Five Mistakes Intrapreneurs Make When Trying To Change Their Companies

Tendayi Viki
Jun 3 · 3 min read

Most large corporations have entrepreneurial employees who are constantly trying to innovate. As far as I am concerned, these are crazy people! They wake up every morning and go to work to swim against the tide. This is insane! And yet, these people exist. Passionate people who are committed to helping their company become more innovative. They can see the future coming and they are committed to ensuring that their company survives in that future.

This passion can sometimes lead intrapreneurs to make mistakes. While their hearts are in the right place, some of the choices they make can lead to counterproductive outcomes. This article identifies five key mistakes I have seen intrapreneurs make.

  1. Lack of Focus: Being an intrapreneur is a very difficult job at the best of times. However, it gets even harder when the intrapreneur is not clear on what their job actually is. Is their job to help launch successful new products in the market? Or is their job to transform the company into an organization that can innovate sustainably? There is always so much to do and intrapreneurs end up doing things that have limited impact. As far as I am concerned, making clear choices will help intrapreneurs focus on what needs to be done.
  2. Lack of Humility: Some intrapreneurs think they are Elon Musk. I am often shocked by the condescending language they use to describe their colleagues. Their contempt for leaders ‘that don’t get it’ is palpable. You can feel their frustration and righteous anger every time you speak to them. I believe that this righteous indignation is problematic. In fact, I can almost predict which innovators are going to flame out of their roles quickly by how much humility they lack. So let’s dispense with any myths you may have about yourself. You are not Elon Musk! You are not a hero here to save the company — and you are not working in a company full of idiots.
  3. Lack of Patience: A lot of intrapreneurs that I have met are impatient people. By the time we start working together, they are already fed up with their company. They know something needs to be done and they just want to jump in and get started. So they will take whatever opportunity they get and run with it. I believe that this is the wrong approach. As much as we are keen to get started, it is also important to ensure that we are working on the right things. “You’ve got to start somewhere”, I often hear intrapreneurs say. This is true and I couldn’t agree more. But it is important to recognize that this statement does not mean that, “You’ve got to start anywhere!”
  4. Lack Of Understanding: The problem with impatience is that intrapreneurs often start working on initiatives without first understanding their context. They believe that they can just figure things out as they go along. I believe that this is a huge mistake. Before beginning any initiatives, we have to first develop a deep understanding of our company. We have to come to grips with the context in which we will be operating. We want the work we do to have a lasting impact. This is why we can’t just start by doing random activities.
  5. Lack of Credibility: I have worked with innovation teams that spend hours designing the best looking powerpoint slides to talk about what they plan on doing. The goal is to get support for innovation. So they go on a sort of ‘political campaign’ of talks and meetings with stakeholders. In my experience, this has limited impact. Most intrapreneurs have no credibility for driving any successful innovation inside their companies. So I recommend that they start small by working with early adopters on innovation projects. Only when they have some early wins and credibility within their company will they be able to influence leaders.

Transforming companies is a very difficult task. Intrapreneurs do not need to make it harder for themselves by having a lack of focus, being arrogant and impatient, lacking understanding of their context and having no credibility. Intrapreneurs have to work to systematically avoid making these mistakes if they want to be successful in changing the companies they work for.

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