I tried to pair that with curiosity. I value efficient work processes, but, paradoxically, the process of finding creative solutions is often quite inefficient. It requires an inquisitive spirit and willingness to take the time to explore. The innovative part of the project was not so much the solution we adopted, it was finding a more creative way to navigate the process—to not get deterred when we encountered barriers but to be curious enough to persevere,” explains Kathryn.

4 steps to approach an intrapreneurial idea

Kathryn explained she’s fortunate that she works in a place that is passionate about innovation and supportive of finding innovative ways to work. However, even if your situation isn’t ideal, she still recommends approaching new ideas the same way:

  1. Prepare your pitch: Do your research, understand the costs, benefits, risks, and options. To inspire confidence, you need to be ready to present considered information. There is no point talking about something if you can’t answer questions.
  2. Seeing is believing: Show and tell is always better if there is actually something to show. Busy people can sometimes struggle to find the cognitive space to come at problems differently. If someone has already done the hard work of imagining a different solution and has taken the time to pull together a minimum viable product to demonstrate how it works, they’re more likely to listen.
  3. Choose your moment: Everyone has a bad day sometimes. If your boss is dealing with 1,000 problems on a given day, wait for a better opportunity to give your pitch.
  4. Listen to feedback: It’s important to listen to feedback and be willing to adapt your idea; your target audience might like the solution but see it working differently. Be open to other perspectives.