Become An Intrapreneur
Job security has become a luxury that your employer can no longer afford to grant you. Redefine the value that you deliver to your employer and build job security by becoming an intrapreneur – a more motivated, strategic, and growth-oriented contributor within your team.
Demographic surveys confirm again and again that a significant number of workers over 50 never return to the workforce after a layoff. When coupled with the finding that over 50% of workers over 50 will lose their jobs involuntarily, job security becomes a top priority.
Becoming an intrapreneur can be a win-win that extends your tenure at your current company, and sets you up for continued success in your second-act career.
Much of my work is coaching professionals over 50 recovering from a job loss or making a transition to a second-act career. But becoming an intrapreneur is another way to navigate through your later-stage career.
What if you could keep your job fresh, engaging, and meaningful? What if you could inspire the people you work with and work for to see you in a new light? Wouldn’t it be great if you could take all of the work you’ve done in your job, and evolve it into a new set of responsibilities, or a new focus, or a new role that is a better fit for who you are now?
Be the Visionary
An intrapreneur is like an entrepreneur working inside an existing business, and applying the same kinds of business-building and growth mindsets to that business.
Becoming an intrapreneur – or more “intrapreneurial” – can redefine you in your employer’s eyes, and open up new opportunities for success and longevity in your job. But it requires that you become more of a leader, take more risks, and think more deeply about the challenges confronting your team and your overall business.
This may sound intimidating if you’re not used to thinking of yourself in these terms. But the good news is that you’re ready. Your decades of experience, along with the lessons you’ve learned, and the contacts you’ve made more than qualify you for this new role. In fact, it’s almost expected of you.
As we get older, people are looking for us to have it all figured out by now. So embrace the wisdom of age and use it to make a greater impact on your work, and on the people who work with you.
Yes, it’s a new way of looking at job security, and on how to build it. To make this work, you’re going to have to go outside of the conventional career playbook that you have worked with in the past.
You are going to have to redraft that playbook and figure out new ways to use your unique talents, experiences, and lessons to improve and/or grow the business you’re in.
This will take more critical thinking and strategizing about who you are, what you do best, and the value you provide – and can provide – through your work.
The De-evolution of Job Security
Taking this kind of pro-active stance is necessary because of the way that all of our jobs have changed over the last 20-30 years. It’s not news to any of us that the corporate compact that characterized post-WWII business culture is and has been over for a while.
There used to be shared loyalty between employer and employee, and a greater sense of continuity and job security in our careers.
Globalization, digital disruption, wage stagnation, and other factors have contributed to the much more volatile and fast-changing work culture we are witnessing today. Job security is no longer part of the equation as companies struggle to keep up with the pace of technology, and pivot to the skill sets they need to compete.
The Devaluation of Job Security
Interestingly, younger generations don’t have the same hangups as older generations about the value (and the loss) of job security. On the one hand, perhaps cynically, they saw what happened to their parents as corporate loyalty and defined benefits pensions went away.
So they grew up assuming that they would have to fend for themselves. They realized that they would have to figure out their own set of values and procedures to cope with this new reality.
Simultaneously, technology offered increased support for efficiency and tools to deliver higher-quality work with less overhead. Tim Ferriss’ must-read 2008 book The 4-Hour Work Week codified the concept of the digital nomad.
The dream of climbing the corporate ladder and investing your career in a commitment to the company was over. Instead, the dream was to live well and live now, building your independence and your entrepreneurial value.
Ferriss recognized that the days of trading hours for dollars are over. In the new world of work, job security is only achievable by successfully challenging yourself to provide more value.
Navigating the Paradigm Shift
This flies in the face of the steady-state, industrial-era work culture we grew up with.
Yet it is a shift that we all have to make. The odds are not good that the job you have as you enter your 50s will be the same job you have as you enter your 60s. I believe that your ability to make this paradigm shift and to develop a clearer sense of your value proposition is the key to your job security.
