As an Intrapreneur, it’s easy to get stuck between the dual roles of corporate visionary and day to day manager. You know to “work smarter not harder” and to “work on the business, not in the business”. But how?
The business needs you down there at the coal face right now. There’s not enough staff; you haven’t got time to train anyone else right now and, hell, you can do the job quicker anyway.
The problem with this mindset for the Intrapreneur is that it’s not scalable. You are not creating a framework for your business to grow. You are merely rushing from one crisis to another like an entertainer spinning plates hazardously on the end of bamboo poles.
With each day and each stage of growth, the crises are getting harder for you to manage. You are losing sight of the horizon. The plates are about to come crashing down. You need help.
But how can an Intrapreneur keep a clear view of long term objectives whilst maintaining control over the inner workings of the company?
The Work Smarter Not Harder Strategy
Well, it is possible to develop a work smarter not harder strategy. The secret lies in breaking day to day activities into groups of recurring, self-contained tasks in such a way that they take care of themselves – almost.
If a series of tasks relate to each other in some form of chronological order, they can create a ‘process’. OxfordDictionaries.com defines a ‘process’ as “a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end”. But the missing keyword for an Intrapreneur is ‘recurring’.
Defining a process is quite helpful but defining a recurring process is operational gold. Once a series of tasks have been identified, grouped and perfected, they can be handed down to others to repeat time after time. You, the Intrapreneur are then free to identify the next series of recurring tasks, the next process.
I like to think of these processes as ‘mini-systems’. As each mini-system is developed, they link together with other mini-systems like the mechanism of a clock. On their own they are reasonably inert. But when working in harmony, they can achieve great things; they are working to achieve a common goal.
A clock mechanism is made up of a variety of pieces; cogs, dials, weights, springs, hammers, bushes, cables, coils, gongs, collets, keys, pendulums and cases. They are all completely different; different in size, in shape, in purpose. Individually they aren’t much use.
But, bring them together in the right way, and they combine with a common goal – to tell the time.
Doesn’t it, therefore, make sense to try and mimic the workings of a timepiece to simplify, automate and integrate the multitude of processes within the business?
“The wheels of the watch are all admirably adjusted to the end for which it was made, the pointing of the hour. All their various motions conspire in the nicest manner to produce this effect. If they were endowed with a desire and intention to produce it, they could not do it better.”
Adam Smith (1723-1790) The Theory of Moral Sentiments
Let’s define a mini-system as that referring to any recurring activity or process within a business which has a specific entry and exit point. For instance, a mini-system could refer to:
- How staff answer the telephone
- How employee inductions are managed
- Procedures for grievances and dismissals
- How visitors are treated
- How management accounts are prepared for the weekly management meeting
- How stationery is ordered
- How the petty cash system works
- How information from the production department is received and processed
- Credit control procedures
There are, in fact, hundreds of potential mini-systems within any business. They are yours to seek out and create. They can range from minor detail stuff to heavyweight decision-making processes. Whatever category they fall into, they will have some common traits:
- have a specific entry and exit point
- achieve something useful
- be a self-contained unit
- link to other mini-systems
- be measurable
- be recurring
We now understand what a mini-system is and how it can help the Intrapreneur in the business. So let’s establish our blueprint for building mini-systems and start the journey to work smarter not harder.
The Work Smarter Not Harder Blueprint
- Identify a mini-system opportunity. In a small business start-up, you will use your experience to create the first handful of mini-systems proactively. As time moves on, you will also have to be reactive and set up mini-systems in response to a specific need or crisis as it arises.
- Create the mini-system. One may look quite different from another. As long as they exhibit the common traits mentioned above, you will have an effective mini-system ready to take its place in the business clockwork.
- Manage the mini-system. In the early days you, the Intrapreneur, may need to manage it yourself but your aim is to put someone else in place, suitably trained, to take responsibility.
- Manage the people who manage the mini-system. You are now on the road to scalability. You can now repeat steps 1 to 4 without taking your eye off that horizon.
Can you see what’s happening? As the business grows, the Intrapreneur may end up managing the people who manage the people who manage the mini-systems. Like astronauts being catapulted into space looking back on earth, the perspective changes as every mile passes. As our planet gets smaller, other planets come into vision. The view evolves continuously. You can then ensure that you work smarter not harder.
- Interrogate the people and the mini-systems. Because you have introduced the notion of scalability, you can now step back to get the astronauts’ view of what is going on. The picture is different. Look for continuous improvements.
- Keep going. Return to step 1 and do it all over again.
Incidentally, have you noticed that this process is our first mini-system itself?
We’ve left a lot of questions unanswered of course. How do we measure and evaluate these mini-systems? How do we introduce each one to the workplace? How do we communicate what is going on so that people feel at ease and empowered? How do we train employees to manage the mini-systems effectively?
And perhaps most importantly of all, how do we link together our mini-systems to create our well-oiled clockwork business administration?
We have, at least, laid the foundations for effective intrapreneurship by introducing scalability and helping to limit growing pains. As an Intrapreneur – the Entrepreneur inside the business – we have started to work smarter not harder.
Thank you to Eduardo Zamacois y Zabala, for ‘Regreso al convento’, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons