You’ve probably heard the term intrapreneur by now. It starts with an idea and involves thinking beyond – like entrepreneurs do – but within a big corporation. It means leveraging skills and talents to encourage innovation. We recently hit a Young Women of Influence event for some expert advice on this concept from Chitra Anand, the Head of Public Relations for Microsoft Canada. The marketing expert has been credited with changing the way large organizations and brands do business. Prior to Microsoft, she spent 10 years at TELUS, where she helped reframe the way a large corporation talks about its products in the marketplace. Anand has taught business and marketing-related courses in postgraduate business programs, is a graduate of the Shulich Kellogg MBA program, has attended Harvard executive leadership programs and is currently pursuing a part-time PHD at the University of Bradford in the UK. Oh, and is also a wife and a mother. No big deal, right?
She offered the crowd nearly 30 minutes of intrapreneurial insight; here are some of the highlights…
At Microsoft, Anand’s team is currently responsible for creating compelling stories as they relate to Microsoft technology and the impact on both consumers and businesses in order to change perceptions of the brand. This involves a transition into the evolution of devices and connecting with consumers in different ways to shift perception. “I never thought Microsoft would have a presence at TIFF, but we did and are trying to show up in ways the brand wouldn’t normally to build parallels between things like the arts and technology,” says Anand. “For the launch of our Surface 2 devices, we hired Deadmau5 to launch the service, taking a more provocative approach.” Microsoft has also worked with influencers like Arlene Dickinson to show how technology can be a true force behind entrepreneurship. Anand calls these changes “provocative, different and disruptive,” and said that they required lot of internal selling and changing directions.
On qualities of an intrapreneur:
1. Intrapreneurs are disruptive because they ask people within the company to do things differently. “People are not necessarily OK with that,” cautions Anand. “It involves being stopped in your tracks and seeing something in a radically different light.”
2. Intrapreneurs have a natural ability to spot trends and see things before they happen, and this is largely driven by solving problems. Whether this involves social, economic or cultural trends and occurrences, they are constantly researching, observing and reading.
3. Intrapreneurs cultivate ideas. “They are not necessarily only a quote-unquote ideas person, but when you speak to them about an idea, it germinates and stays with them so that the next time you meet with them, that idea has flourished into a full, drawn-out plan based on a seed of the idea,” says Chitra. Intrapreneurs know that people may have objections to the idea or plan. Given this, they have thought it through three or four steps further and worked to fill all gaps.
4. Intrapreneurs know how to pivot. “They can essentially change directions and do so without fear based on an innate inner confidence and strong intuition that drives them towards the end goal,” says Chitra. “They remain focused, and in business this is important because change is constant.”
5. Intrapreneurs are driven by passion and by what they really believe in. “Whether it means a cause, idea or a solution, they are really passionate about it, and when you are passionate about what you are doing you naturally and organically do your best work possible,” says Anand.
On why intrapreneurs are so important now:
Anand reminded the crowd that the advancement of technology and globalization means that markets are now connected in ways that they never have been before. We can do business anywhere and at any time with no boundaries across borders. As a by-product, competition is fiercer then ever and the barriers to entry are low. “Consumers and businesses have more power than ever because we have more choice and have the opportunity to express our opinions on platforms that have never exited before,” says Anand.
On what this means for organizations:
“The biggest opportunity is innovation, and this doesn’t just mean new products to market,” says Anand. “It means interesting marketing campaigns and ways to do things more creatively in order to be more innovative. The problem is that companies and corporations are large, complex, process-oriented and highly governed by their very characteristics, so how are they going to innovate fast enough to stay competitive?” Her solution, of course, is to hire intrapreneurs.
On how to become an intrepreneur:
1. Be a great navigator to deal with complex organizations. This requires a great knowledge of the internal and external environment and an ability to navigate around the bureaucracy and politics in a company.
2. Be a great visionary and willing to challenge the status quo. “Have an ability to see the future, and then formulate an achievable plan to take you there – but you must be willing to push the boundaries,” advises Anand.
3. Be diplomatic and lead cross-functional teams. In large corporations, decisions happen across multiple people, teams and areas of business that all need to be heard and have an opinion.
4. Have the ability to build a professional support network. Take the time to strengthen the bond between yourselves and others in your professional family.
5. Have the need to persevere and face uncertainty. “In business, perseverance means moving forward and taking one step after another until you reach your milestone or goal, but a lot of people fail because they give up at the first sign of difficulty,” says Anand. “Every success story includes an element of endurance and determination.”
On the greatest benefits of being an intrapreneur:
The benefits of being an intrapreneur are plentiful and, according to Anand, involve the ability to create your own role, fast track your career and the chance to leave a legacy. “At TELUS, two or three of my campaigns, programs and ideas live on,” she says. “When your idea sticks, it lives on in an organization and you are able to leave your mark.” It is less also risky than being an entrepreneur in that those with an entrepreneurial spirit can leverage the resources and capital of their company to test ideas.
Anand reminded the audience that disruption may not always lead to likability: “It means driving change, asking people to change directions and sending a strong message that things can be done differently. Many people are not OK with that.” It also means taking risks. You won’t achieve your dreams by playing it safe. Success won’t fall into your lap; you need to actively pursue it. It is also OK to fail, as long as you recover quickly. “Failing is the best way to learn,” says Anand. She advises to let your intuition guide you and to trust your inner voice, as it is “the most powerful tool we have as human beings. Like a muscle, the more you use it, the more powerful it becomes.”
Finally, it is not what you do, but how you do it. It is important to commit to a process, not a goal. “There is a clear difference between a goal and a system,” says Anand. “If your goal is to write a book, your system is your weekly writing schedule. If your goal is to run a marathon, your system is your training rouine,” said Anand before she left the crowd with a final question: If you completely ignored your goal and focused on the system, would you get your results?
#LYNL | (Live Your Notable Life)
Cover image from: Microsoft
Black white image from: MarketingMag