The alternative is to become one of the people author and coach Richard Leider defines as the “working worried.” You still have your job, but you go into work every day expecting that today could be the day they let you go.
Refocusing on your current and future value, vs. your accumulated experience and hours worked, opens up a new agenda of steps you can take to bring your work and your working self into greater sync with your company and your team.
Making this shift will reset people’s expectations of you and appreciation of what you can do for them. It will create a stronger sense of exactly where you fit.
Instead of viewing you as someone at the end of an (outdated) cycle, they will see you as vital to the operation of the business, and a unique, trusted, resourceful member of the team.
You Are Not Your Job
It’s easy to confuse your personal identity with your professional identity.
This confusion is embedded in everyday language. When you meet someone at a cocktail party and they ask you “What do you do?” your answer is usually: “I’m a (take your pick) executive/sales rep/cook/teacher/engineer, etc.” But think about that statement. In fact, you are not your job. You work “as” that role or job title, but it is not who you are. You’re a lot more than that.
Decoupling from the way you’ve seen yourself in your job up until now is the first step in becoming an intrapreneur.
This can feel disruptive and uncomfortable for you.
The inertia that you have built up over time is going to tell you to just keep holding to your normal everyday course. The old voice in your head says that the steady state is the safest way to go.
Nor is your employer going to help you with this – at least not initially. They typically have a vested interest in preserving the status quo. We are all commodities to our employers. We are headcounts on a spreadsheet. It’s not personal. It’s just business.
So don’t expect them to recognize the ways in which you can contribute more or leverage your experience, wisdom, and insight and put it to good use. They may like you personally, but they don’t care about your job security or your job longevity.
Shift the Value Equation
You’re not going to become an intrapreneur overnight.
What you want to do first is to develop the internal mental and emotional conditions that will foster your own intrapreneurship and hopefully lead to the job security you seek.
A big part of this shift has to do with your own sense of resilience. The more resilient you become to external changes, the more you will be able to stay the course and advance and implement your intrapreneurial ideas.
Check out these best practices to begin making this shift:
- Come into the present
Don’t play the “woulda/coulda/shoulda” game about your career history. Stop beating yourself up for opportunities you missed or mistakes you made. An intrapreneur focuses forward. Similarly, don’t think that anyone really cares about your vast prior experience.
What they care about is when you actually show them how to solve a problem or get something done. You can definitely demonstrate your value, but you don’t necessarily have to crow about it.
- Expand your mind. Read, read, read
Immerse yourself in knowledge. Deepen your understanding of your business and the forces affecting it for good and for ill. Rekindle your love of learning, and find inspiration in discovering new information and new ideas.
Your discovery process in one direction may lead you to unexpected insights and new ideas in another. It will also give you lots to share and talk about with your colleagues.
This engagement lets them know that you are someone committed to life-long learning. Your openness is exactly what is going to draw people to you. They’re going to want to learn from you, hear about what you’re learning, and talk about how it can be applied.
- Write. Express yourself
Do this for yourself and for others. It seems like in every article I tout the value of the daily Intention Journal. It builds inner strength, helps you work through problems, and tracks your progress.
Write to others as well. Engage with people over email, or online in LinkedIn conversations. Practice your ability to concisely and clearly communicate your ideas. Communication is key to being an intrapreneur as most of what you’re doing is presenting compelling stories and visions of a future that might be hard for others to see. Honing your writing skills is key.
- Ask more questions
Show that you are more engaged than usual. Choose a set of new topics – some business-related, some general – that interest you. Find the people you work with who share these interests and pick their brains. Develop a new dialog around these topics. It doesn’t have to lead anywhere specific.
Mostly, it’s an opportunity for you to show a new side of yourself and to re-educate people who think they know you after so long. You are, in fact, not limited or confined to the particular role or responsibility you are known for.
If you’ve been chugging along in your current role and not making waves, now is the time to change that. Even if you think you have good relationships with your co-workers or your manager, think about new ways of interacting with them.
Having great ideas is meaningless if you can’t create buy-in. If you are going to be seeking more responsibilities, you have to establish trust and accountability.
