Ten years ago I set out to understand who corporate entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs were, how they were different and why it was important. At the time there was no empirical data that adequately described who these individuals were.  There was no consensus in the academic and business worlds. Attributes of external entrepreneurs were randomly applied to these individuals.  It was clear that nobody really knew.

So it became my mission to find out. 

My hypothesis at the time was that I would find a few key attributes that would distinguish intrapreneurs from more traditional employees.  That women were more successful intrapreneurs given their collaborative and relationship oriented styles.  The ultimate goal was to define the characteristics and capabilities of successful intrapreneurs.

Along the way I met a Senior Vice President of a major New England Bank who was an experienced intrapreneur and together we set out to unravel the mystery of who these individuals were.  In order to do this we first had to find them.  Given the high failure rate of new ventures (90-95%) inside organizations our task was to find those few individuals and projects (5-10%) that were successful. 

We thought we would start by asking C-Level executives in large organizations if we could talk to their entrepreneurial leaders.  They scoffed at us and told us they didn’t have any of those types of people. Needless to say we had to find another way.  It actually took us six months to find these internal entrepreneurs but it was worth the wait. 

Most of the individuals involved in our research had built million and billion dollar businesses for their organizations.  They didn’t think of themselves as internal entrepreneurs.  They told us that they didn’t feel like they fit.  They said that their organizations did not understand them or appreciate them for who they were, what they did or how they did it.  So they were more than happy to help.  They wanted their organizations to know what it was like to be an entrepreneur inside an established organization.  They knew our research would help do that.

Together we worked with them to define who they were at the core and what made them intrapreneurs.

Earlier research had been conducted using the Big Five Personality to try to determine if these five factors adequately characterized intrapreneurs.  The research was inconclusive.  One researcher who we spoke to said that the Big Five was too high level to accurately distinguish intrapreneurs from more traditional employees.  We realized at this point that we needed to dive deeper.  We decided to look at behaviors and competencies to see if we could differentiate intrapreneurs from others.

In order to conduct our research we needed to build a tool to do our research.  We worked with a behavioral assessment vendor who had over thirty years of experience in developing successful profiles for specific job functions.  We worked collaboratively with them to identify the behaviors and competencies that intrapreneurs needed to be successful and effective in that role.   Then we created a new success profile designed specifically for intrapreneurs called the Corporate Entrepreneur Profile. We used the profile to conduct our research and refine the tool along the way. 

We were excited about having a tool that would accurately predict which capabilities were critical for the role of intrapreneur.  The intrapreneurs we worked with were equally excited to better understand themselves and why they felt like they didn’t fit in their organizations.  Looking at their results made it clear why they felt that they didn’t fit.  If they fit they wouldn’t be intrapreneurs.

The research also helped us answer the key questions we asked in the beginning.   Was there a small set of capabilities that distinguished intrapreneurs from more traditional employees and were women more successful intrapreneurs.  Neither of these things wound up being true. 

What we did learn however that was more insightful and valuable was that it wasn’t a few key capabilities but it was the breadth and depth of those capabilities that was the key differentiation.  Intrapreneurs possess a unique combination of behaviors and competencies that distinguish them from others.  It is the breadth and depth of those competencies that distinguish them from their peers and more traditional leaders.  

We also found that the women and men intrapreneurs are equally successful.  That is because they both possess the same breadth and depth of competencies across the spectrum of competencies required for the role of intrapreneur.  Men and women were equally collaborative and relationship oriented. What we did find was that the top six competencies were the same for both men and women – Independent Thinking, Navigating Uncertainty, Engaged & Thriving, Driving Change, Leadership Effectiveness and Execution.   

Every few years we update our research and over the years we continue to see the same top six competencies at the top of the list.  Last week I updated the research again and found that after ten years the most important competencies for intrapreneurs are these top six.  Although the scores for women have increased slightly over men in that same time frame, they are tracking very closely.  We’ve also learned that intrapreneurs think, act and make decisions differently.  They have different motivations and aspirations and much more……

What we find most rewarding is to see those intrapreneurs that have retaken the Corporate Entrepreneur Profile year after year showing significant improvement.  Enhancing their own skills and capabilities.  Being more engaged and motivated in their work.  Making a bigger contribution to the organization.  Building a portfolio of intrapreneurial experiences. Taking on bigger and more challenging opportunities. Resulting in more successful intrapreneurial efforts inside their respective organizations.  

Finding your inner entrepreneur is a journey of self-discovery.  It begins and ends with you.  It makes you look at who you are, who you think you are and who you need to become.  It requires an honest assessment of your own strengths and weaknesses.  A deep look inside your own values and beliefs. Your attitudes about work and life.  Your goals, ambitions and aspirations.  The lessons you’ve learned from your experiences.

It isn’t something you are given, it is something you develop. It’s not an intellectual exercise but something you acquire through experience.

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To find out more about the top six competencies download the Corporate Entrepreneur Profile brochure.  It’s FREE.

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