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35 Questions to Help You Think Like a Social Intrapreneur

Rachel Zurer March 1, 2018

Social intrapreneurship — working from within a larger organization to connect business outcomes to social good — provides big opportunities to make a difference in the world. But to succeed as a social intrapreneur, you need to learn to think a little differently than a regular employee, a company leader, or even an entrepreneur.

Here are 35 questions that can help you develop the right mindset and launch a social change project within your company.

Phase 1: Find the project

“Often the intrapreneur starts with a very personal motivation and they find a way to hook it into the company,” says Maggie DePree, co-founder of the League of Intrapreneurs. Here are 10 questions to help you find that perfect issue to get started with.

  1. What real problem in the world am I authentically passionate about solving?
  2. How does my company’s innovation pipeline match with the challenges the company has identified for the business in the future? Are there gaps?
  3. Is there research commissioned or sponsored by my company that hasn’t been operationalized?
  4. Comparing my company’s core competencies to key global challenges, where are there business opportunities in disguise?
  5. What’s our businesses core purpose and mission? How does it create value for shareholders and other stakeholders?
  6. Where do I excel? What are my skills? Where could I contribute best and how?
  7. What’s the root of the problem I plan to solve?
  8. How can our business best contribute?
  9. How can I create shared value for my company, our customers, and the community?
  10. Can I repurpose existing tools and knowledge within my company to create a solution?

Phase 2: Refine the idea

“Before you start shouting from the rooftop that everyone is stupid and everything should be different, listen,” says Hans Balmaekers, director at Innov8rs,  which convenes conferences for intrapreneurs around the world. “Try to come up with what makes sense in terms of the company’s strategy and momentum.”

Once you have an initial idea, here are some questions to help you refine it.

  1. Would this solution really make a difference?
  2. Who else within my company shares my interest in this issue; has skills, personality, and networks that complement mine; and might work with me on a pilot project?
  3. Who outside our business can help me better understand the issue? (Think NGOs, subject-matter experts, universities, etc.)
  4. Can I access additional training, education, or networks that would help me understand this problem or how to solve it?
  5. Who are all the stakeholders who have a vested interest in the problem I’m trying to solve? (Try to go beyond the usual suspects and think about organizations or communities you might never engage with who are part of the ‘ecosystem of concern’ on which you’re working.)
  6. Are there already venues for brainstorming or informal idea-sharing within my company that I can use to bounce these ideas around?
  7. How can I align my initiative with the primary priorities of key decision makers at my company?
  8. How can I test my idea quickly and learn? How can I learn and fail fast (and cheaply)?

Phase 3: Put it into action

Once you think your idea is ready for a wider audience, it’s time to get strategic about how to communicate it. “It’s really not about having the loudest voice in the room,” says Balmaekers. “It’s about sensing opportunities and understanding human desires, and also understanding strategy and business.”

  1. Who can I recruit as a “godparent” (sponsor) within the business, a senior leader who can help champion this idea? Who can be a backup in case the first godparent’s role changes?
  2. How does my project support corporate priorities? (Hint: Scan CEOs statements or other corporate PR for publicly declared visions, missions, and projects.)
  3. How can I frame this idea as a way to help your company enter new markets, innovate, or drive growth?
  4. How can I ensure I’ve earned the trust of my peers and leaders? (In proving yourself, you gain more permission to experiment.)
  5. How much of this needs to be public? How much work can I do underground to avoid triggering the “corporate immune system”?
  6. How can I express why this is a good idea in financial language?
  7. What are my key commercial constituencies? What are their drivers, pressures, priorities, and challenges? How does my agenda map onto theirs and contribute to their success?
  8. How can I ask for advice before asking for resources?
  9. What personal connection or story can I bring in here to make the case on an emotional level?
  10. How can I make it easy for people to believe this can work? How can I show them it’s been done before, it’s not a new idea, it’s been tried elsewhere?
  11. How can I make this person look good by helping me?
  12. Once I prove the model, how can I institutionalize the idea?

At each phase: Reality check

Intrapreneurship is difficult — harder than just doing a good job in a normal role. Here are some questions, useful at any stage, to help you test whether the idea you’re pursuing is really in line with your own goals and values.

  1.  How important is this idea to me? Do I really want to do this? What am I willing to sacrifice?
  2.  How much personal time and energy am I prepared to invest?
  3.  What types of roles do my skills and temperament suit me to play?
  4.  Where am I likely to have the most effect?
  5.  Am I prepared to lose my job if this doesn’t work out?

Many of these questions were adapted from “Social Intrapreneurism and All That Jazz” by David Grayson, Melody McLaren, and Heiko Spitzeck, and from materials provided by The League of Intrapreneurs.

Over the next six months, in partnership with Marylhurst University, we’ll be releasing a series of articles all about social intrapreneurship, featuring success stories, advice from the trenches, key challenges, best practices, and more. Stay tuned to our Social Intrapreneurship channel for the latest articles, and email us at [email protected] if you have an intrapreneurship question or success story to share.

Stakeholder Capitalism / Sustainable Development
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