Want to be Excited on Monday Morning? Be an Intrapreneur.

“While it’s true that every company needs an entrepreneur to get it under way, healthy growth requires a smattering of intrapreneurs who drive new projects and explore new and unexpected directions for business development.” —Sir Richard Branson

Nina Bhatti is an entrepreneur. She’s the CEO and founder of Kokko Inc., a company that makes it easier for consumers to accurately color-match products bought online, such as makeup, furniture, and clothing.

But before launching her own start-up, Bhatti was an intrapreneur.

What’s that, you ask? According to The American Heritage Dictionary, an intrapreneur is “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.”

“Being an intrapreneur made it exciting to go to work because I woke up thinking, “I’m going to make something really cool happen today, which is a lot better than just working your to-do list without the feeling of a mission,” recalls Bhatti.

One year into her first job as a junior software engineer, Bhatti had done well building her first product. As a thank you, she was invited to attend her company’s annual sales meeting. “I noticed that everyone was very grumpy about one feature of our device,” says Bhatti. “It sold for up to a quarter of a million dollars, but didn’t have any way to print the data that it captured.” The feature was scheduled to be added in 18 months, but the sales team was moping about how they had lost sales because of the lack of printing support.”

After reviewing why that was so difficult to execute, Bhatti studied the product’s architecture and discovered a shortcut. “It was ridiculously easy, and could be done in three months,” she says. Bhatti spoke to her senior engineer colleagues and got them excited. As a result, a prototype was created. Next, she got executive buy-in because, as Bhatti recounts, “They realized the sales force was really upset.”

Once she got her group and their leaders on board, Bhatti led the project. “It was my first step into a leadership role,” she says. As a result, Bhatti was just one year into her role when her solution became “the big reveal” at the annual sales meeting. The sales reps were excited because they could close more deals, and beat their revenue target for the year.

“It earned me a promotion and greater visibility,” says Bhatti. “And, more importantly, I delivered something that meant our financial goals for the organization were exceeded.”

Below, I asked Bhatti to share some of her lessons learned for would-be intrapreneurs. Here are four ways to develop an intrapreneurial mindset, and uplevel your career.

Four Ways to be an Intrapreneur

1. Build credibility
“When you enter an organization, your first job is to build credibility,” says Bhatti. “You must say what you are going to do and then do what you say. And show enthusiasm and engagement with the mission of the organization.”

Bhatti was able to gain support for her solution and acquire the resources necessary to implement it because of the trust she’d built. “I had built a foundation of credibility. Management thought I was a competent engineer who delivered what I said I would deliver,” By then, the lines of communication were completely open. “I could go the senior engineer and say, ‘Hey, I have this idea. What do you think?’”

2. Find an unmet need
Next, identify an overlooked business problem. Bhatti identified the sales team’s printing problem as one such issue. “This was an unmet need,” Bhatti recalls thinking. “Somebody would really care if we fixed it.” Aside from dissatisfied customers and lost revenue, there was a lack of urgency to fix the problem. And although the solution was surprisingly simple and cost-effective, it took Bhatti’s curiosity and interest to uncover it. So keep your antennae up, and ask yourself questions like: “What are people complaining about? What opportunities are we missing out on? What more could we do for our customers?”

3. Create heroes
“It made me kind of a hero,” says Bhatti, but that wasn’t her main motivation or reward in championing her solution. “More importantly, it made our organization a hero,” she adds. “It made our engineering team a hero to our general manager. It made our sales force a hero to the overall organization because we could deliver. We all became heroes.” It’s possible that the enhancement helped some end-users within customer organizations become heroes. too.

So as you take notice of an unmet need, think beyond your next solo achievement or promotion and consider what highly visible team achievement might boost the confidence and success of those all around you.

4. Don’t wait for the assignment
“This task was not assigned to me,” says Bhatti, pointing out that no one said, “Hey, Nina, why don’t you go fix this problem and we’ll promote you.” This is what differentiates an employee from an intrapreneur. “Intrapreneurs internalize what is holding the organization back. It’s the difference between waiting for an assignment versus spotting a big problem and fixing it. This was a big, serious step for me. Now, I was on the hook for delivering, but it was also way more fun than simply doing what I was assigned.”

“Want to be excited on Monday morning?” asks Bhatti. “Be an intrapreneur!”

This article appeared in Forbes on February 18, 2018.

Jo Miller

Jo Miller is a globally renowned authority on women’s leadership. She’s dedicated two decades to helping women advance into positions of influence by leveraging their leadership strengths. Based on her work with hundreds of thousands of women, she developed a pragmatic and powerful roadmap that guides women to become the leaders they aspire to be. Jo shares this proven process in her book Woman of Influence: 9 Steps to Build Your Brand, Establish Your Legacy, and Thrive (McGraw Hill, 2019.)

Jo is CEO of leadership development, consulting and research firm Be Leaderly. Learn more about her speaking engagements at www.JoMiller.com and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

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