Expanding Skills and Advancing Your Career Through Social Intrapreneurship

Expanding Skills and Advancing Your Career Through Social Intrapreneurship

This is the second of three guest columns on social intrapreneurship. The others are "Creating a Company Culture that Engages Social Intrapreneurs" and "Four Smart Steps to Social Intrapreneurship."

If you're reading this column, there is a good chance that you're interested in a career with a positive social and environmental impact. But given the current economic environment, you may be wondering where or how to find these positions. You may also be looking for ways to advance your career in your current organization or professional development opportunities that focus on sustainability.

One way to move your career forward despite the current recession is by becoming a social intrapreneur. Social intrapreneurs go above and beyond their traditional job roles to challenge the status quo and develop solutions to social and environmental problems from inside the organizations where they work. Applying your sustainability values to a social intrapreneurship project can help you develop leadership skills, position you for career growth, and add economic, environmental, and social value to your current organization.

Developing Leadership Skills

In researching our report "Making Your Impact at Work: A Practical Guide to Change in Any Organization", Net Impact interviewed many social intrapreneurs. Everyone cited leadership development as a key aspect of their project and many mentioned specific examples such as:

• Accelerating as a junior employee. Although many interview subjects held junior level positions within their companies, their social intrapreneurship work allowed them to take on leadership roles that were inaccessible in their day jobs.
• Leading a team. Each social intrapreneur led a volunteer team. When there were no capital resources at stake, they learned the ropes of team management with relatively low risk. By managing and measuring the outcomes of cross-functional projects involving multiple stakeholder groups, social intrapreneurs developed leadership skills applicable to all parts of their work.
• Engaging coworkers. Because social and environmental projects often span multiple departments, social intrapreneurs can learn from and collaborate with coworkers across their companies, both horizontally and vertically. By connecting with new parts of the organization, social intrapreneurs learned valuable techniques for communications and stakeholder engagement.
• Introducing and managing change. From developing educational materials to calculating ROI, work as a social intrapreneur can help you learn and understand the process of selling an idea and implementing change in an organization.

Advancing Your Career

Social intrapreneurs are often ahead of the curve when it comes to sustainable business, and sometimes management may not readily accept the solutions they develop. In fact, the majority of social intrapreneurs start their projects as unfunded, volunteer initiatives.

Yet when their teams produced results and demonstrated the value of their work, new staff positions were often created to continue their work. And who better to take those jobs than a passionate social intrapreneur?

Architect and McDonald's employee John Rockwell carved out a niche within his organization by developing a green building strategy for the company's U.S. restaurant design. Although management was originally skeptical about the project, John successfully created a business case for his green restaurant strategy. Within two years, what began for John as a volunteer project focused on exploring opportunities for McDonald's to make an impact became his full-time job.

As it turns out, transitioning from leading a volunteer initiative to staffing a full-time position is not an uncommon trend for effective social intrapreneurs.

Two years after Hamlin Metzger at Best Buy started the Best Buy Social Responsibility Network, he became the company's first Senior Manager of Corporate Responsibility. Hamlin's promotion was a direct result of his work as a social intrapreneur. Accenture's Lisa Neuberger-Fernandez transitioned her work as leader of the company's green team to her new role as U.S. lead for eco-related corporate citizenship efforts.

Adding Social, Economic and Environmental Value

Given the challenges of the current economic environment, social intrapreneurship is particularly relevant to organizations and individuals seeking economic, environmental, and social opportunities. All effective social intrapreneurs ground their projects firmly in the business objectives of their company. For the social intrapreneurs at Google, who created GoogleServe, a week-long global volunteer event involving thousands of employees from over 45 offices worldwide, this meant maintaining a focus on building relationships in the company, which was a key goal of their corporate culture team. Jason McBriarty's work as a social intrapreneur at Levi's enabled him to save the company over $40,000 annually on bottled water purchases.

Whether building internal capacity and lowering costs, the value produced by social intrapreneurs is real, and something that any forward-thinking manager can appreciate.

The Bottom Line

While no one can guarantee that your work as a social intrapreneur will land you a new job or promotion, all the featured social intrapreneurs from Making Your Impact at Work can tell you that it will help you develop as a professional, and it will sustain you when you struggle through a particular project or stressful time at work.

If you land in or currently occupy a corporate position with little or no connection to sustainability, don't despair. You may be able to make the greatest impact from a traditional job role. And when the time comes when your company does see the benefits of sustainability or a job opens in the CSR department, you'll know that you have positioned yourself as best you can to add value from that job.

To learn more about social intrapreneurship or the individuals profiled in this blog, please visit http://www.netimpact.org/impactatworkguide.

Josh Cleveland manages the Impact at Work program at Net Impact and was instrumental in developing "Making Your Impact at Work: A Practical Guide to Saving the World from Inside Any Company."