Are you feeling restless at work? Itching to have a positive impact on your association and industry? Worried your online learning programs might be losing their edge? Maybe you look at entrepreneurs and think, “Now, that’s the life. The drive, the passion, why can’t I have that?” Here’s the thing: you can. You don’t have to leave your job for the wild risky ride of entrepreneurship. Be an association intrapreneur.
What’s an intrapreneur?
An intrapreneur is an inside entrepreneur who innovates from within. Intrapreneurs come up with ideas for new programs and products, or new ways of doing things. They use entrepreneurial skills and attributes to solve problems, improve products, and help their organization move forward.
- Tolerant of risk and failure
And, they even have their own association, of course, the League of Intrapreneurs.
Why not just become an entrepreneur?
You might think: if I have all those characteristics, why wouldn’t I just become an entrepreneur? Because entrepreneurship isn’t all champagne and roses—it’s not for everyone.
We love entrepreneurship—WBT wouldn’t be here otherwise—but there’s something to be said about the benefits of staying on the association side. You believe in your association’s mission. You care about your department’s work providing education—a noble purpose. You make it possible for people to improve themselves and transform their lives.
Plus, you enjoy perks a new entrepreneur doesn’t, such as a regular salary and paid time off, and benefits like subsidized health insurance. Starting over as an entrepreneur isn’t easy—the transition can be costly. And then there’s the risk factor: only half of new businesses make it past five years.
You can have the best of both worlds by becoming an association intrapreneur.
What are the benefits of being an association intrapreneur?
Intrapreneurs are more satisfied with their jobs. They get to act like a leader without necessarily being one—although they’re usually the ones picked for promotion. They get to exercise their creativity and tap into their unique talents. They get to make a difference.
You’ll build your reputation and credibility. And, your job security. Perhaps even your salary will increase too.
You’ll feel a renewed sense of motivation and energy as you build your intrapreneurial chops, but your new mindset will also benefit your association.
Associations need staff who apply an entrepreneurial mindset to their work. Intrapreneurs are eager to spot challenges and experiment with solutions. They look for opportunities where the association can deliver value to members and customers in a way no other competitor has.
What work habits do you need as an association intrapreneur?
If you’re ready for a new approach to your job, here’s what you do.
Take ownership of your realm. Put the work you do under the harsh glare of a spotlight. Pretend it’s your first day, what do you see? Is there a better way to do things? Where can you innovate and improve something? Start small and aim for modest wins at first.
You won’t be able to shake anything else up if you’re not willing to shake up your own world. If the change you make has positive results, share that success with others. Start becoming known as someone who solves problems.
Stop making excuses. Did you find yourself making excuses for how you do things? Were those excuses valid? No one likes the transition to change. We make all kinds of excuses to keep things as they are so we can avoid the discomfort of the unknown. Know that about human nature and try not to fall into that rut.
Once you’ve tackled your own work, you can step out of your personal realm and start looking for ways to improve your department’s processes and programs. This is where you’ll likely encounter obstacles to change. Your boss may be one. Office culture is another big one. Help people keep their eyes on the bigger prize—goals and mission—while you find ways to overcome those obstacles.
Point out solutions, not problems. It’s easy to spot problems, anyone can do that. The tougher task is coming up with practical solutions.
People—colleagues and members—like to vent about what’s wrong. Listen carefully. Take time to understand their pain points. Exhibit two attributes that will build your reputation as the resident intrapreneur: empathy and creative problem-solving.
Then, take on some perennial professional development problems:
- How do we get our members to take charge of their professional development and commit to lifelong learning?
- How do we get employers to invest in their employee’s professional development?
- How can we differentiate our programs from our competitors?
- How can we improve the learning experience and provide our learners something they can’t get elsewhere?
Focus on the mission. Any solution you propose must be aligned with your association’s and your department’s goals. If you aren’t absolutely clear on your department’s and association’s strategies and goals, now’s the time to get up to speed. Understand your target audiences and their educational needs as well as the skillsets in demand now and in the near future by employers. Know what your competition is offering too.
Be willing to experiment and fail. Innovative new programs don’t usually succeed on the first try. Most likely, you’ll learn as you go, make improvements, and try again. Failure is part of the process. If your boss isn’t familiar with that dynamic, find relatable case studies to share with them.
Make your boss look good. If you understand your boss’s goals and help them achieve those goals, you’ll have a longer career as intrapreneur.
Make your colleagues look good. Be selfless about your contributions. Be a giver, not a taker. If your co-workers discover that listening to them and helping them out is part of your DNA, they’ll be less threatened and more willing to take your advice. When they have a success, celebrate it with them. If they help you out, let their boss know. Do your part to start breaking down the silos that inhibit cross-departmental collaboration.
Always be learning. Never stop finding opportunities to learn. Seek out professional development peers in other associations who have experimented with new ideas. Spend some of your free time at home or on your commute reading articles or listening to podcasts that expose you to the innovative work of others inside and outside the association industry.
Your association is in the competitive lifelong learning business and needs staff who are willing to step up and become intrapreneurs. Rise to the challenge and you’ll not only help transform your online learning programs, you’ll transform your own career and life.