What information do managers of organizations use to identify and recognize certain employees as intrapreneurs? How do these intrapreneurs succeed in gaining support for their early stage ideas? Intrapreneurs, individuals whom managers consider as entrepreneurs within their organization's context, form the focus of my research. This dissertation presents two studies. In study one, I investigate how senior managers identify and recognize intrapreneurs within their organizations. In study two, I examine how these intrapreneurs succeed in gaining adoption for their nascent ideas.
To answer the above research questions, I studied managers and intrapreneurs in Silicon Valley's high technology industry from the information technology and computing sector. I was successful in gaining access to 14 firms ranging in age from 12 to 114 years, with annual revenues for 2008 ranging from approximately $5 to $105 billion. The number of employees in these firms ranged from 10,000 and 150,000. My sources of data include interviews with senior managers and intrapreneurs, archival documents and observations.
Results of study one indicate that when confronted with an innovation, managers tend to typically perceive them as disruptive, or interruptive. This is because innovations require diversion of resources from ongoing projects (Kanter, 1988). Managers therefore attempt to understand if the innovation is of value to the organization. At the same time they also assess if the individual introducing the innovation is following a process that is appropriate within their organization's context. Managers make these assessments based on their organization's understandings of what is a high value innovation and how it should be executed. Because organizations differ in their understandings, those who are considered as intrapreneurs also vary between organizations. For example, some organizations focus on commercializing new technologies. Others emphasize reducing costs. Managers in former organizations are likely to label those who commercialize new ventures as intrapreneurs. Those who come up with effective ideas for reducing costs are not likely to be seen as such. In contrast in organizations whose focus is on cost reduction, those who propose ideas for reducing costs are likely to be considered as intrapreneurs. Thus managers use their organization's understandings to evaluate a proposed innovation. Based on these assessments, they develop prototypes of intrapreneurs. These prototypes are then used to label individuals as intrapreneurs, innovators or project champions.
In study two, I elaborate upon how individuals identified as intrapreneurs are successful in gaining formal adoption for their early stage innovations. Intrapreneurs succeed in gaining adoption for their nascent innovations when they take their organization's understandings into account. Intrapreneurs recognize the importance of showing that their innovation is optimally distinct from their organization's shared perceptions. First, they assess whether or not their innovation readily fits their organization's current strategy, structure, and available resources. After making these assessments they show to their organization's decision makers that their innovation is a fit with their organization's strategy, structure, and resources. They use narratives, symbols, and timing based strategies. The focus of these strategies is to preserve and incrementally reframe their organization's shared perceptions, such that the decision makers perceive a fit.
Based on these two studies I develop a theoretical model that shows how individuals usher innovations into organizations. Successful intrapreneurs introduce innovations by preserving and reframing existing organizational understandings. This in turn changes how managers of organizations conceptualize who subsequent intrapreneurs are. I also suggest directions for future research in the areas of labeling, structuration and organizational change, innovation, corporate entrepreneurship, and intrapreneurial careers.