Intrapreneur: 14 Surprising Skills Needed For Success

Have you ever thought of yourself as an intrapreneur? Most people haven’t, but it could be just the right way to go if you already have the right mindset.

  • Do you see always look for how things can be done better/faster?
  • Are you could at getting things done, making change happen?
  • Do you love learning new things while at work?
  • Are you always looking for new challenges at work?

If you answered “yes” to these then you are probably the sort of person who could nurture and grow their intrapreneurial skills.

Most organizations don’t need any more ideas, they already have too many and simply don’t have the time to invest in all of them.

What most organizations need is people that pinpoint ideas that are worth investment and then make them happen.

But before we go too far, let’s pause and just consider why companies need intrapreneurs.

Why Intrapreneurship is so important?

what is an intrapreneur

Over the years, competition has become more fierce. Every market now is up for grabs and often competitors are disruptive startups. Take Uber which started off as a ride-sharing company but has now moved into logistics. As a result, many organizations have to adapt to environmental changes.

Change now is faster than ever. The global economy is being transformed by digital business models that are rapidly evolving as new technologies change markets e.g. unbundling value chains.

Research shows that organizations that embrace intrapreneurship are more competitive. Because of this entrepreneurial employees have been sought after by many leading global corporates.

What Is An Intrapreneur?

intrapreneur vs entrepreneur

An intrapreneur is a person within an organization that generates ideas, secures resources, and backing from key stakeholders to create new products, services, or new ventures.

What is an Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs bring new ideas to a market. An entrepreneur is an individual who has an idea, creates a product or service, launches it, and then manages the business and works to grow it. 

An intrapreneur is employed by an organization and has the support of stakeholders to create new products, services, or business units.

They have to work within the boundaries, rules, and interests of the organization. This means that some ideas might not fit with the overall strategy and direction of the organization.

Four Definitions of an Intrapreneur

intrapreneurship and intrapreneurs

1. Dictionary Definition

An employee of a large corporation who is given freedom and financial support to create new products, services, systems, etc., and does not have to follow the corporation’s usual routines or protocols.

Dictionary

2. Pinchot’s’ Definition

Intrapreneurs are the yeast that makes the bread rise. If you want more innovation the only way to get it done is to identify, develop, trust and empower your intrapreneurs. An organization must know how to select, manage and create the environment for intrapreneurs for them to thrive.

Gifford Pinchot

3. Dictionary Definition

Intrapreneurship is about bottom-up, proactive work-related initiatives of individual employees. More specifically, intrapreneurship at the individual level involves networking behavior, out of the box thinking, initiative, taking charge, championing, and some degree of risk-taking. Therefore, intrapreneurs are the driving forces behind product development or improvement and/or market penetration.

Source: The Influence of Transformational Leadership and Organization Identification on Intrapreneurship

4. Academic Definition

An intrapreneur is an employee who recognizes opportunities and develops innovations from within an existing hierarchy.

Source: The intrapreneur and innovation in creative firms

Intrapreneur vs Entrepreneur

intrapreneur vs entrepreneur
Intrapreneurs vs Entrepreneurs

The primary difference between an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur is that an intrapreneur doesn’t have the level of risk that an entrepreneur has. In fact, research has shown repeatedly that risk aversion is the primary difference between Intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs. [mfn]Martiarena (2013): What’s so entrepreneurial about intrapreneurs?[/mfn]

Being innovative and entrepreneurial within an organization though isn’t always easy. Most organizations are risk-averse and prefer to improve things rather than change them completely.

Being able to pitch your ideas, gain traction with senior managers and backing from others requires you to be tenacious, persuasive, and generally good at networking.

That’s why being an intrapreneur before you take the leap to run your business can be the ideal way to chart your future. You can gain lots of vital skills and experience which are all relevant when you finally step out on your own.

Additionally, you will have credibility with potential backers, banks, and potential co-founders.

