Change agents at the office!

(post edited on the 3rd of July 2012 to include link to video by David Armano)

The concept is not new but maybe you have never heard of it. I’ve been musing about it for some time now. In fact, this is a long overdue post! I remember it coming back to my mind when reading The Power of Pull:

“…each of us […] are now, for the first time in history, in a position to collaborate in a complete reimagination of our biggest private- and public-sector institutions that will eventually remake society as a whole”

And it resonated again deeply in this quote from the same book:

“Going forward, individuals will increasingly reshape institutions rather than vice versa. […] They will become the catalysts for much broader changes playing out across the business and social landscape.”

Wikipedia describes it as such:

“the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working within a large organization”

Have you guessed yet? Yes, I’m talking about intrapreneurship! You see, I consider myself an intrapreneur!

I see an intrapreneur as someone who ventures to challenge the status quo, innovate and drive change at the organization where he/she works, be it a private large company or another type of organization. Think of them as change agents inside the enterprise or, as someone called them, the rebels at work.

The main drive is that of making a difference, leaving a mark, preparing his/her organization for the future. It you think people are only motivated my money or status I greatly recommend that you read Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink.

A visceral sense of seeing a bigger picture that escapes others propels the actions which are not taken by mandate. Permission is not usually sought, though the waters of office politics have many times to be navigated. John Hagel would probably define this as passion.

I loved this quote from the interesting article “Innovation through Intrapreneurship: The Road Less Travelled”:

“The intrapreneurs have a long-term vision for their respective organizations, a clear sense of their own life’s purpose, and a lucid understanding of the role they must play in their organizations. This is what perhaps provides the extraordinary energy needed to fuel their intrapreneurial journey, which, by definition, seeks to deliver results well beyond the call of duty.”

David Armano, someone I had the privilege of meeting back in 2010 when I organized the IMPACT0 conference, also wrote a great piece about this concept and gave this interview, stating a very interesting point against the popular belief that the “coolness” resides only in being an entrepreneur:

“You are either a faceless corporate cog in the machine of a large, soulless organization, or you are fighting the good fight as a free and independent entrepreneur in charge of his own destiny. But I’m here to tell you from experience that there is a third way, and it’s called being an intrapreneur.”

Both this paper and this article shed some light as to why intrapreneurship is more important than ever, with the later stating:

“The relentless pressures of competition stemming from globalization, technological changes, etc., today are increasingly buffeting organizations. One of the pathways for companies to weather these storms is through unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit latent in its employees enabling these employees to carve out new paths, initiate new ventures, defy the status quo in their organizations, and break fresh ground.”

And a recent post from frog design, entitled Five Keys To Building A Business That Doesn’t Bury The Humans At Its Core, also notes the importance of intrapreneurship:

“Aspirational businesses are constantly changing, and they treat their employees as entrepreneurs or “social intrapreneurs,” as autonomous decision-makers and leaders who are inspired (and not just motivated) to act as changemakers across all levels of the organization

Do not think of the intrapreneur as an individual full of himself boasting about how he is the only one that “gets” the future or preaching about change wearing cool rebel t-shirts at the corporate office. No, most intrapreneurs are those that have accumulated a good dose of social capital and trust inside their organizations and are thus taken seriously by fellow colleagues and managers. And they take every (small) opportunity to evangelize on their topic of choice and plant seeds of change.

But where do intrapreneurs get the insights and inspiration to move their organizations forward? Well, they are usually immersed in diverse networks and projects and have a quest to learn and experiment which opens up their horizons, all this coupled with a natural curiosity. They are able to transport their out of work learning experiences into their work projects no matter what job role they have in the organization.

An important pre-condition is that of a sense of ownership of the work and, in a way, also of the organization, as stated here:

“Intrapreneurship at any level (individual, group or organization) fundamentally involves taking ownership, i.e., operating with an entrepreneurial mindset. […]  It is very unlikely that reinvention at any level can occur without this basic transformation of perspective from ‘employee’ to ‘psychological owner’ or intrapreneur […] the reason it is important is that it is challenging, fulfilling, personally and professionally rewarding, and is urgently required by corporations—both big and small—the world over to thrive meaningfully in today’s uncertain times.”

For me it all started back in 2009. The more I learned about how other companies were enabling new ways of working and connecting (both inside and outside their frontiers) through the use of new social technologies, how different work environments – more networked – were emerging, and the problems that companies were solving with these new practices, the more I thought that some of the challenges my own organization was facing could benefit from looking seriously into these practices and lessons from other organizations.

I started planting seeds of change by engaging into conversations on the topic, initiating little experiments, watering them with lots of patience and understanding for others people’s unawareness and curiosity, writing about it and connecting to a crowd of knowledgeable practitioners in a drive to learn and explore. Eventually things started to happen!

The road has had its ups and downs, its wins and challenges and at times I confess it can feel like a lonely place. That’s why I love connecting with intrapreneurs that have a passion for the same type of internal ventures, both through social media (especially using my favourite serendipity machine which is Twitter) and face-to-face in conferences and other events.

Intrapreneurship is, as my good friend Luis Suarez wrote, necessary if we want to help shape a better future for our organizations and infuse them with a renewed dose of humanity.

What about you? Do you consider yourself an intrapreneur? Or do you know many?

4 thoughts on “Change agents at the office!

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