Intrapreneurship: The secret sauce of exponential growth

Intrapreneurship: The secret sauce of exponential growth

Intrapreneurs, network catalyzers, promoters of the independent republic of your company, bootstrappers or simply innovators + executors [1] are some of the names given to those human beings within your organization who have internalized the need to transform your company.

[Read the original post in Spanish: “Intraemprendimiento o el ingrediente secreto para la exponencialidad.”]

The hidden keys to success in the generation of intra-entrepreneurship models

They live with urgency the need to change and have perceived that speed and agility in execution are essential for the survival of your company. Perhaps you never gave them permission to assume the role of change agents and they have already done so voluntarily. Show your gratitude, detect this new tribe and make virtue of chaos.

They have the vision, energy, passion and courage to transform your company for free without incurring large strategic consulting bills. In fact, observe how the plethora of strategic consultants that inhabit the corners of meeting rooms in your organization, they have been the first to detect these intrapreneurs and want to be close to them. They usually generate mimicry. Intrapreneurs are a source of inspiration and if you are not careful, consultants will be selling sell you inner successes of those you already have inside.

Perhaps you can model what the focus of intrapreneurs generation of in your organization is and it will usually arise in areas related to technology, marketing, communication, innovation, and, intensive data management areas.

It is not by chance that in those areas of your business lies the germ of the transformation of your company. Celebrate if they have also appeared in Operations, Human Resources or Sales. It is a symptom of early maturity in the process of transforming your company.

Now, next step is for this new breed of intrapreneurs to have a “contagion effect” to the remaining parts of your organization, and for their collaborative work to become an informal factory and a source of steady growth.

You already know how to manage results and detect budgetary deviations—those benefits are given by your traditional hierarchical structure—now tap into this flow and let them be the germ of the innovation function and the guarantors of the strategic evolution of your company.

It shudders to leave strategy in the hands of status quo challengers, and, perhaps the required quality of adaptation regarding strategy, reduction of cycles and speed of change, make you realize that you already have the talent to keep on transforming your company. Remember that transformation is an attitude, it is a path and not an objective.

Maybe the most complex challenge is to let them do and trust their outcomes and deliverables while celebrating small cumulative successes, maintaining at the same time your traditional hierarchical structure in a degree of collaboration with a new management model almost completely antagonistic.

John P. Kotter in Accelerate [2] recommends a dual operating system based on the coexistence of a network of intrapreneurs who hold positions on both sides of the organization: traditional management-driven hierarchy and network-like structure to push innovation and speed. It is a brilliant solution and there may be profiles that cannot coexist on both sides of the organization.

What is clear for me is that the key lies in perpetuating the spirit of constant change while optimizing speed in detecting threats to your current business model, together with optimizing strategy execution. Just as strategic planning has never been an exact guessing exercise, the new way of generating innovation and continuous execution also requires certain degree of trust.

Human beings are capable of generating extraordinary results when they work on projects that combine their passion with their vision. What if that vision of your company joined the individual passion of a group of leaders, who already exist in your organization, and who hold high execution capabilities?

Are we looking for the organizational formula to turn lead into gold? Is it possible that this new breed of intrapreneurs were the new generation of alchemists in this emerging exponential economy?

the key lies in perpetuating the spirit of constant change while optimizing speed in detecting threats to your current business model, together with optimizing strategy execution

Harvesting intrapreneurship

Let me share with you some recommendations to grow intrapreneurship within your organization. These no more than my observations after years of personal experience, curiosity and lessons learned in the field:

