Inspiring Intrapreneurship: An Approach For Developing a High-Performance Sales Culture

intrapreneurship leadership personal development Apr 27, 2022
Inspiring Intrapreneurship: An Approach For Developing a High-Performance Sales Culture

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

Below I share a framework borrowed from my workshop, Mastering Intrapreneurship. If you’re a business leader and interested in having me speak, or deliver this live training for your sales team, you can contact me here to learn more.

How would you show up if you were already the best at what you do?

In my last article on leading with authenticity, I shared the story of how my Sales Director at LinkedIn inspired my leadership style and aspirations. That experience during my first sales huddle left me in awe, and it was the first of many examples of strong leadership that I experienced during my time with the company. The common denominator with all of these leaders I admired? They all worked at Google before joining LinkedIn.

When a recruiter reached out to me from Google about an Enterprise Account Executive role in their Large Customer Sales organization, I jumped at the opportunity. This was a chance to not only take the next step in my career, but to receive what I understood to be the best sales and leadership training offered by any Tech company at the time. I was determined to be the kind of business person that drives results and impacts culture — the kind of leader that I came to admire.

As the first person in my family to get a high school diploma, go to college, and pursue a corporate career, getting recruited at Google made my family and friends really proud. It’s not every day that a gay Puerto Rican boy from the projects in the South Bronx gets his shot at growing a $50 Million dollar book of business to over $100 Million — and I was determined to exceed my own expectations about what I could accomplish at such a resource-rich company.

A client needed me on a last-minute flight to Dallas for an early morning strategy meeting? I’d cancel my dinner plans and head to the airport.

Another client needed to move their Quarterly Business Review? I’d reschedule my vacation to be a team player.

My colleague needed support on a business plan and analysis for an account? I’d sit with them and skip my workout.

Without realizing it, I’d compromised all my boundaries in an effort to be the best contributor I could possibly be. I worked hard to keep the people in my personal life proud of me, but I didn’t see that I’d taken my time away from them. Although I was great at managing my time, I stopped making time for the things that mattered like keeping up with routine appointments.

The result?

Cut to me laying down in an emergency room bed with an IV in each arm, crying because I was terrified that I wouldn’t make it back home.

It was through a Google query, ironically, that I learned about Executive Burnout, the patterns of behavior that culminated in this experience at the hospital, and the lasting effects. I learned the hardest way possible that hustle culture and its cousin culture, which emphasized developing a growth mindset, is incredibly damaging — and it’s a lesson I share openly with my colleagues.

As the global leader of Sales Enablement at Deputy, I feel a great responsibility to cultivate and reinforce a culture that prioritizes self-care as a requirement for achieving top sales performance. It goes against anything that hustle culture would have us believe, but the fact of the matter is that numbers and results are achieved by human beings — and we are not A.I.-powered. We cannot thrive if we’re in constant overdrive and overtime. We also cannot thrive according to the standards of a world that stopped existing in 2020.

To help reinforce this high-performance culture, I developed and now offer training on a holistic approach to driving high-performance sales — by inspiring intrapreneurship.

In an effort to add to the growing body of contributions by successful and impactful underrepresented professionals, I’m sharing a few strategies from my intrapreneurial playbook, part of a project I’ve been quietly working on. My hope is not only to give people the behind-the-scenes access into this career path like I wish I had earlier in my development, but to also share some of the ways that I’ve expanded my capacity to inspire and influence others to success.

Lose the Title

The first thing I invite workshop participants to do is relinquish their current titles. Yes, they’ve worked hard for their education, training, certifications, promotions, and everything else that contributed to their success to date — and we hold space for this. However, if they are to ascend to the next level of performance and impact, they need to embrace their new title — Intrapreneur.

I help them recall the best experiences they’ve had with other leaders, ask them to assess the behaviors and qualities they admire about those leaders, and invite them to start leading down a new path with the same courage and distinction as the people they look up to.

We pause to reflect on a question — how would you show up if you were already the best at what you did? What would you do with your first hour of the day? Who would you surround yourself with? How will you respond when Imposter Syndrome starts to creep in and attempt to derail you?

To help set the tone, I invite everyone to consider that this day is the first day of their new job as an Intrapreneur. No one has more experience than anyone else, no one has an advantage, and as such the team won’t thrive without establishing a precedent for collaboration over competition. I ask for their commitment to progress over perfection as they expand their professional capacity.

Define Intrapreneurship

Next, I help participants define their new role. Unlike entrepreneurship, being an intrapreneur doesn’t carry the same risk. You don’t have an overhead, you don’t do your own marketing, you’re not on the line for raising venture capital, and you’re not the face of the business if something goes sideways.

