Sure, there’s plenty of talk nowadays about entrepreneurs and freelancers—people who work for themselves, set their own days, and run their own businesses. But there’s another crew in town that’s becoming increasingly popular: intrapreneurs.
If you’re not familiar with this term, you’re not alone.
The first time I heard it was from William Arruda, a global personal branding expert whose clients include many Fortune 100 companies and the author of Career Distinction: Stand Out By Building Your Brand. In it, he describes an intrapreneur as “a person who demonstrates an entrepreneurial spirit within an organization.”
This concept shows just how much the employee-employer relationship has evolved. And when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense in today’s working world. Employees are demanding more freedom and autonomy in order to grow. And employers are understanding the need to create a strong company culture that retains top talent and fosters innovation.
The result? Companies are eager to welcome and embrace people who are creative, proactive, and flexible—in other words, intrapreneurs. I’ll explain what it means to be one and the benefits they bring to employers—and how you can be an intrapreneur, too.
What Is an Intrapreneur?
In many ways, an intrapreneur could be considered an in-house entrepreneur. If we go back to Arruda’s definition, this group of people is classified as having an “entrepreneurial spirit.”
So, what does that mean, exactly?
Well, entrepreneurs are driven by the desire to create new services or products. In doing so, they develop original ideas, think beyond what’s already been done, and are always looking to provide valuable solutions to common problems. They’re personally invested in achieving a successful outcome.
The same thing can be said about intrapreneurs. They’re creative freethinkers who are passionate about sharing new ways to get things done. The difference is, they operate within a company rather than solo. While no one’s job title is likely to be “intrapreneur,” you can adopt the mindset in pretty much any role.
What Are the Characteristics of an Intrapreneur?
You can instantly spot an intrapreneur within a company because they treat their job as if it were their own business. Also, an intrapreneur’s ingenuity makes them a star employee—they’re always coming up with resourceful ways to approach challenging situations.
Here are some more characteristics that make them truly special.
An intrapreneur’s greatest trait is being consistently humble and sincere—whether it’s in an email, meeting, or passing conversation. This makes them experts at establishing trust and highly respected and liked throughout a company.
They’re Savvy Collaborators
Ever known someone who can pick up the phone to ask for a favor or information and get an immediate response? Well, that’s a classic intrapreneur move. As masters of building relationships, they never run out of people to contact who are willing to help—because they’d do the same in return.
They’re Highly Confident
It takes a certain level of confidence to express creative ideas and proactively start a project. Intrapreneurs are risk-takers, so they trust their actions and aren’t afraid to try something different or learn from trial and error.
They’re Uber Resilient
Whether it’s about finding an answer to an ongoing problem or hammering out the details of a new plan, an intrapreneur won’t give up. An intrapreneur is not easily deterred and hasn’t met a challenge they’re not willing to tackle head-on.
They Have Strong Personal Brands
Intrapreneurs are highly aware of how they communicate their unique strengths and work hard to maintain a positive external reputation in order to promote their expertise and services. Because their professional image is important to them, they also have just as strong of a presence online as they do in person.
Why Are Intrapreneurs So Valuable to a Company?
You may think, “Hmmm… Wouldn’t these kinds of people be perceived as a threat to a company’s success? And wouldn’t they just take off the second something better came along?”
But it’s actually to a company’s advantage to have employees who take ownership of their work. Employees who feel like their talent and contributions matter (for real) will work smarter, feel more satisfied, and bring forth their best ideas—which will ultimately become the company’s ideas and products.
Some may fear that allowing employees to be too innovative will lead to folks using what they do at work to benefit their own side hustle. However, even if that’s the case, there’s nothing wrong with it, as long as there’s no conflict of interest (for example, working on outside projects during work hours or working on something that’s a direct competitor to the company).
Why Should You Be an Intrapreneur, and How Can You Be One at Any Company?
So as you’re thinking of ways to grow your career, consider how the mindset of an intrapreneur is also an asset to your own brand and success. Sure, your ideas are going toward a company’s vision, but you know where else they’re going? Into your resume and LinkedIn profile—your own portfolio!
Every successful initiative you’re a part of gives you concrete examples of scenarios when you took action and delivered results. This increases your potential to make more money and access more growth opportunities down the road (for example, a promotion, a new role you get to define, or a completely new start somewhere else). Plus, being an intrapreneur allows you to pursue a passion project with the added benefit of having a company’s resources and budget—as opposed to having to start from scratch and launch it all on your own.
As an intrapreneur, your experience is tied to in-demand skills that are transferable anywhere you go, instead of a specific job title.
Here’s how you can start to think and act like an intrapreneur at your company—no matter how formal or traditional it may be:
Instead of waiting for directions (or for a problem to arise), get the ball rolling to spark the necessary actions to be taken. This can mean sending an email, following up on a discussion, or suggesting a meeting when an idea pops into your head.
Adjust to Change (Quickly)
Sometimes unplanned situations come up and you have to immediately drop what you’re working on and switch gears. Be flexible and open to change so that you’re always ready to roll up your sleeves and re-focus your priorities as needed.
Rely on Probing Questions
Gather as many details as possible before making decisions by asking open-ended, probing questions—think questions that begin with “what,” “why,” or “how.” This will instantly help you make smarter and faster choices.
Challenge the Status Quo
If you think there’s a way to make a process better, don’t be afraid to do something about it if it’s within your control. Start by testing your idea within your own role, and then share your improved process (and results!) with your team.
Track Your Accomplishments
Remember when we talked about how intrapreneurs are always adding experience to their portfolios? Do the same by keeping track of your own accomplishments throughout the year so that you can show exactly what projects you spearheaded, should you ever need to.
Intrapreneurs are in demand simply because they make companies run better. Employees stay in their roles long-term because they’re challenged and fulfilled by the work they’re doing, and companies thrive because they retain the best people and best ideas—it’s a win-win for everyone.
Photo of person brainstorming ideas at work courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.
Marietta Gentles Crawford is a writer, personal brand strategist, and author of From Nine to Thrive: A Guide to Building Your Personal Brand and Elevating Your Career. Her mission is to help savvy professionals ditch mediocrity by building strong personal brands and living life passionately. She writes about work, life, and imbalance on her blog and loves cheesy 80s music. Say hi to her on Twitter , LinkedIn, or check out her website.More from this Author