Top Five Plays of Intrapreneurs in Government

For those of you who participated in our 24-hour Rebel Jam in May, you may remember hearing a presentation from two Deloitte consultants who were just completing a research project on being successful intrapreneurs in the public sector. As you know we rebels go by many names--mavericks, heretics, troublemakers--but one of our favorite labels, if you insist on putting one on us, is intrapreneur. The two authors, Liz Arnold and Shani Magia, have summarized their paper's findings for us to post on Rebels At Work. Lois and I think it will resonate not just with you who work in government but with all Rebels out there. Please feel free to contribute your ideas in the comment section.

Intrapreneurs in Government

Government intrapreneurs can be visionaries, armed with strong communication skills, the ability to persevere in the face of uncertainty and opposition, and a deep passion for public service. But even this array of talents often isn’t enough.

Earlier this year, we interviewed individuals who have successfully achieved meaningful change in government. We talked with more than 20 civil servants across the federal government, from the Central Intelligence Agency to the Department of Labor, and collected some of the best “plays” intrapreneurs have used to overcome barriers. Although their strategies are wide-ranging, these intrapreneurs all share a common quality — they are tough and scrappy, reflecting their need to make the best of suboptimal or difficult circumstances. 

  • Find an advocate: Many intrapreneurs face a predicament when they try to make change happen in government: they may find that their initiatives violate existing agency rules and/or they could risk their careers by being change advocates. To help them handle these risks, they can find managers or sponsors in the organization to help navigate organizational processes and procedures to achieve change.
  • Connect seemingly unrelated dots: Potentially big impacts don’t always require the invention of something new. Intrapreneurs often bring ideas from outside their organization to address an unmet need.
  • Identify Allies: Building a team can be a way for intrapreneurs to gain support for important initiatives. Team members can help generate and validate ideas, and provide and collect feedback. Extra hands help anchor the effort and foster a culture of bottom-up commitment to change.
  • Look for detours: Intrapreneurs don’t let rules get in their way of creating positive change. Intrapreneurs can leverage their networks, build new connections and become salespeople for their ideas to find the detours that make progress possible.
  • Adopt a “beta” mindset: When introducing a new idea or approach, there can be a tendency to have a “ribbon cutting” to celebrate its success. Intrapreneurs can use pilots to test new ideas, and get stakeholders to buy into new ways of doing work.

What are your best plays?

Different approaches may work better at one organization than another. It’s up to the intrapreneur to decide how best to push an idea through. The passion intrapreneurs have to improve the way their organizations work is what drives their creativity — their toughness, their willingness to fight for an idea - their scrappiness. It’s what makes them successful.


What strategies do you use to create positive change in your organization?


To learn more about our research about Intrapreneurship in Government, please read our study “Intrapreneurship in Government: Making it Work” on Deloitte University Press.