January 15

Become More Intrapreneurial.
Part 3: Build Relationships

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All intrapreneurs share some common characteristics. For some of these traits, you’ll find they come naturally. For others you’ll likely find you need to work on them. If that’s the case, don’t worry. All of these characteristics and can be developed and improved with practice.

In this series of articles, we’re taking a look at the eight key characteristics that stand out in intrapreneurs. We’ll also look at how you can start developing these abilities yourself.

This article is all about developing meaningful relationships and alliances – specifically in your place of work. Let’s get started.

Build Relationships Before You Need Them

Why Relationships Are Important in Intrapreneurship

Intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship are similar in many ways. Both have the same basic aim – to develop ideas into successful new products and services. But there are vital differences in how that goal is achieved.

In the world today, we are most familiar entrepreneurship – and we often see the persona of the brash and forceful entrepreneur celebrated in popular media.

At first glance you’d be forgiven for assuming that intrapreneurs should adopt this persona too. But the reality is that intrapreneurs need different tactics to succeed.

In a corporate environment, the end-goal of launching your new product or service can only be achieved through collaboration with many different colleagues. These people often have vastly differing roles and responsibilities, and are spread across many different departments.

To succeed in the corporate world, successful intrapreneurs must be dedicated relationship builders.

The Benefits of Relationship Building: Find Your Allies (Before you Need Them!)

Most people in any company are geared up to deliver a process. In most cases they deliver a vital operational process that is sometimes dismissively called “business as usual”. But it’s these people that keep the business ticking along building product, making sales and delivering value to customers.

As you implement your new innovation you’ll inevitably be asking these key operational staff to change their processes.  And the reality is that most people don’t like change.

  • “I don’t want to do this – it’ll mean have more work to do”
  • “I don’t want to do this – I’ll have less work to do and so my job might be at risk”
  • “I don’t want to do this – I will lose power/influence in the company”
  • “I don’t want to do this – I like my job just the way it is”
  • “I don’t want to do this – it’s a stupid idea”

As an intrapreneur you usually won’t have the authority to impose change. So you’ll need to persuade colleagues to give you their support willingly.

The single most effective way to do that is to cultivate strong cross-functional relationships BEFORE you need them.

In other words, you need to play the long game.

Illustration of "Playing the long game"
“Playing the Long Game” – Graphic by @AlexMaeseJ

What you’re doing then is building a network of allies. People who know, like and trust you – so that when you do need support for that innovation project you’re leading, they are, at the very least, willing to listen and consider the positives of your idea.

Some people may call this politics. And in truth, it probably is. But it’s also a key part of the job of a successful intrapreneur.

Who Should You Build Relationships With?

If you are unable to get the support of influencers in the key functions of your company, then your innovation will inevitably struggle to succeed (regardless of how good it is).

But just who are those people you should build relationships with?

First think about the gatekeepers in your company. These are the people who often work in “back-office” or support roles, such as these:  

  • IT
  • Information Security
  • HR
  • Legal / Compliance
  • Procurement
  • Finance

Then, think about the people whose help you will need to make a product launch as success. These people often work in functions like:

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Communications
  • Customer Support

Depending on the specific nature of your innovation, you may find different groups are involved in your own company.

3 Things You Can Do to Grow Relationships and Accrue Allies

Here are three simple things you can start to do that will help you invest in relationships that should pay you back later.

  1. Talk to people
    Talk to a wide variety of people. Make a deliberate effort to talk to people outside your normal circle, then see where the serendipity leads.
    Start by talking to strangers at the coffee machine. Next, try walking to the coffee machine in the adjacent department and talk to people there too. If you hotdesk (or even if you don’t), go sit in a different floor / office / building for a change. And in the staff restaurant, sit with people you don’t know and ask about their job.
  2. Schedule meetings
    The first option relies on chance to find key relationships. This second approach is more targeted. Email key people and ask for 30 minutes of their time. Tell them you’d like to learn more about their job and department so you can work together better. Most people are flattered by this type of request and willing to help. Use the 30 minutes to ask questions, listen and learn.
  3. Ask what you can do to help others
    This is without doubt the most important step.
    All those people you meet through #1 and #2 – offer them help in their job. Ask what you can do to make their job easier. Think about how you can help their career development. Ask them if they would like to come and present at your team meeting for example. Introduce them to other people in the company that you know. Be their ally first and build up a bucket of goodwill so that when you eventually need their support for your idea, you’re more likely to get it.

We hope you found this article about how to develop intrapreneurial characteristics useful. Building relationships and allies is crucial for intrapreneurs because delivering value to customers requires collaboration across many different functions. By building a network of allies in advance you will greatly improve your chances of success.

To learn more about how to become an intrapreneur, please look at our intrapreneurship training options, or if you’d like some help contact us and one the team will get back to you.

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