In the last several years there have been suggestions that there is no such thing as a corporate entrepreneur or intrapreneur.  No evidence that they exist.  No clear definition of who they are.  No consensus in the academic and business.  Comments stating that they only exist in our imagination.

Tell that to all the individuals in organizations currently engaged in that role. They would beg to differ.

After decades of hearing the term corporate entrepreneur and intrapreneur being tossed around there is still confusion and a lack of understanding about who these individuals are.  Attributes of external entrepreneurs are randomly applied to these individuals.  Broad concepts like the Big Five Personality are used to try and define them.  Descriptors are used that are related to process and results not behaviors and competencies. No wonder there is a lack of understanding.

What does this tell us about the status of Intrapreneurs in the business and academic world – a lot.

It tells us that the role of corporate entrepreneur and intrapreneur are not taken seriously.  If they were, they would be called out in job descriptions, performance reviews and competency models that are used to describe other important roles in the organization. Although many organizations excel at building competency models for the core business, they fall short when it comes to creating one for intrapreneurs. Intrapreneurs are on their own.

It tells us that business is not ready to fully accept or embrace intrapreneurs.  That they are an overlooked and underutilized resource.  Their ideas and suggestions often dismissed as being too radical, too risky, and too far from the core.  They challenge the status quo and their questions are seen as being out of line.  These are key deterrents for individuals that are inclined to be more entrepreneurial.  Intrapreneurs are left wondering if they will ever be able to utilize their entrepreneurial capabilities.

It tells us that executives think innovation and growth will come from existing leaders.  Only a small percentage of executives participate in innovation efforts.  As a result, there is a lack of entrepreneurial leadership at the top of most organizations.  And there is very little evidence that organizations are developing intrapreneurs to fill the void of leadership when it comes to innovation efforts.  Intrapreneurs must take responsibility for developing their own leadership competencies.

It tells us why most of the innovation taking place inside organizations is incremental not disruptive. That there is still a low tolerance for risk and failure.  That stepping outside the boundaries of acceptable behavior is frowned upon and discouraged.  That individual initiative is not always appreciated or rewarded.  That dissent is not tolerated.  Intrapreneurs and their ideas are often sidelined for more traditional approaches.

It tells us that organizations think that having an entrepreneurial mindset is the answer.  But the desire to instill an entrepreneurial mindset in employees is not enough.  Thinking like an intrapreneur is not the same as being one.  Without the opportunity to be an intrapreneur in action it only serves to accelerate growing disappointment among internal entrepreneurs.  It’s a negative factor in retaining your entrepreneurial talent. Intrapreneurs find creative ways to demonstrate their value by being action oriented.

It tells us why so many workers are disengaged and eager to find the next new opportunity that offers them a challenge. That there is growing frustration among workers looking to engage in entrepreneurial pursuits within their organizations.  Leading to the migration of workers to become self-employed and look for projects that are meaningful, create value and can make a difference. Intrapreneurs are finding that some organizations are willing to supplement their current staff with consultants, free agents and the self-employed to get access to entrepreneurial talent.

These are some of the signs that there is not a serious commitment to understand, recruit and develop intrapreneurs in many organizations.

In turn we are disappointed to see that the academic world has not advanced the discussion and research about intrapreneurs.

It tells us that the academic world has not come to terms with the differences between entrepreneurs and internal entrepreneurs.  Most of the research is focused on external entrepreneurs and results are often applied randomly to internal entrepreneurs.  It does a disservice to both.  The research to date has not been able to show a correlation between individual characteristics and innovation success. Due in part from not having the right characteristics to measure.

It tells us that there is no benchmark for establishing a baseline for research about the individual characteristics of intrapreneurs. Therefore, it is up to researchers to choose tools frequently used to describe characteristics of other groups, functions, roles or capabilities.  Some of these tools add dimensions to the discussion but do not zero in on the specific capabilities of intrapreneurs. Standard tools are good for placing individuals in broad categories common to many different roles.

It tells us that the research to date has only provided a high-level assessment of the capabilities that are aligned with being an internal intrapreneur.  That the results from this work are not conclusive and too general to be applied specifically to intrapreneurs.  Resulting in a lack of empirical evidence to accurately or adequately define who intrapreneurs are at the core.  The academic world continues to use anecdotal data to describe intrapreneurs.

It tells us that there is no common foundation for identifying and developing intrapreneurs.   No terminology to help guide organizations in determining who is a good fit to be an intrapreneur.  No way to measure and track them to see if they are fulfilling the role other than through process and results but how they get to those results depends on how they think and act.

This is exactly what we found over a decade ago and not much has changed.  Although the business and the academic world have advanced our ideas about what it means to be an intrapreneur we have made little progress in understanding who they are and what it takes.  That’s because most of the business and academic community have missed the obvious.

It’s not about personality, social styles, emotional stages, life stages or communication styles, it’s about behaviors and competencies.  Behaviors required to be an effective and successful intrapreneur.  Behaviors that have been exhibited by serial intrapreneurs and executives that have been successful in the role of intrapreneurs inside their organizations.  Individuals that have built million-and billion-dollar businesses for their companies.

That’s not to say that the other predictive tools are not important they are, in fact they help paint a complete picture.  But they are not the starting point for understanding corporate entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs.  It’s all about the behaviors and competencies that lead to entrepreneurial thinking and action.

Behaviors that when combined identify a combination of competencies that have shown time after time to be critical factors in an intrapreneurs success.  Behaviors and competencies, you can identify, develop and measure over time.  Competencies that consistently get better as intrapreneurs gain more experience.  Competencies that enable intrapreneurs to lead and inspire others to become intrapreneurs. Competencies that distinguish intrapreneurs from their peers.

We believe that corporate entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs are real.  They are thriving in organizations that have recognized and learned that certain behaviors and competencies motivate, engage and energize intrapreneurs. It’s what makes them corporate entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs.

The more I work with intrapreneurs the more I’ve come to understand that intrapreneurs are in alignment with who they are not what the organization wants them to be. Being in alignment with one’s true nature makes them more productive, engaged and innovative.  Intrapreneurs bring themselves to work and that is an enigma to the rest of the organization.

Let us know if you think corporate entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs are real or only a figment of some people’s imagination.


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