Innovation and growth are the critical factors behind the interest in Intrapreneurship. That’s the good news. The bad news is that you can’t have either without the right talent. Finding the right talent to achieve innovation and growth is what is proving to be elusive.

This is a challenge for organizations and an opportunity for intrapreneurs.  As an organization, if you don’t know what you are looking for then how will you know when you find it?  You can’t solve today’s problems with the same people who created them.  You need to look beyond the obvious. So, it is not surprising that there is a shortage of talent needed to deal with increasing complexity, uncertainty and the unknown.  That is what is driving the interest in intrapreneurs

Organizations focused on intrapreneurship are realizing that talent is their competitive advantage. That in the next decade most of them will be facing a new War on Talent.  According to The New Wave: Next Generation of Executive Talent – AESC report, “There is a premium for top talent and not enough immediate successors at the helm ready to take over as the Baby Boomers retire.  This has created anxiety among CEOs and senior executives that recognize that a new type of leader is needed to deal with ‘global uncertainty.” An Intrapreneurial Leader.

All of this is happening at a time when the largest demographic millennials want to work in an entrepreneurial role – in or outside of the traditional organization.  Being an intrapreneur is the new aspiration of millions of workers around the world.  Technological advances are one of the forces impacting work but despite these advances in technology most of the capabilities needed for strategic innovation cannot be replicated by a machine. It is all about people.

Part of the reasons why organizations are not effectively leveraging their intrapreneurs relates to what Kara Kavensky talks about in her article, Intrapreneurship: A Driving Force with Companies, “Intrapreneurs have a rare mix of corporate experience and existing business connections alongside risk taking and trial mentality of entrepreneurs.” Yet most organizations don’t know who these individuals are or the best way to find them.

So, what is it about Intrapreneurs that seem to be so elusive?  Like you I’ve seen tons of articles outlining what is required to be an effective Intrapreneur.  It is an endless list of attributes that are mostly based on anecdotal data which continues to swirl around these individuals – intrapreneurs.  The problem is that very little of the reported lists are grounded in research – research with Intrapreneurs that have been successful in this role.  According to Human Resource Development, “The research to date has produced an inconsistent body of research with limited empirical evidence.”

If you tried to live up to all the hype you read about of what it takes to be an intrapreneur – you’d be superman or superwomen.  This is what you are being led to believe.  It’s not true.

The truth is that entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs are different.  Traditional leaders are different than intrapreneurial leader.  Disruptive innovations require different skills and capabilities than core or adjacent innovations.  These differences are what distinguish the true intrapreneur from others.  In a recent study, the Thought Leadership Institute found that, “The goals of operational excellence and breakthrough innovation are different enough to require distinctions in assessing talent for both roles.  But on average less than one third do.”

Part of the issue for organizations is creating an environment where individuals can experience what it takes to be an intrapreneur. Experience is the key to unlocking the mystery of what it means and what it takes to be an intrapreneur.  Understanding what you don’t know is just as important as what you know. The other part is understanding what competencies intrapreneurs need to succeed.  Putting your competencies to the test helps you see if you have what it takes.  It is the only way you will know what competencies you need to enhance and develop.

A competency is a set of knowledge, skills and behaviors, attitudes and characteristics that distinguish one person from another.  But more importantly it refers to a set of behaviors that an individual must possess to perform a specific job.  The job of intrapreneur.

A key factor in the shortage of intrapreneurial leaders at the top of most organizations is a result of this lack of understanding of what competencies are needed to succeed and creating an environment where individuals can have an intrapreneurial learning experience.  Thinking you are an intrapreneur is not the same as being an intrapreneur.

Organizations that define a common or generic set of competencies for everyone in the organization are missing the boat.  High performance companies develop success profiles for specific job functions within their organizations that are tied to targeted outcomes.  To develop intrapreneurs there needs to be a concerted effort to identify and develop competencies aligned with the goals and outcomes of the organization to be more innovative and entrepreneurial.

In his article Competencies: Alternative Frameworks for Competitive Advantage, Robert Cardy states that “The importance of competencies to organizations cannot be overstated; in fact, they can be the key to competitive advantage. They allow the concept of strategic intent to be operationalized.” Resulting in higher levels of performance.

Our research has identified a set of core competencies Intrapreneurs need to be effective and successful in their organizations.  Over the last ten years we have tracked successful intrapreneurs and determined that beyond all the hype intrapreneurs need to build and strengthen a core set of competencies to succeed in this role.  It’s a success profile for Intrapreneurs. An independent analysis of our data revealed that intrapreneurs are in fact ‘a distinct group of professionals’. They outperformed more traditional professionals by a wide margin.

Intrapreneurs possess a unique combination of competencies, but most people have these competencies. It is not one or two unique competencies; it is a unique combination of competencies. It is the breadth and depth of those competencies that distinguish the true intrapreneurs.  These competencies are capabilities that can be learned.  It is a mindset, a set of competencies and behaviors that are learned along the way.

Competencies are developed through experience.  Understanding what type of experience is critical for development of these competencies. If your experience is grounded in the core business then great, you will probably learn some new things.  If the experience involves a new product, service or venture that you’ve never done before you will learn more about yourself, the organization, and what it means and what it takes to be an intrapreneur.

Think about a time when you experienced something for the first time.  What impact did it have? How did it make you feel? What did you learn? Did it change your beliefs? It is through experience that we see the world in a new light.  We let go of long held beliefs and open ourselves to new possibilities.  It forces us outside our comfort zone and opens ourselves up to being surprised at seeing what we don’t know – especially about being an intrapreneur.

Although the concept of competencies is not universally understood and has been the province of the HR or OD departments within organizations, research has found that competencies are a better predictor of capability than a functional competency.  “High performance competencies are associated with individuals that perform their job at a superior level,” according to Dr. Tony Cockerill, London Business School. It is for this reason that understanding what competencies are required in the role of intrapreneur is critical.

The reason why intrapreneurs remain elusive for many organizations is that they have not focused on developing the core competencies needed for intrapreneurs to be successful in that role. As a result, we see more and more individuals taking matters into their own hands and developing their own intrapreneurial competencies through the work they do and the projects they elect to take on.  It is having the right set of competencies and experiences that enable intrapreneurs to succeed.

Despite the glaring need for intrapreneurs and intrapreneurial leaders, the intrapreneur continues to be elusive?  Yet what we’ve found is that there is no longer a reason for that to be true.


To learn more about the core competencies of Intrapreneurs download our brochure, Top Competencies of Corporate Entrepreneurs or take our Intrapreneur Scorecard and get a personalized snapshot of your own intrapreneurial orientation. Available at a 25% discount through the month of August 2022.  Use coupon code: Summer22 at check-out.

 Originally published in 2018. Republished 2022.


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