Damian Payiatakis: My First 100 Days as an Intrapreneur

By Damian Payiatakis, Director of Strategic Development, Barclays Wealth

As an intrapreneur, I'm developing a new concept that I hope will enable Barclays to support our communities and contribute to growth by funding social enterprises.

I like to think it harkens back to the original role that banks have always played in local communities. It could ultimately transform the “impact investing” market and build a stronger base of social enterprises.

While it’s too early to give details of what we’re developing, what I can share are the personal experiences I’ve had at the start of this journey. Broadly, in the first 100 days as an intrapreneur you’ll be faced with considerable uncertainty – about your idea, your company, yourself. The specifics of your uncertainty I can’t predict. So I’ve noted some ideas and insights that I hope will be relevant.

The Good

Applause is a wonderful sound – People will react positively to your idea, your passion, and even your effort to make difference. You will feel fantastic when they applaud you. You should store up this feeling for the difficult and frustrating days. I’ve found that when it gets really difficult, sharing the idea with someone new can renew my energy and enthusiasm to continue.

People want to make the world better – You can’t be afraid to share your idea because it’s not perfectly formed or finished. I can guarantee no matter how much thinking you do, it’s not going to be. Moreover, it’s not going to get any better if you keep it hidden away. You have to share it because when you do, something amazing happens – people will want to help you. Especially if you share it in a way that acknowledges there are things that you don’t know, questions you have, areas where their knowledge, experience, and authority can help. Through the Lab and subsequent conversations, I’ve had tremendous offers of help because I shared the idea and people wanted to help make a difference.

The Difficult

Within the crowd, not everyone is clapping – Amongst the numerous lessons from the Intrapreneur Lab we heard we would encounter resistance, criticism, disagreement. Early on, I worried why we hadn’t. I then realised we weren't talking to the “right” people.

It’s easy to support an idea when it doesn’t impact you, your business, or your world. In a corollary to the applause notion, positive reaction for your idea is (generally) inversely proportional to how much it will impact the stakeholder. That’s not to say you should shun either applause or criticism. Just recognise that, when you find someone expressing concerns, they likely are to be a key stakeholder you should engage on an ongoing basis.

Time is not on your side – Likely this will start as a “side of desk” role, so making time is incredibly difficult. Be ready to add more time on top of whatever you are doing. Or be comfortable that your idea will take longer to come to fruition. Personally, I struggle with the idea of the latter, so tend to “burn the midnight oil.”

Also getting time from senior stakeholders can be a challenge – you have to recognise that your project is unlikely to be the top priority for those stakeholders. So be prepared that it will take time to get meetings and you can be bumped as you’re walking to the meeting, only to have the next slot be several weeks later. Part of your role as an intrapreneur is to engage, inspire, and help others to recognise the benefit of your idea to the organisation and society.

The Truly Challenging

At the end of the night, it’s your party – When you first get started it’s unlikely you will have resource/ support available to you. Co-opting colleagues with a similar passion, attitude and, importantly, a complementary perspective is incredibly useful and beneficial. Alone, I wouldn’t be a third as far without the advice, support, and guidance of these colleagues. But I have to recognise they have day jobs and lives, so other priorities come up. In the end, if you want to make progress, you have to instil the energy and drive yourself.

Your weaknesses will find you – We all have areas where we struggle. These aren’t the interview variety of “I’m too dedicated…” These are your true weaknesses.

For example, in the past, I’ve tended to gather lots of info and data when faced with uncertainty. It makes me feel more grounded and confident about moving forward. In my current day job, I’d say I’ve overcome that issue as there just isn’t time and I have to make decisions. But with this new idea, in a new field, and a lack of clarity, I’ve caught myself researching rather than writing. Uncharitably one could call it procrastinating (that’s for a different blog or perhaps some counselling) but I’m relearning to catch myself and push myself to act.

Expect your weaknesses to come to the forefront too. Put in place the mechanisms or people to challenge them. Also, embrace this experience as a crucible of leadership for you to truly overcome them – it will be one of the best opportunities you will ever have.

You will doubt – Certain days you will doubt your capability. Others you will question the potential of your idea. Others you will doubt if it is worth the effort. I’ve found there’s no way to know for certain if you’re up to the challenge or if you’ve got the right idea before you start. You just have to begin. (And the concept of pivoting has been very helpful.)

Moreover, I’ve found the key to continuing through the doubt is belief in the importance to solve the problem. I expect, like me, something in the world has made you angry, disappointed, or sad, and being an intrapreneur allows you do something. So come to terms with this dissatisfaction and channel that energy. Making a difference and contributing to the solution is more important than whether I believe in myself, the idea, or if the effort is worth it.

In the end, the first 100 days are just part of the journey. I realise I’ve highlighted the harder parts more, but it is a difficult road to take. And the challenges and uncertainty that you and I encounter is natural at this stage. Instead of worrying about these, I focus with passionate dispassion on the journey – passion for solving the problem and dispassion that the current idea is perfect solution.

Then, as we take steps – exciting a stakeholder with the idea, externally validating the need with potential clients, or wrestling with one tricky part over coffee with a colleague – the uncertainties and challenges fade away. Because in those moments, I have that wonderful and rare feeling that I would do this even if I wasn’t getting paid. (Hopefully HR won’t be reading this blog.) But that’s what it has felt like being an intrapreneur on the first 100 days and that’s why it’s worth taking the journey.

Damian Payiatakis is Director of Strategic Development, Barclays Wealth and an Intrapreneur Lab Participant.

The Intrapreneur Lab is a 3 day + 3 month programme that helps individuals in large companies develop profitable innovations that create social impact. The Lab is collaboration between Leadership Laboratories, Accenture Development Partnerships and Business Fights Poverty. Labs are being run in New York City in May 2014 and Oxford in October 2014. Further information is available here.

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Comment by Paul Nguyen on April 28, 2014 at 23:00
I am inviting all UK intrapreneurs to come on May, 6 at the London School of Economics. 
Register here bit.ly/cfit14  C-FIT Partnership Forum 2014 for small charities and companies #CFIT2014.
I really hope you can join us! 

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