Six ways to discover your inner intrapreneur

Feel like you want to make a difference within your company but don’t know where to start? We asked experts across the business world: what’s the best way to discover your inner intrapreneur?

1. Be a student

"One of the core qualities you find in successful intrapreneurs is a hunger for knowledge, linked to the self-confidence to change opinions – even very strongly held ones – in the face of new information," says Frank Lampen, founder of Independents United, an innovation agency with a specialism in helping corporates work effectively with start-ups.

Penny Davenport, business coach and former acting CEO for Credit Alpha, agrees. "Learn a new skill outside of work or develop an existing one," she advises. "This could be learning a new language or improving your skills with a musical instrument. Developing non-work skills stretches our brain, and helps us to manage our emotions by stepping away from work. The beauty of being a student is that the pressure to lead is removed for a while whilst your teacher or coach is in charge. You get to develop your rounded self whilst simultaneously slowing things down."

2. Identify your personal brand

One of the biggest mistakes would-be intrapreneurs make is falling short on marketing themselves internally, says Rob Brown, author of Build Your Reputation, a guide for intrapreneurs on growing their personal brand. "It's no good having breakthrough ideas and high technical competence if you're anonymous," he points out. "Building a reputation or personal brand is vital because visibility leads to credibility. That means raising your profile, being present on social media and sharing your ideas. Beyond that, developing a formidable network is the engine room of your personal brand. Who you know and associate with says a lot about you. It also gives you the sponsors and advocates you need to back your projects and sell them to the people that count."

Read: Be inspired: Five brilliant examples of intrapreneurship in action

3. Say hello to the guy on the third floor

Just because you work in the same building as your contacts doesn’t mean you know them. But it’s just as important for an intrapreneur to build up their network as an entrepreneur with their own venture. "The only difference is that an intrapreneur needs to look within their own business and connect with people at all levels and in all departments," advises Neeta Patel, CEO of the New Entrepreneurs Foundation. "Building relationships within the company means you can usually get noticed by senior managers and can then begin to get invited to join cross-departmental working groups or even get asked to lead new innovation projects."

4. Cold call your CEO

If you’re going to drive change at your organisation, you need to speak to the people that matter. "An intrapreneur needs to be courageous and have the confidence to speak to people within the organisation – even the CEO – who can help them with their business idea or problem," says Amit Ben Haim, CEO of fitness wearable start-up Cloudtag. "Cold calling and connecting to important people within the industry is something that all entrepreneurs need to do. In the same way, intrapreneurs need to do this within their own company."

5. Work out what you’re good at

Successful intrapreneurs exploit their skills and abilities, says Simon Best, Programme Leader of the Msc in innovation management and entrepreneurship at the Middlesex Business School. He suggests a simple exercise: divide a piece of paper into four columns. In the first, write everything you can do – from tying your shoelaces to writing software. In the second, choose ten skills you’re really good at and rank them in order of how good you are. In the third, rank five of these skills in order of how much you enjoy them. And use the last column to match those skills with opportunities within your company. "This matching of skills with opportunities allows you to push yourself forward more confidently because you know that you have the skills and the passion to drive whatever the opportunity is towards success," says Best.

6. Ask 'Why?' a lot

"I find that 90 per cent of the time, colleagues and customers don't actually know what they want," says intrapreneur Ben Leeds, product manager at employee engagement platform Perkbox. He created a technology product for the company that acquired 10,000 new users within a few months of launch, with no marketing spend. "It sounds obvious, but it's crazy how often people dive into the details of implementation without giving thought to why they're actually doing it in the first place," he says. "A technique that I often use with my team is called the 'Five Whys'. It’s a systematic approach that involves writing down five 'why' questions, and answering them with the help of people with hands-on experience. Solve the root, solve the problem."

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