Like an entrepreneur, however, an intrapreneur has a set of responsibilities as a shareholder and decision maker in the business. They understand that in order for the company to advance its mission, they have to commit at a higher level than just another employee. Participants are invited to consider 3 core contributions of an intrapreneur:

  • Takes direct responsibility — avoids finger pointing, waiting on someone to take the lead, asking for permission, or deferring to someone else

  • Assertive Risk-Taker and Innovator — looks at all the qualitative and quantitative information available, assess the benefit to the business, and takes the lead on execution

  • Punctual and Persistent Communicator — promptly brings customer or industry intelligence to cross-functional partners, leverages all available channels of communication, and runs point on all follow up and follow through

Commit to Success as an Intrapreneur

The concept of intrapreneurship isn’t new, but it can be intimidating to someone who has not experienced an unconventional work culture. Not everyone has experienced the agency to be self-accountable and make decisions in a business. To alleviate the sense of being thrown off the deep end of the pool, it’s important to establish what it takes to be a successful intrapreneur.

Most concepts around developing a growth mindset are focused on the company’s growth and bottom line. This approach fails to honor that while a solution is A.I.-powered, human beings are not. When considering the company’s growth, you have to consider the development of each individual contributor. The opportunity for your business might be massive, but you’re not going to get there if your people are unhealthy and burnt out.

The framework I introduce takes a more holistic approach to professional development, by considering every aspect of a professional’s lived experience and hierarchy of needs. The sequence of this framework begins with a focus on the well-being of the individual contributor before considering the company’s interests. When introducing this framework I ask workshop participants for their commitment to mastery, to improving their performance over time instead of overnight by habitually repeating successful behaviors. There are four parts to this approach:

  1. Mastery of Time: Before an individual can begin their development as an intrapreneur, they have to create the space and time for the growth to happen. This means playing defense and proactively blocking time on the calendar for projects and personal needs like dental appointments. Participants are also encouraged to hold their teammates to greater accountability by insisting that meetings be kept to no more than 30 minutes, and only with a clear agenda or outcome for the meeting. They’re also invited to be compassionately succinct in their communication style — by making small commitments like using bullet points over paragraphs, we make it easier to be understood and make progress. The confidence people develop in your communication style alleviates the pressure to feel like you need to be “on” all the time.

  2. Mastery of Self-Care: Once an individual has taken control of their time, set boundaries, and upleveled their communication they’ll be in a position to start to do the work required to thrive and contribute at their highest level. The first thing I encourage is a check-in on mental health. Your thoughts influence your actions, which influence your outcomes and contributions. Only when your mental health is supported can you get to a place to consider your physical or fiscal health. To be sure they’re always introducing thoughts that expand your capacity and well-being, I also encourage participants to own their continued learning and education.

  3. Mastery of Metrics: Only when you’ve optimized your time and your health will you be prepared to focus on the business and make your highest contribution. I invite workshop participants to align their commitments to the business with the metrics of success. Getting clear about their weekly, monthly, and quarterly activity goals will help them track progress. Being diligent about managing their pipeline and developing trust in their capacity to forecast is essential to achieve mastery. Keeping their eye on the leaderboard at all times and replicating successes supports growth for everyone in the business.

  4. Mastery of Active Listening: After achieving alignment with their individual goals and contributions, I invite participants to consider the goals of the greater company. By developing their capacity for active listening, they put themselves in the position to be a thoughtful collaborator and cross-functional asset to the business. This means committing to sharing industry intelligence and best practices, deepening their understanding about the business operations of the customers they serve, and shadowing as many customer calls as they can so they become fluent and proficient in the customer’s voice.

Commit to Business Mastery

After taking participants through the process of achieving success as an intrapreneur, we circle back to their day-to-day impact at the company. Whichever trajectory they decide for themselves and their careers, there are a core set of skills that I invite them to consider developing. Mastering these abilities and expanding their acumen and capacity as a business person is essential at every stage of their development and within every function of the business.

  • Project Management: an intrapreneur commits to mastering the capacity to oversee the details of a project or program from beginning to end, run point at every phase, and assume full accountability until completion

  • Persuasive Communication: in order to thrive it’s essential to develop the ability to bring multiple stakeholders together at the same table, compellingly overcome objections, and inspire and align everyone around a common goal or outcome

  • Due Diligence: to strike total confidence, trust, and authority it’s critical to assume all responsibility — ask all the questions, check every checkbox, comb through the details, and leave nothing to assumptions

Set a Plan

With this framework in their toolbox, participants are equipped with a holistic approach to their intrapreneurial pursuit. By maintaining boundaries and elevating their communication, they claim more time back in their day. With that time, they can reinvest in self-care with an emphasis on mental health for optimal personal growth. After ensuring all their needs are met, they’re ready to track metrics and goals of the business. To deepen their impact, they commit to developing their capacity for active listening, and to sustain their growth they commit to business mastery.

It’s not enough to have the prescription though — it’s time to take their medicine. To round out the experience, I invite workshop participants to design their intrapreneurial development plan by committing to specific actions that align with the framework introduced. This includes identifying the layers of accountability and support needed to attain the plan, from within the company and in their personal lives.

While this approach for building a high-performance sales culture seems unconventional or counterintuitive, the fact is that the strategies that used to work stopped being effective in 2020. It’s not enough to drill sales professionals and try to squeeze performance out of them — it’s critical, now more than ever, to keep your teams inspired and engaged. Remember, the goal is progress over perfection, so it’s best to take an iterative approach to inspiring intrapreneurship.