The dangers of intrapreneurship

Last summer, Lucinda Mangham was paid by an accounting firm to "rejuvenate" the company. As a creative contractor, her goal was to show the company how they could win new business and expand. Three months later she checked herself out of a job. "The company didn’t want to co-operate. They said they wanted innovation but they wouldn’t even update their IT systems so we could get a new website. I was at a loss and couldn’t get started with any of the projects I had planned."

An intrapreneur is somebody who changes a company from within. They are practically spiralling out of control with innovation and workable ideas to push their company to the forefront of their arena. These are entrepreneurs at heart who know they can make the biggest changes from within - they thrive in a corporate environment because they’re always trying to push the boundaries.

On paper these sound like the sort of do-gooders any organisation would be desperate to have working for them. But the reality is a little different.

"You have to be really careful with who your clients are. And anyone thinking about potentially hiring an intrapreneur should think 'are we really ready for change? What are we pushing for?' If you don’t know this then think twice about bringing anyone from the outside in," advises Lucinda.

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Within the walls of a bureaucratic organisation like a law firm, a bank, or any seasoned company when people are used to doing their thing their own way, having somebody pushing from within might not help you to expand the company’s ideas, but instead might make it burst instead.

According to one man who describes himself as a 'seasoned intrapreneur', tolerance to risk is lowest at middle management so suggestions to transform the company rarely get past the first obstacle.

Intrapreneurship, much like entrepreneurship, requires some element of risk - if a company is unable to embrace the risk then an intrapreneur has their hands tied. This will lead to frustration for the creative individual, followed by frustration from within the company that nothing is getting done.

There’s always the risk that the intrapreneur will go from being a startup hero to a disruptor, and that’s something intrapreneurs should consider and approach with caution when working in a larger company.

Read: Why intrapreneurs aren't like entrepreneurs

Another danger that comes with intrapreneurs is the lack of patience from other people in the office. To people who have worked their whole lives in one company, they might expect to see instant results from somebody who has waltzed in and promised big things. How can intrapreneurs get around this? First things first is to manage expectations.

"We’re not miracle workers, nor are we business consultants," explains Lucinda. "We’re here to tell you your business can fill a gap in the market by doing something innovative with tech here, or starting a new way of working here. Have patience, and we’ll hand hold you through the process. Even if we come across as super energetic, we want to see our projects put in motion too, so trust us."

Not all businesses are cut out to be leaders or innovators in their field. Many do well from being a steady, reliable presence in their area. By attempting to innovate, it’s entirely possible businesses are attempting to run before they can walk. Why should a tax firm be super-innovative?

It’s worth considering the risks associated with intrapreneurship are as cut and dried as they sound. If the company succeeds based on the suggestions of an intrapreneur, then all is good in the world.

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If, on the other hand, the idea the intrapreneur came up with causes the company to nosedive, then all blame will be placed on the innovator.

Intrapreneurship can have many positive aspects, both for the innovator and for the recipient. For the intrapreneur, there is the stability of remaining in a corporate working environment without going freelance or starting up one’s own company.

There’s often also more money on offer to kickstart creative projects within the company, which is certainly something entrepreneurs don’t see at the start of their endeavors.

"I love innovating a company from within," says Lucinda. "But the company has to understand why I’m there. And only then can I do my best work."

*Lucinda Mangham is a pseudonym

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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