Motivation, Work, Intrapreneurship

How to thrive as an intraprenuer and win over executives

By Harley Alexander on May, 28 2018
Harley Alexander

Co-Founder of Mayte.

I’m not saying all bosses are old and conservative. My old boss was great! Hopefully you’ve got someone who’s just as hungry as you are to try new things and change the way things are done for the better. Part three of this series gives you tips on how to take big ideas to your bosses who will, traditionally, push back on innovation. Part one talked about what is, and why you should become an intrapreneur. Part two focussed on what parts of a business you should look at disrupting (gently). Let’s dive into part three!

Fly under the radar as long as possible

This seems counterintuitive but let me explain. Large corporate culture is often subject to Tall Poppy Syndrome - when someone stands out, cut them down so that ‘natural order’ is kept or restored. Becoming an intrapreneur in such an environment is a tactful process and you must have a strategy. If you come out, guns blazing, you’re setting yourself up for failure from the start and you want to have the best chance possible.

Take your time. In order to really make a splash, you must be extremely knowledgeable. You must be able to answer any questions that are thrown at you without hesitation. Read lots. Gain new skills that will help you in your endeavour. You can be sure that people will try to cut you down while you’re trying to get ahead – so come prepared.

Invest your own time

Nothing will piss off your superiors more than spending the time they pay you for doing things they don’t pay you for - yet. It might sound like unpaid work, but think of it as preparation. Learn your soft-skills at night when you’re unwinding. Don’t sacrifice your productivity at work to gain these skills.

In fact, it’s important to do the opposite. One of the key things your boss will look for is past performance. Make sure you have clear examples of where you’ve either outperformed KPIs or have gone over and above to achieve a better result than expected. This shows initiative and will instill trust in your superiors. They will be more likely to give you the freedom you need to change the company from the inside out.

This is also your baby - treat it so. Truly believe in your ideas and nurture them. Defend them when you must. Ensure they make safe passage through their growth.

Start small

Don’t try to redesign the entire company’s app first up. Start small - something that can be solved quickly and has enough impact that it turns heads. I love using an effort/impact matrix to prioritise what we tackle first in any situation and so should you. It will illuminate which problems are easy to solve and which will change the most lives around you.

It could be something simple like creating a pre-qualification form or chatbot that the sales team can use before they call leads - saving valuable minutes of their time. This would both weed out pointless leads and give the sales team better results - a huge win for both the business and individuals.

Make sure that it’s low risk too - so that if it goes poorly, minimal damage is done.

Get support from your co-workers

There’s a lot to be said about bottom-up initiatives - and I think they are more powerful than top down. It’s damaging to force something upon the entire organisation below you whether they want the change or not. But when you’ve got an army of people you rely on for your business to function calling for change it’s impossible to resist. Pick your allies and be strategic. Look for those who the executives often look for advice and approach them with your thoughts first.

Solve one of your boss’s biggest pain points first

There’s a reason video games call the final levels a ‘boss’ level. Because you have to get past them to move forward! The way to beat the boss level in a corporate culture isn’t to defeat them. Rather, help them with something they’ve got a problem with. Figure out something that annoys them, that they spend lots of time doing and can be automated, delegated intelligently or otherwise alleviated off their plates.

This has a multi pronged effect. Firstly, it gathers their trust. They can’t turn you down if you’re actively trying to help them instead of help yourself. Secondly, it will turn them into your own cheer-squad. When they chat to their superiors they will rain praise (or even brag) about how their staff made their life easier - without them having to do anything! This is key, as it will make the other managers desire someone like you on their team. This can create a proverbial bidding war for your time - which only works in your favour. Finally, it will make them push you for more innovations and wins. Once they brag or report success from your intrapreneurship then will be expecting more from you, therefore requiring them to give you more freedom to do what you want to do best.

Learn how to pitch

Pitching is one of the most important skills I have learnt during my time as a business owner. In agency land, a great pitch makes people excited to pay you money. A poor pitch makes them angry you’re trying to take their money.

Pitch Anything is an amazing book by Oren Klaff that runs you through a battle tested method on how to present ideas in compelling ways.

Your goal is to make them want more. There is an enormous arsenal of psychological tools and tricks you can use to get people behind your ideas - enough for another article. Here are a few of my favourites though.

    • Tell a story. People love narratives and suspense.
    • Keep it short. 20 minutes is enough.
    • Focus on the problem first, not your solution. Show the pain and loss currently being experienced before showing how you’re going to heal that pain.
    • Use the phrase “Because if we don’t” - this triggers an internal switch that makes the receiver want to move away from whatever you say and towards your solution.
    • Leverage FOMO. Talk about the success of others.
    • Fend off questions about tiny details, but be prepared to answer them. Pitch Anything explains this way better than I ever could.


Prepare for your ideas to be stolen – and be OK about it

Unfortunately there will always be a boss who thinks they have the right to take credit for a huge win that you created. But don’t be disheartened by it. By doing this, one sets a trap for themselves. When they brag about their achievements they are setting the expectation that they can continually deliver… which they cannot without you. When the benefits you have created heavily outweigh the implication of going above your boss - balls up and do it. The worst that can happen is that they fire you, and you have one hell of a story for your next interview. Which you will nail.