Before you even have ideas, get closer to the people around you who will be most affected by them. Get used to opening up a little bit more than you have in the past. Learn more about your colleagues. Why do they do what they do? What ideas do they have? How can you support them in doing better work? What life lessons can you pass on to them?
This will help you better understand your environment, the personalities of the people you work with, and what is possible (or not possible).
- Mentor and get mentored
Do this both ways. Demonstrate your empathy and concern by doing more to support your colleagues, especially your younger colleagues.
Mentoring is not about showing them how to do something. It’s about listening closely, asking the right questions, and offering different observations, suggestions, and possibilities. Success is when they make their own decision and find their own way to the solution.
Similarly, seek help for areas where you want support and guidance in being more of an intrapreneur. You may find this from peers and younger reports as well as from more senior colleagues. It will depend on you and what you want to achieve.
Mentoring in either role promotes deeper relationships, understanding, and trust. This can become a powerful foundation for getting to do the work you want to do, and for making you an increasingly valuable and accepted part of the team.
- Keep iterating
Intrapreneurs are always trying new things and revising and refining them until they work or pass muster. If you are trying to innovate and bring new ideas into your company or onto your team, don’t stop when you get shot down the first time. Keep going.
Learn from what didn’t work. Ask more questions. Have more discussions. Keep trying to understand what doesn’t work and why. Fix it and try again.
Don’t wait for the perfect solution or the perfect proposal. Take a page from the agile methodology used in software development. Propose a “minimum viable” solution or a prototype solution. Spell it out just enough so that people understand. Make it eminently discardable.
This approach will be easier on you because you won’t be too invested in it. But if it works, it will allow plenty of room for your colleagues to add their ideas as well. The result will be a more solid approach with broader buy-in and a great chance of success.
- Network more
Network as a way to advance your current position, not to look for another job. Revise your LinkedIn profile so that it supports and promotes your intrapreneurial role and seeks to connect with other professionals who could be valuable contacts for you.
As an intrapreneur, use your networking to seek out new opportunities and to meet experts in your field. Make introductions to your colleagues and network to bring new resources, guidance, and thought leadership into the mix.
Get our of your head and into your heart. Commit some regular time to support a cause or an organization that holds meaning for you. This may seem like a random way of becoming an intrapreneur. But it will refine your sense of compassion, improve your ability to listen to others, and give you some perspective on life.
It can also be an unexpected way to open up new networking possibilities, and to apply your budding intrapreneurial skills to help the organization you’re working with.
Reinventing your position can become a heady experience. You may find yourself going from skeptic to enthusiast in a relatively short amount of time. You may quickly realize that after all those years just doing your job, you have some compelling ideas about where your company could go in the future.
Great! But don’t pull a “Jerry McGuire.” Don’t all of a sudden share your big epiphany about your vision for the company in a widely-distributed email. Be smart. Be political. Other people can be leery or threatened by change.
As discussed above, take your time and build this process and your profile organically and cooperatively with your colleagues.
Take it slow. Relax. Don’t feel like you have to be in the spotlight. Better yet, let others promote you. Figure out how to make something “their” idea not your idea.
Worst Case, Best Case
Despite all your efforts, the idea of becoming an intrapreneur may not work out. After all this preparation and goodwill, the ideas and projects you promote as an intrapreneur could be met with blank stares.
They may persist in seeing you as the employee you used to be, and not as the value-driver you have become. What if the job security you were hoping for turns into you actually losing your job?
Don’t worry! Taking this step makes you better-prepared to bring your ideas and value proposition to another employer who can better appreciate and value your work. Trust that the same confidence you have developed in this process, and the message that you have created around your value will connect with the kind of employer or client that you are actually better suited for.
The networking that you have done to support your intrapreneurial vision can now be used to find a new organization that is more open to you and your ideas.
Your upgrade to intrapreneur can be a significant sea change in your life, and become a turning point in your career. Your transformation will not go to waste.