Every year in the fall we would receive a bushel of apples from my Grandfather who had an apple farm in upstate New York. It was always a treat to sort through the bushel to see what kinds of apples were packed in the crate. Not all apples are created equal.
The same is true with intrapreneurs, not all intrapreneurs are the same. Take for instance corporate entrepreneurs (intrarepreneurs) and social intrapreneurs. They are similar in many ways and different in others. It is the small nuances that set them apart from one another.
In 2007, we conducted research to better understand the role of corporate entrepreneurs inside large organizations. We found` an extraordinary group of individuals building million and billion dollar businesses for their organizations. They were mavericks, looking for new opportunities that were outside the scope of business as usual. They were focused on transformational innovations that had the potential to generate significant financial growth for their organization.
Corporate entrepreneurs are independent thinkers, effective at navigating uncertainty, totally engaged at work, able to leverage limited resources to get things done, and they are change agents focused on execution. These competencies defined what it meant to be an entrepreneur in an established organization. The research confirmed that corporate entrepreneurs were in fact a ‘distinct’ group of individuals with a unique combination of competencies that set them apart from others.
In 2011, we decided to leverage what we had learned about corporate entrepreneurs and focus our efforts on understanding if and how social intrapreneurs and corporate entrepreneurs were different. What corporate entrepreneurs needed to do to be successful was just the opposite of what was needed to run the core business. When it came to social intrapreneurs, it was a different story. Social innovators excelled in competencies that were more closely aligned with the core business.
These competencies enabled social intrapreneurs to integrate external market requirements and current business capabilities, leverage existing organizational resources in new ways, and solve problems that had a social or environmental impact. We found that social intrapreneurs needed a blend of both entrepreneurial and business competencies to be successful. Social intrapreneurs also enhanced our understanding of the social/personal competencies they needed to be effective. These competencies added a new dimension to who these individuals were and how they were different.
Even though corporate entrepreneurs had a stronger foot hold in organizations at the time, they were only a few years ahead of social intrapreneurs. Corporate entrepreneurs had made enough inroads to have designed, developed and implemented innovations demonstrating they had the capability to be successful as internal entrepreneurs. Social intrapreneurs still lagged behind corporate entrepreneurs in the entrepreneurial competencies that one would need to successfully build and launch an innovation inside an existing organization. It was clear that the role was still evolving.
In 2014, things have changed. Not only do social intrapreneurs have strong business competencies, they have enhanced their entrepreneurial competencies as well. In fact, what we see is a blend of both in the top ranking competencies for social intrapreneurs. Social intrapreneurs must operate effectively in the core business at the same time they are building a new one. They need to build a strong bridge between the two. It’s a balancing act.
Today’s social intrapreneurs are more independent, better able to deal with uncertainty and complexity, respond more effectively to changing situations, are highly adaptable and resilient. They are better problem solvers, more strategic and tactical. More structured, more disciplined and more creative. They are more empathic and compassionate and so on. The results highlight the fact that social intrapreneurs have a strong mix of business, entrepreneurial and social competencies that enable them to operate effectively in their respective organizations.
All of these insights helped us see what it takes to be a social intrapreneur. It helped us identify the nuances that separated corporate entrepreneurs from social intrapreneurs.
To find out more about the differences between corporate entrepreneurs and social intrapreneurs download The Social Intrapreneur’s DNA – Research Report 2014 for Free.