Intrapreneur, noun. Defined by the dictionary as “A person who, while remaining within a larger organization, uses entrepreneurial skills to develop a new product or line of business as a subsidiary of the organization.”
Everyone is familiar with what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Not nearly as much attention is giving to the traits necessary to be a successful intrapreneur, a concept first defined in 1978 by Gifford Pinchot III, an entrepreneur, author and inventor who also founded the first graduate school in the United States to offer an MBA in sustainable business.
Intrapreneurs are those people within a larger business who use entrepreneurial traits to drive change and innovation. If you find yourself having that entrepreneurial itch, but life circumstances won’t allow you to strike out on your own (or you simply prefer the structure of being within an organization), this may be you.
Do you feel compelled to create change and make an impact? Are you so deeply invested in your company that you feel a sense of ownership? If you find yourself loving the security of working within a company but feel compelled to think like an entrepreneur, there are ways for you to leverage that unique skill set to contribute value and grow your career.
There are four essential elements you need to understand in order to do it successfully.
1. Customers are both internal stakeholders and external prospects.
As an entrepreneur, you largely focus on your external customers. In a corporation, though, you are not only selling to external customers — whoever they may be — but prior to or alongside that, you need to be selling to your internal stakeholders. These “customers” need to be bought-in — not necessarily financially, but emotionally and resource-wise.
It’s less about gaining agreement for your idea, and more about helping colleagues understand why it’s important in the first place and why the company should pursue it. You won’t even get the chance to sell it externally until you’ve sold it internally.
Just like an external customer, you’ll have objectives to achieve and priorities to understand. If you can’t clear this first hurdle, your idea will likely be dead in the water.
2. Learn to overcome ‘no’ to get to ‘yes.’
Typically within a matrix organization, each person has a few big, hairy, audacious goals per year set out for them. Those things are their primary focus, and ultimately, their financial compensation and bonuses are likely tied directly to them.
If a co-worker asks them to invest in anything outside of those goals, it’s easiest to just say “no.” They have no skin in the game, and the project isn’t theirs to drive. They may also fear that diverting attention or resources to something new could negatively impact their chances of hitting those primary goals.
Asking for someone’s support or investment introduces risk into their path to success. Therefore, as an intrapreneur, you need to hone your psychological skills. In an environment where people are naturally inclined to say “no,” you have to find a way to get to “yes.”
The key is not to go for the big “yes” first, but rather to build momentum. Ask first if you can sit down and explain things in more detail rather than in an email. “Yes”? There’s a victory!
Once you’ve explained, ask for their blessing to diagnose the situation and make sure it will work for everyone. Every small “yes” is building to something bigger and better, and all the while, you’re nurturing a trusting relationship.
3. Diplomacy is key.
No matter how compelling your pitch, if someone has a personal bias against you or negative history, there is a greater chance they’ll say “no.” They simply won’t want to say “yes” to anything you come up with, so they’ll look for every possible opportunity not to.
When you’re trying to be a change agent in an organization, diplomacy is essential. This means shaking hands. It means saying, “Good morning! How are you?” and actually listening to the person’s reply.
It means saying “yes” to them, even when that means putting your own goals at risk to help them meet their needs. It’s all about the give-and-take.
How much are you investing in your relationships with those you work alongside? If all your relationships are superficial, people are likely not going to want to take risks for you. In the age of social media, we all seem to be more aware of shallowness, so transparency and authenticity are vital attributes to successful intrapreneurship.
4. Results are required.
If you’re an entrepreneur, you may be content with more qualitative rewards than monetary. Maybe you made a customer happy or made a social impact, or you tested the waters and found a nice opportunity for your next project. When you’re doing something within a corporation, however, return on investment is typically not optional.
As an entrepreneur, you are completely in charge of long-term things like vision and mission. As an intrapreneur, you can influence those things, but they’re ultimately not yours to direct, so focusing on delivering results is critical.
If you’re constantly the person driving change and undertaking initiatives that show real results, you will build strong relationships. People will want to be attached to you because they’ll know they’re betting on the good horse! People will want to say “yes” to you, so when it comes to results, you must measure them accurately and amplify them well.
Having an entrepreneurial spirit doesn’t have to mean you can’t work within a traditional company structure. Harness and refine your skills, and you can indulge those passions to become a powerful agent for change and innovation within your organization.
This article first appeared on forbes.com on June 26, 2019