We’ve all heard about entrepreneurs – those passionate risk-takers who create a business from a moment of inspiration, a passion, or some kind of opportunity they come across, and develop a business from seemingly nothing, sometimes with great success. The entrepreneur is commonly seen as an innovator of new ideas and new business processes. They are leaders who exercise initiative, taking advantage of market opportunities by planning, organising and employing resources, often by innovating new or improving existing products. They are agile, and embrace change, creativity and innovation. In fact, to be successful, that is their modus operandi.
However, the entrepreneurial spirit doesn’t just exist in business leaders who start up their own businesses. Recent attention has turned to those who work within organisations, who possess and harness an entrepreneurial spirit. These people are known as intrapreneurs – innovators, creators and passionate individuals who embrace agility and change, to deliver outstanding outcomes for their organisation.
Technically, an intrapreneur is someone within an organisation who takes risks in an effort to solve a given problem. Intrapreneurialism is the “successful adaptation of entrepreneurial attitudes and strategies inside of a bureaucratic organisation” (Alejandro Sewrjugin). Why is this important in an organisation such as a library?
“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them” – Albert Einstein
For libraries to adapt rapidly to changes that are driven by the 21stcentury digital economy, to remain relevant, and deliver successful outcomes for their patrons and community, requires agility, fresh thinking, and some level of risk-taking. It means trying new things, and engaging with people in different ways, utilizing different media. This is the domain of the intrapreneur.
Why do libraries need intrapreneurs?
Far from feeling threatened by the intrapreneurial spirit, libraries need to embrace it and nurture it, especially in today’s economy. Here’s why:
- Intrapreneurs are major contributors to increasing the productivity and efficiencies of libraries. They are always looking for a better way to do something, and relish solving problems.
- Intrapreneurs are drivers of innovation within libraries. They utilise their creativity to bring new life to libraries, and solve meaningful problems. They are able to do more with less, due to their creative and innovative spirit.
- Intrapreneurs have great energy that they bring to your team. They get things done, they are hard workers and they move quickly. They have a ‘can do’ mindset, and are often positive culture drivers. They also have an infectious optimism (otherwise nothing would be undertaken!).
- Intrapreneurs strive for distinction through excellence. They get the job done, and they do it properly. They also value self-reliance.
- Intrapreneurs are quick to identify and understand trends in the sector. They have fantastic forward vision, and are able to navigate the library through various trends, ensuring success for all stakeholders involved with the library, and of course, the patrons.
So how can a library foster intrapreneurial success?
Intrapreneurs will only succeed if the organisational environment and culture they are working in embraces their intrapreneurship – that is, provides them space to generate ideas, be innovative and implement those ideas that have been stress-tested. They need the freedom and room to grow.
The surest way to kill any intrapreneurial spirit, demotivate staff, and disintegrate any shred of innovation and creativity, is to micro-manage. Whether or not your staff are intrapreneurs, micro-management is a positive organisational culture killer. It damages trust between employees and management, and leads to poor work outcomes. A library will go nowhere with a micro-managing leader or manager.
Intrapreneurs and employees will need space to breathe to engage in an experimental and creative process (see our article on Design Thinking for libraries, located here <enter link>). Intrapreneurs require some level of autonomy and independence to investigate solutions to problems they encounter. Fostering this, will allow a library and its culture to flourish.
What if I am an intrapreneur in a library?
Some libraries may embrace your intrapreneurship, others will fear and suppress it. Regardless, see if you can take responsibility for a particular thing, a particular process, section or area. Communicate with your team and management, as you identify areas that need attention, problems that need solving, and initiatives that need to be implemented.
It is always a good idea to create a proposal for any significant changes or ideas that you wish to implement. Demonstrate that you have identified an issue or problem, identify various solutions and ideas, identify what resources (if any) need to be employed, and what outcomes you expect. Provide information and evidence that you have done some research, and considered the idea or solution in detail.
Management will be more comfortable implementing your ideas, innovations and solutions, if you can demonstrate some rigour behind them. Show initiative and question things, but be sure to work within the boundaries of your organisation’s policies and procedures. If these need to be adjusted, then make a suggestion using the proposal technique above, demonstrating the benefit of making those changes.
Remember – part of being an intrapreneur is selling your ideas, innovations and solutions to those who need to sign off on these. Remember the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) principle. When selling an idea, ensure that you identify how it will benefit the person who is signing off on it – if it is the finance person, then you will need to use numbers to sell it. If it is your branch manager, you may need to match the outcomes with their personal agenda and work goals.
For example, your Branch Manager needs to increase utilisation of the collection, and is being held accountable for doing so. Tie your sales pitch to their need to increase utilisation of the collection (i.e. by doing this new initiative abc, then we can expect an outcome of possibly x% increase in utilisation). They will be happy, as your solutions are having an impact on their agenda, that they are being held accountable for.
Intrapreneurs can come unstuck if they don’t communicate and include their team in their change agenda. Communication is critical to enabling successful change initiatives. As an intrapreneur, it can sometimes be a lonely and isolating place, as your colleagues may not ‘get’ you, or may get frustrated with your energy and desire for change. Work with people, and take them with you, as opposed to working against them. There are times, where we sometimes will need to slow our pace, so that we can facilitate the communication and thinking processes of the people around us. Whilst we sometimes aren’t great with patience, this is one quality that will transform the efforts of an intrapreneur.
It isn’t all about the money. As Neil Fogarty, author of “Boost! Enabling Intrapreneurs” says:
“Intrapreneurship is an organisational investment into developing a structured approach to using improvement, innovation and invention to achieve something new and inspirational whether this is for social or financial returns or both”.
Intrapreneurship will deliver both – financial and social benefits to your library, if given the opportunity and space to do so. It is a wise investment, particularly in this rapidly changing Library and Information Services sector. Be an intrapreneur, take the risk, and see where it takes you. Most likely, you will achieve new ground in ways you and your stakeholders hadn’t imagined.
Written by Natalia Huber
Alejandro Sewrjugin. (2014). How to foster intrapreneurship & innovation within your company and your lives. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/alesew/conference-intrapreneurshipinnovationnewyorkalesewrjuginv-found
Inc. (2015). 10 things entrepreneurs need to know about intrapreneurship. Retrieved from http://www.inc.com/murray-newlands/10-things-entrepreneurs-need-to-know-about-intrapreneurship.html
Inc. (2012). What’s an entrepreneur? The best answer ever. Retrieved from http://www.inc.com/eric-schurenberg/the-best-definition-of-entepreneurship.html
Investopedia. Entrepreneur. Retrieved from http://www.investopedia.com/terms/e/entrepreneur.asp
Spark Global Business. (2013). Spark Lean Intrapreneur Model. Retrieved fromhttp://www.slideshare.net/neildfogarty/spark-lean-intrapreneur-model
Wikipedia. Entrepreneurship. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entrepreneurship