Intrapreneurship From the Top Down

innovative intrapreneur

Intrapreneurship doesn’t thrive in every business. You have to nurture the right culture, leadership skills and behaviors.

Intrapreneurship needs to be led from the top and recognition given to the fact that is driven by individuals who want to be intrapreneurial. Leaders can’t simply nominate an individual to be entrepreneurial, it has to align with their beliefs, values, and behaviors.

If you want to create a thriving intrapreneurial culture and team you need to have the following in place:

Empowerment

Empowerment [Mfn]Menzel HC, Aaltio I, Ulijn JM (2007) On The Way To Creativity: Engineers As Intrapreneurs In Organizations.[/Mfn] have the mechanisms that allow people to be accountable but have the freedom to make decisions. Innovation requires teams to explore ideas, develop prototypes (that might not work), and take risks

Authentic leadership

Authentic Leadership works on the principle that a leader can prove their legitimacy by nurturing sincere relationships with their subordinates and giving importance to their input. Authentic leaders don’t waste precious time unnecessarily worrying over temporary setbacks, or less than stellar results in the previous quarter. Their focus is always long-term.  Authentic leaders are honest, trustworthy, and lead through brokering resources and knowledge with other leaders across the organization.

Organizational support

Support [mfn]Urbano D, Turro A (2013) Conditioning factors for corporate entrepreneurship: an in(ex)ternal approach.[/mfn]goes beyond encouragement and manifests itself in practical ways. Organizations that provide access to resources prevent initiatives from stalling. It’s vital that leadership understands that teams test, learn and adapt through failure.

Management support

Innovation at any stage is about solving problems and overcoming challenges. Management support [mfn] Feyzbakhsh AS, Sadeghi R, Shoraka S (2008) A case study of intrapreneurship obstacles: the RAJA passenger train company.[/mfn]comes in many forms but coaching and mentoring are critical in helping an intrapreneurial team optimize their performance. Working in an intrapreneurial team is fast-paced and necessitates responsive coaching and mentoring programs.

Resources

Not enough resources and the new venture will not succeed [mfn]Rigtering JPC, Weitzel U (2013) Work context and employee behavior as antecedents for intrapreneurship Int Entrep Manag J 9:337–360.[/mfn]. A surprising result is though that too many resources can stifle creativity and the ingenuity of the intrapreneurial team.

Middle management

In organizations, intrapreneurs need backing and buy-in from many different areas. Supportive middle management reduces barriers and resistance from other managers who might see a new venture or initiative as a threat to their work in the future [mfn]Belousova O, Gailly B (2013) Corporate entrepreneurship in a dispersed setting: actors, behaviors, and process.[/mfn].

The Top characteristics of Successful intrapreneurs

intrapreneur characteristics

There has been lots of research into intrapreneurship that’s uncovered some interesting traits. If you want to thrive as an intrapreneur you can actively learn to foster these skills and behaviors.

1: Creativity

creativity of an intrapreneur

Being creative and generating ideas can be fun. First of all, commercial creativity requires boundaries, it means creativity has a goal, direction, and desired outcome. Secondly, organizations need people who can apply creativity. In other words, creative thinking that helps to resolve problems.

Outstanding intrapreneurs are creative and understand how to rapidly sift through ideas and identify those with high commercial potential.

2: Curious

Why? Who? How? There are lots of questions that need answering as you go from idea to implementation. Being curious about how things work, the customer, the market and just generally having a thirst for learning are essential ingredients for success.

3: Tenacious

Roadblocks and setbacks are frequent during the early stages of a startup. That’s why tenacity is needed. Tenacious people remain focused, work through problems, and persevere through any setbacks. New ventures require teams to be tough and adaptive.

4: Proactive

Like entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship in a corporate setting demands people to make things happen, drive the plan, and actively seek support or resources ahead of time. Thinking ahead avoids bottlenecks and problems.

5: Healthy

intrapreneurial traits

Although people are often romantically attracted to the idea of being involved in a startup, the reality is that it is not for the faint-hearted. Long hours, sprints, stress, and overcoming failure are part of the day job.

