03/14/2014 05:09 pm ET Updated May 13, 2014

The Social Intrapreneur: Could They Be the X-Factor in Your Business?

Call me disruptive, call me innovative, call me creative; I am okay with all of those because they are skills today's companies need. Some might say these skills can be disruptive to business and they are frowned-upon. Others might say they are disruptive for business and should be rewarded -- hmm... which is true?

Read this Forbes article and see how author Judy Samuelson explains some of the reasons why businesses value what many are calling the social intrapreneur.

While countless social entrepreneurs are establishing and managing mission-based organizations around the globe, droves of social INTRApreneurs are staying put in their companies and delivering business results that score high on financial, social and environmental metrics. They are imagining and implementing new products, services and management practices that address some of the most complex problems of our time.

Imagining and Experimenting With New Ideas

In my opinion, social intrapreneurs may be the only employees in a company thinking about experimenting in new and original ways. As a marketer, I really appreciate the thinking and experimenting skills of employees. There's nothing worse than having a creative team that has no new ideas and no concept how to generate new ideas. An environment without creativity and new ideas quickly becomes stagnant and ineffective. You don't want to find yourself or your department in this predicament.

The X-Factor could be the social intrapreneur. They are difference makers, ideators and agitators. If your company has a social intrapreneur, that person is highly unique. Some companies become aware they have something special, but they are not quite sure what to do with that person yet. If you have someone like this on your staff, you will know it. They are always poking, pushing and shaking things up to see what works and how things react. This is tremendously valuable. I believe social intrapreneurs could be the X-Factor, or the secret ingredient that allows departments to perform at a higher level.

Meaning and Purpose

Because I am a marketer, I think about all things digital, social, web, mobile as well as my audience, product, the sales cycle and even creativity. The lowest hanging fruit for us marketers to explore and find new ideas that can make a positive impact immediately is probably technology. If your team has a social intrapreneur on your staff, encourage them to look for new ways that will help them see that their ideas are valuable. These ideas must also be applicable to their everyday workflow. This will stretch them, and give them a sense of ownership in their work and also help them be more attached to the brand with a deeper sense of meaning and purpose. Sometimes this can work if you give them a general sense of direction. One method might be to have them look for new social media channels that may offer features that are new and different and directly applicable to business goals. Another method is to give them less direction, but provide an end goal or purpose. For instance, have them look for new ways to communicate in the sales process other than straightforward email. Use the X-Factor and make them work for you.

Managing a Social Intrapreneur Is Challenging

It requires the boss to purposely look into the future, read, study and do your own due-diligence. You must be able to step into the space you are asking your social intrapreneur to step into, and you must do it with a sense of intelligence and confidence. You should be able to show examples of other companies that are doing what you want to do. The good news is, you don't have to be the expert. But, you do have to know enough to speak intelligently and understand the pros and cons of whatever conceptual ideas you have asked the social intrapreneur to go chase. I do mean chase, because they are chasing something that may not exist or may take some time to figure out how to make it fit into their workflow. The social intrapreneur is not the 9 to 5 employee who loves routine. They might be the social butterfly, the geek, or even the one who works on weekends to push, poke and shake the trees for new ideas.

Give Them a Platform to Succeed

The social intrapreneur on your staff wants to make the boss happy. They also want to know the boss is supporting them in their chase for new ideas. My suggestion is to create a work environment that will help the social intrapreneur be successful. Filipe Santos, INSEAD Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship wrote an article titled, "The Rise of the Social Intrapreneur."

By giving a platform to these 'social intrapreneurs' and creating an environment that incubates and promotes their initiatives, smart companies are finding that not only are they able to keep their most talented and highly skilled people, they are fulfilling society's growing expectations of the company's role and opening the way for new ideas, broader markets and innovative ways of doing things.


Is it possible to burnout your resident social intrapreneur? Yes. In fact, if managers tend to be on the micromanager side, they will lose their social intrapreneur faster than anticipated. Social intrapreneurs need to feel their capabilities are trusted. I recommend you give them space and provide some guidelines that are manageable for both of you. Loose structure is important. Like I stated earlier, give them an assignment and let them go. In some ways, they are like your favorite golden retriever. They will go chase an idea and come back with something better than you expected. Ultimately, their work will make you the boss look like a genius.