Intrapreneurs need to learn the TANGO

Since the past few years, there have been many voices that have come out in support of "Intrapreneurs" and encourage large organizations to create the culture at work for intrapreneurship to thrive. As David Armano, senior executive at Edelman suggests "In a world filled with fast-moving change, a large organization that becomes complacent and loses sight of the benefits of having an entrepreneurial streak built into their massive global systems can find themselves disrupted in short order. Smart organizations will seek out "Intrapreneurs" who like to invent, innovate and want to be on the front lines of change."

In 1992, The American Heritage Dictionary acknowledged the popular use of a new word, intrapreneur, to mean "A person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation". Social intrapreneurs work to develop and promote solutions to social or environmental challenges from inside a major organization.

In 2013, I was introduced to the concept of "intrapreneurship" when I was pleasantly chosen as one of the winners of the inaugural League of Intrapreneurs; a visionary competition sponsored by reputed organizations like Accenture, Ashoka and Inter-American Development Bank. In my case, I had won the prestigious award for designing and delivering "EMPOWER" - a meditation based leadership program to nourish the culture of innovation at my work place.

As a meditation instructor for over a decade, I had always believed of its relevance and benefits for the corporate work place for improving not just health and well-being but also leadership skills, team work, ethics, work life balance, etc. However it was only with the active support and encouragement of my supervisor, Russ Conser that I had the courage to design and implement the EMPOWER program. Russ had exemplified a valuable insight about leadership and management - that trusting and encouraging colleagues to bring their whole self to work can create business value. Our partnership now reminds me of the phrase "it takes two to tango" - as undoubtedly without Russ, my idea would have only remained a dream!

Intrapreneurs are explorers; but social Intrapreneurs are a unique breed; always thinking of 'business as a force for good' and how to leverage any business challenge as an opportunity. They have an insatiable appetite to challenge status quo and create shared value (value for both business and society). However, in our passion to make a difference, we need to be mindful that the structures, systems and people around us need not "yet" share our views, often judging and dismissing our ideas based on untested assumptions and for fear of failure. It would be a personal choice to gracefully exit. However, if we choose to stay within the existing organizational structure and aspire to be successful, then based on personal experience, we will need to learn the TANGO - an acronym that was coined during a recent brainstorm on this topic that I had with Russ and Rick - another intrapreneur that I admire a lot.

T -- Timing our entrances (and re-entrances!)
There is a "time" for every good idea. Any novel idea in specific is always ahead of its time. We will need to cultivate patience and instead focus our attention on refining the idea (in the background), knowing that if the idea has genuine merit, it will be appreciated and valued.

A -- Authentically aligning our purpose (with the line supervisor!)
As social intrapreneurs, we must use our empathy skills to understand the habits of our organization and individuals (leaders). This includes an introspection of the trigger -> behavior -> reward mechanism that has kept the status quo in place. We also need to know the "line" drawn by management because the "lines" that they draw are more important to understand than those that we draw. Having a deep knowledge and understanding of this "external" environment will then help us to design innovative strategies to influence a different behavior for the "same trigger" and could increase our chances of getting support to do what is needed. Obviously, it is important to stay true to our values and be our authentic self, while also aligning with the priorities of the organization.

N -- Nurturing our relationships/partnerships (collect the dots!)
Innovation is a social process and very often a "drunkard's walk". It is therefore important to build authentic relationships and keep expanding our networks i.e. keep "collecting" dots (with people from both inside and outside our organization). To do this, we may need to invest our time and resources for improving our "own" ability to develop stronger interpersonal skills and developing a habit of selflessly helping these connections to overcome "their" challenges and supporting "their" dreams.

G -- Growing our solutions (incubate, think small, lean)
We know that most leaders (especially in large organizations) are risk averse. One of the key problems with a novel (crazy) idea is that absent 'information', people seem to feel compelled to judge it based on 'untested' assumptions. Most radical ideas however will require actually 'doing something' (a structured experiment) to create a learning opportunity. So even though you may have a "big idea", learn to think small and practice the art of bringing key decision makers on a journey through effective use of story-telling.

O -- Organizing our people and resources (connect dots to unleash!)
Finally, when the opportunity presents itself, we need to bring together a unique alliance of people, skills and resources to take the idea forward.

To be an effective and efficient social intrapreneur, I have also recognized the need to learn how to manage our emotions (and inner well-being). Regular yoga and meditation practices that I have learnt from the Art of Living Foundation have helped me to improve my emotional and social intelligence. I hope you feel inspired to explore this further and hope it will help you with your TANGO!

Please reach out if you need help to navigate this untrodden path!