Stressed out people are unproductive and are at risk of developing mental health issues. Being physically and mentally fit and having a well-balanced health regime provides an outlet for any stress points.

6: Influencing Skills

Corporates are designed to exploit opportunities by being excellent at executing and improving. Improving processes, systems, and products are knows as incremental innovation. New ventures, products, and services though require a different approach and mindset.

Innovators need to explore opportunities and then influence and gain buy-in from a range of stakeholders. Being able to influence not only people internally but also potential partners (often new to the organization) are crucial particularly during the early stages.

7: Brokering

Research [mfn]Bjornali and Støren (2012): Examining competence factors that encourage innovative behaviour by European higher education graduate professionals[/mfn] hs shown that employees with brokering competencies are able to combine knowledge with organizational knowledge, social capital and networking skills.

As a result, they are able to create momentum for new ventures by enlisting support and resources across the organization.

8: Self-belief

Those with new ideas and ways of working will come across their fair share of naysayers and pessimists. Intrapreneurial people believe in their own vision and capabilities to achieve their goals.

9: Altruistic

Research shows that the best entrepreneurial teams have people with emotional intelligence and that are altruistic in nature. Each person balances their own goals and motivations with those of others. This caring and sharing approach achieves higher levels of trust and reduces conflict.

10: Socratic

Socratic thinking calls for a lack of arrogance about what people know and to shift to what they don’t know. If someone has too many filters and believes about how things work they will not be open to the new or novel.

Recognizing that they will not have all the answers is part of the process of dealing with an evolving set of problems and opportunities.

11: Resilient

Resilience is about being tough. Resilience is the ability to keep going after another failure, refusal, or setback. Resilience maintains momentum, even when you can’t the finish line. isn’t yet in sight.

12: Networked

Corporate innovators have to network inside and outside the organization. In turn, helps this builds a network of partners and collaborators. It’s not just about money and resources though. Having a broad network offers access to valuable knowledge that can unlock a problem or link to someone who can help.

13: Ambiguity

ambiguity

The nature of more disruptive or radical innovation is that there is no right single answer or exact map. Much of the entrepreneurial process involves testing, iterative cycling through prototypes etc. The road is uncharted and there is no plan that survives the first few encounters with customers (Steve Blank). People that like routines, regularity will find dealing with an uncertain and ambiguous will find it uncomfortable working in this type of environment.

14: Productive

A common trait between successful intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs is that they don’t waste time. A sense of urgency is needed and of course, productivity to achieve the results. Productive people use the right tools, avoid distractions, and continually assess and prioritize what’s important.

How to identify intrapreneurs within your organization

identify intrapreneur

Intrapreneurs are not necessarily idea-generators but have the capacity to turn ideas into significant results to stimulate innovation and foster growth in organizations. 

Besides the characteristics above there are other ways to identify potential intrapreneurs. You can start within your organization by identifying these four qualities:

  1. Project work – employees that initiate new projects are often seeking new challenges and demonstrate many of the skills necessary for being an intrapreneur. Look for people who have a pedigree in starting and delivering projects. Project management itself isn’t the primary driver here, it is the enthusiasm, passion and drive to start something and see it through to completion.
  2. Lifelong Learners – in my work I find budding intrapreneurs also have a lust for learning and taking on board new ideas, skills and want to broaden their horizons. Look for people that are pushing themselves further though either internal training or external courses.
  3. Curious Questioners – do you come across people that ask good questions – sharp focused and interesting questions about the organization, customers, or how something works. Formulating good questions is an art but also demonstrates a high level of curiosity and analysis.
  4. Working Style – often you will find people that adjust the tools they use and god against what every else does. They look to set up a workflow and process that is tailored to them. Similarly, these same people might actually propose to change things, offer up new ways of working, and challenge the status quo.

Find Out More

If you need help in igniting your intrapreneurship in your organization then get in touch.

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