  1. Let this intrapreneurship network to feel comfortable with sharing their successes outside of your organization and also give them internal visibility. And that may be the right order—ouside in. If they start only inside they will not generate the same degree of attractiveness among thier peers.
  2. Acknowledge these intrapreneurs inside and outside your organization, and, please send a clear message that their success was only possible thanks to the maintenance of dual operating system—intrapreneurs and management-driven hierarchy.
  3. Let these intrapreneurs to feel free to continue challenging status quo. Once they settle down, they will lose their value as change catalysts. Do not let their lack of humility damage traditional managers’ pride. You will take the risk of creating two castes within your company. And believe me, it happens more often than you imagine.
  4. Neither let intrapreneurs to become status quo nor let them perceive unfairness regarding compensation or acknowledgement with respect to a traditional hierarchical structure in your company. Both favour the growth of your business and results stability.
  5. Never turn an intrapreneur into an advocate of efficiency, nor focus them on building conscientious business cases. Possibly, no business case has come true in the history of the company just as no Gantter or any project planning has met its deadlines and budgets.
  6. Fosters an army of intrapreneurs followers, someday your intrapreneurs will leave, and their followers will continue the work.
  7. Intrapreneurship is an energy and it emerges from people, do not let this energy be translated into individualities and promote intrapreneurship culture as a means to build a swarm of future catalyzers. This means starting to think about designing a talent pool to manage the change.
  8. Facilitate and connect intrapreneurs to break silos in a radical mode. Silos are born to protect execution in low changing environments. When need of speed and uncertainty emerges, it requires a completely different approach. Keep intraprenerurs unaware of your intentions. Intrapreneurs lose traction when disrupting the status quo becomes an institutionalized practice.
  9. Punish anyone who wants to punish intrapreneurs crossed vision. Reward those who wish to join the network of intrapreneurs and also reward those who wish to remain in the traditional hierarchical structure. You have to acknowledge and congratulate both parts of your organization. Success lies in making these dual hybrid systems working.
  10. Intrapreneurs are a strange mix of dominant and creative profiles. Do not let them surround themselves with look-alikes because they have a natural to look for equals (as all human beings). Help them finding executors and facilitators. In their eagerness to create and break ground rules, they will need support of these profiles to mold their creative flow. If you know how to improve this routine, you will no longer need an innovation department or a strategy department. Entrepreneurs will create and implement their strategy with an incredible degree of adaptation.
  11. Intrapreneurs are natural leaders with a tendency to always keep on breaking the status quo. When their ability to break the status quo is being diminished, they will be no longer attached to the project. Consequently, they will leave the company. Do not let their departure to become a bad memory. Their ability to influence others even when they are out, is still a source of value creation (reputation) for your organization.
  12. When an intrapreneurial system is deployed and interactions with traditional hierarchical structure work well, any talent drain is quickly replaced by the network. Maybe you will have the opportunity to discover new talent pools among managers in your traditional structure longing to occupy the role of former intrapreneurs. It is time to start the task of role modeling.
  13. Intrapreneurs need status and this is paid in a complete different way compared to traditional hierarchical structures (titles and positions versus exciting projects). They need to be taking part of exiting strategic projects with the potential to bring value to your organization. Continuous challenges.
  14. Do not make the mistake of naming intrapreneur’s titles. Although they might demand a position or a title for their box, be careful not to promote their ego. This has a potential degree of conflict with your traditional structure. Your risk is talent craving for positions and what you need is an intrapreneurs network.
  15. Do not kill intrapreneurs with the obligation to report every step, every decision, to assess individual performance and build business cases. Their agile and fast delivering structure will vanishes. Accepts that their ability to innovate and quickly execute compensates for their lack of control. That is the pay-off of your uncertainty.
  16. Let intrapreneurship culture to permeate your hierarchical structure. This new culture has emerged within your organization and it is the seed of your future renewed culture and values. Let that happen organically and you will see how on the basis of iterations, a new set of values will emerge. As for a KPI for change management? Small wins. The mere act of celebration has magnetism and will generate mimicry in your traditional structure. Over time, these small wins will speak your CFO lingo.
  17. Do not let everyone wish to join intrapreneurs network. Moreover, do not let emerge a confrontational caste of “cools” and “traditionals”. Your success lies in the coexistence of both systems. A new hybrid organizational model is key.

