Colleen McCormick. Director, Economic and Corporate Initiatives. BC Provincial Government
Public Service often gets a bad rap for stifling innovation and being by definition too bureaucratic. As a self identified intrapraneur and proud Public Servant, Colleen shatters these stereotypes and is on a mission to inspire others at work to do the same. Colleen shares secrets on how to turn frustration into possibility and reminds us that the work that feels most difficult is often the most important. Her passion and purpose is contagious and does a real service for the Service 🙂
What inspired you to become an intrapreneur?
It’s more about who, rather than the what inspired me. As I reflect back, a long list of amazing global and local changemakers, problem-solvers and institutional entrepreneurs flash through my mind. I was particularly exposed to social entrepreneurs during my MBA program. I turned every paper into a case study to investigate how these visionaries worked and why. I learned that what made these everyday people extraordinary was how determined they were to solve a challenge they took on. Through their caring eyes, I found great hope in how we can create a better world. Encouraged by their fearlessness, I decided that I was going to bring the audacious thinking and imagination of the social entrepreneur into my world – the public service.
I have worked in the BC Public Service for almost 13 years. From day one in government, I have met countless intrapreneurs who inspire me as they work tirelessly to make a positive contribution, deliver better outcomes for citizens, and change the organization from within to improve it. I compare these everyday public intrapreneurs, who work at all levels of the organization, to the many social entrepreneurs who inspired me.
I also know public servants who feel that they aren’t reaching their full potential. They question their ability to fully contribute ideas and expertise, and are close to giving up on any attempts to create a more inclusive and innovative culture. This is the challenge I’m most interested in addressing. As a self-identified government intrapreneur, I am bound and determined to ignite the imagination of the public servant and unleash our problem-solving capacity. I am doing this by relentlessly showcasing public service excellence and ingenuity at all levels of the organization.
Briefly describe the process you took to lead change at work.
I often say that I have gone from being a somewhat irresponsible government intrapreneur to a more disciplined one. I used to push hard for change and became increasingly frustrated with the apathetic response I saw to innovation in the public service. I found myself criticizing the lack of leadership and interest in addressing well-known problems and changing things for the better.
Humbling moments taught me that being an effective intrapreneur requires you to take a step back from your frustration, to reflect, and with an empathetic heart, seek to understand what is holding the system or people back. Frustration leads to more frustration so why waste valuable time and energy on feeling powerless. Instead, find your tribe and go where there is a sense of possibility. If you seek this space and discipline your mind to look for unexpected windows of breakthrough, what I call the cracks in the concrete, you often find them all around you.
I am also a big believer in change theories so I encourage people to always work with a theory of change to better understand what is the exact change they are trying to bring about, why, and how will they know when they have arrived.
What’s the coolest part about being an intrapreneur?
1. Being relentlessly optimistic.
2. Knowing what drives you to make a difference. As an intrapreneur, you often turn what makes you crazy in the system into an exciting problem-solving mission.
3. Thinking like an intrapreneur requires you to see possibilities in bureaucratic organizations that others can’t. This takes collaborating across organizational boundaries, getting to know like- and non like-minded people, and constantly reinventing your sense of purpose.
What’s the biggest challenge to being an intrapraneur?
The biggest challenge is staying the course. I often say to government intrapreneurs, can you stand the grit?
Persevering through the bureaucratic grit while navigating the unexpected storms is the greatest challenge for intrapreneurs. Yet, it’s also where the biggest opportunity for impact lies.
What advice would you give other professionals who want to make a difference?
Follow your heart, do what makes the little hairs on your arms stand up, and be unapologetic about your conviction that you can make a meaningful difference.
After all, it is your passion and stubborn belief in a better system, organization, policy, community or world, that makes the difference, and helps you stay the course in this challenging yet deeply rewarding work.
What can you identify as the biggest opportunity for intrapraneurs?
Given I work for the public service, the biggest opportunity I see for intrapreneurs is to redefine, reimagine and redesign the role of today’s public servant. This is where I’m directing all of my intrapreneurial energy, passion and spirit.