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How the intrapreneurial spirit helps succession

7th Jun 2018
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We hear a great deal about entrepreneurs – but perhaps not enough of intrapreneurs: ambitious workers who apply the principles of enterprise to their roles within organisations.

There’s a significant reason why these individuals deserve more airtime – they can provide a valuable lifeline for that oft-neglected part of managerial life: leadership succession.

Cranfield Business School’s Professor Susan Vinnicombe found that one, major success factor behind someone’s career success is having had the opportunity to take charge of a high-profile project.

Such a project doesn’t have to be part of the organisation’s core business – in fact, there’s an argument to say that it would be better if it isn’t.

As the project is not what you would call ‘business as usual’, it requires a ‘champion’ who can bring in those special types of energy and enthusiasm that transcend age or experience.

That was certainly the case with Vimeo CEO Anjali Sud, who is leading the firm at the age of 34 after starting there just three years ago.

Talent showcase

In a recent podcast for Business Insider, Anjali explains that, before she joined Vimeo, she worked as a consultant for entrepreneurs who wanted to grow their SMEs, and found their enthusiasm infectious.

When Anjali joined Vimeo, its business model was essentially an effort to compete with the entertainment-based likes of YouTube and Netflix.

But she was put in charge of its creator-services division, which offers Software as a Service (SaaS) tools to Vimeo’s sprawling community of filmmakers, who use the platform to showcase and archive their work.

As a result of her performance, Anjali was soon promoted to CEO – and the SaaS division became the focal point of the business. Vimeo waved the white flag in its attempt to out-Netflix Netflix… but cornered a whole other market that enabled it to stand out.

Anjali says in the podcast: “One of the reasons I was given ownership of the creator side of the business is because it wasn’t, at the time, the area that was getting all the focus and attention, so they could take more of a chance on me.

“That’s not a bad strategy. It gives you an opportunity to own something yourself – especially if you're passionate about it – and maybe get an experience that you wouldn’t normally get if you just went down the standard track.”

Listen, adapt and change

There are two, inspiring lessons to be drawn from Anjali’s journey.

Firstly, Vimeo created a safe environment in which their ambitious hire could take risks. And secondly, Anjali had the correct, intrapreneurial mindset required to make an impression.

The crucial point here is that the likelihood of success with such ventures is not determined by age or experience – but by openness to new ideas. Importantly, you must have a desire, and opportunity, to run with the project with an entrepreneurial mindset within the safer context of a large organisation. 

That takes someone who can tolerate the prospect of failure without it interfering with their imagination. Someone who knows that failure isn’t going to destroy them – who can pick themselves up if things go wrong.

Part of being open to new ideas is listening, adapting and changing – and that could even mean adapting to the project itself, if it starts to move in strange and unexpected directions.

You need to be resilient – but at the same time, not so single minded that you lose sight of the need for the project to be a commercial success.

It is vital for senior managers to place promising individuals in positions where they can own a project – and that means owning both its successes and failures. Such experiences enable organisations to develop a leadership pipeline with depth.

By the same token, it’s important for those individuals to grasp that intrapreneurship is a gateway to career success. If the opportunity is there, take full advantage

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