The mere act of celebration has magnetism and will generate mimicry in your traditional structure. Over time, these small wins will speak your CFO lingo.

Strategy & Innovation Consultation

If all the above resonates with the current organizational challenge, surely you have arrived organically to any of the following thoughts:

  • May the adoption of agile methodologies trigger collaborative environments that accelerate speed and implementation of strategic changes?
  • Is it possible that classical definition of processes, metrics and accurate business case calculations were a burden to propel dynamic change ecosystems?
  • May startup freshness regarding definition and redefinition of strategic objectives be the key to transforming large companies (always-on pivoting)?
  • What is the role of mindset change in this equation? Could we delve into the search for new technical capabilities and new skills to emerge a culture change?
  • What is the new governance model in a company that let traditional structures coexist with flexible innovation network to enhance adaptive execution?

Maybe all these questions above will take you to the starting point: An army of intrapreneurs is the key to manage new business models in a competitive environment where speed and uncertainty shape the new “normal”. This intrapreneur network must coexist and evolve with your current organizational structure in an initial stage.

Just as the emergence of deep learning in mid-2000 ended up giving reason to scientists who advocated self-managed models of artificial intelligence (neural networks) over rule-based models, we still need to wait for a Geoffrey Hinton’s figure regarding organizational models. 

How to detect this new breed of intrapreneurs?

It is somehow curious that the challenge to face at organizational level, keep a certain degree of parallelism with the historical debate in the field of artificial intelligence between supporters of rule-based algorithms and neural networks supporters.

Shall I organize execution teams from a rule-based approach (processes) or trust in entrepreneurs network endowed with autonomy and decision-making capabilities to transform my company? Perhaps the initial solution is a hybrid approach. And the future is closer to a network model of self-managed intrapreneurs.

Just as the emergence of deep learning in mid-2000 ended up giving reason to scientists who advocated self-managed models of artificial intelligence (neural networks) over rule-based models, we still need to wait for a Geoffrey Hinton‘s figure regarding organizational models.

However, there will always be space to govern execution in organizations based on processes (rule-based algorithms) and space to govern execution in organizations based on small self-managed squads (algorithms based on neural networks).

The secret lies in discovering the distinction to derive each execution on each side of the organization. And my intuition is that the secret lies in the complexity of the problem to be solved. The more ambiguous and uncertain the context, the more reliable the intrapreneurs become.

How to detect this new breed of intrapreneurs? They are people who smile when they read this type of anti-manifesto and they are able to tell you dozens of anecdotes lived personally from each of the following points.

“The anti-manifesto of culture against change” or a decalogue of the practices of the silo-cultured defenders:

  1. This is how things have always been done here.
  2. We already did that and it was a complete failure.
  3. We are not a democracy, here the issues are decided by status.
  4. If it is not an enhancement is an enchantment. Think with your head. This is not a dream factory.
  5. We do business here. We are serious people. What you propose only happens in the series that you see on HBO or Netflix.
  6. We do not pay you to think, we pay you to execute. You are not one of those of us responsible for the thinking.
  7. There is a long road ahead for you before making any kind of useful contribution to our organization.
  8. Doing things like this has always brought us good results.
  9. This is my budget and I prefer not to consume a dollar before giving part of it to another initiative outside my department.
  10. We do not collaborate with that other department.

If in the course of reading this anti-manifesto, you end up holding a smile and a lot of memories, it may have well served as an exercise of self-assessment. If, on the other hand, your emotion is closer to cynicism and rejection, it is possible that it may have also served as a great exercise of self-assessment.

“Emotions are the core of all doing”— Humberto Maturana


Gracias David Carro por la recomendación de lectura de Accelerate y gracias Salvador Aragón por la lectura sobre los modelos de CDO.



  1. MIT- Sloan Management Review: Four Profiles of Successful Digital Executives
  2. John Kotter, Accelerate, 2019, HBR Press

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