HR and business leaders need to de-risk the process for potential intrapreneurs: Dorie Clark

HR and business leaders need to de-risk the process for potential intrapreneurs: Dorie Clark

There is no job security anymore. This probably isn't news to you — 2020 seemed tailor-made to remind us that nothing is predictable. But the question remains: how can you prepare in 2021 to make your career future-proof no matter what gets thrown at you? Tough times like the pandemic can create the impression that, as professionals, we're in the grips of forces beyond our control. Dorie Clark, a leading authority on self-reinvention and bestselling author who teaches at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business and Columbia Business School, doesn't entirely buy this.


In an interaction with Human Capital, she discusses what individuals can do to build career resiliency. She also shares actionable tips to develop an intrapreneurial mindset and lays out the steps for creating a personal brand as an asset that pays dividends over one's entire career.

You have written and spoken extensively about how people — even those who have full-time, steady jobs — should leverage their expertise and skills to develop multiple income streams. Why is building diverse sources of income essential for professionals in any field?


Professionals need to build multiple income streams because having one full-time job that's safe and secure is an illusion. In most cases, having a job is secure until it isn't.


I learned this lesson very early on when I was a journalist and suddenly got laid off from my job. I didn't have a Plan B or a lot of savings. Moreover, I lost my job right before September 11th, 2001. Looking for work amid such massive economic and sociopolitical uncertainty was terrifying. This was when I realised that the more legs we can have on our table, the more secure we will be. Having multiple streams of income is a way of limiting risk. It's a way of capturing the additional upside, and it enables you to sleep better at night.


Corporations are going to do what is necessary to sustain themselves. Given changes in industry trends and unpredictable situations like the ongoing pandemic, there will be layoffs. We need to make sure, as much as we can, that we are insulated against such uncertainty. Creating side gigs and diverse sources of income is one of the ways we can protect ourselves from disruptions.


In building a portfolio career, how does one determine what one's side gigs could be?


When determining what your side gig could be, you want to go for the low-hanging fruit. The best method is to look at the things that people around you already come to you for. Other people can oftentimes recognise your areas of expertise more easily than you can. Many of us think that something is easy and everyone can do it. But the truth is that it may be easy for you but not for other people.


Think about what it is that people are always trying to tap you for. Maybe you are a great photographer, so you're always the friend that people ask to take snapshots. Maybe you have a great fashion sense, and people ask you for your suggestion about putting their wardrobes together. Perhaps you have an interest in technology, and people want your advice about the products they should buy or how to set them up or install them. These are all things that you can leverage. This doesn't mean that you're going to start charging your friends for these services. However, if you are strategic about it, you can start doing things for free, asking for testimonials and referrals, and start charging your friend's friends for these services over time. That's how a business begins.


One of the things some readers might be thinking about right now is, 'How do I fit a side hustle into an already-busy schedule?' What would your advice be for them?


When you start a side gig, it will take up additional time on your nights and weekends. There's no way around it. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. But that is what separates the people who are successful from the people who lie around and say, 'Oh, it'd be great to do something' or 'I wish I could do something.'


We all have the same 168 hours in a week. If you are smart and strategic, you can use those hours more effectively. This doesn't mean that you suddenly need to invent 20 hours a week out of whole cloth. That's not possible.


If you can find time to build and develop things slowly, you will make demonstrable progress. And it builds up. It's like the compound interest that you would gain in any investment.


Spend an hour or two per week to experiment, like taking on a free client to get a recommendation or a testimonial, writing a blog post so that you have content to put on your website, sharing your ideas publicly so that other people notice you, or putting together a presentation that you can send to prospective clients who are inquiring about the work that you do.


Over time, you can get much further than you might imagine. There's a saying that most people overestimate what they can do in a day and underestimate what they can do in a year. I really believe that's true.


Global recruitment specialist Michael Page named 'intrapreneurship' as the most in-demand skill for 2020 as an increasing number of companies are looking for talent with entrepreneurial traits. How can individuals cultivate and hone the mindset of an intrapreneur?


Being an entrepreneurial thinker within a corporation is an incredibly valuable skill. Essentially, it's about having an ownership mentality. An intrapreneur has agency and is not just sitting back like a robot waiting to be told what to do.


I give speeches and deliver webinars all around the world for a variety of corporations. I can't tell you how many people come to me regarding this specific issue. Leaders often ask me how they can get their employees to take more responsibility and be more proactive.


If you are looking to cultivate your intrapreneurial skill as an employee, the most important thing is to recognise that you have the ability to do so. You shouldn't wait for permission. Of course, that doesn't mean that you should go wild or do things that you know your company would look at askance. It means thinking creatively.


When you see a problem, rather than just saying to your manager, 'Oh, there's a problem; what should I do?' come up with potential solutions. Even better, to the extent that it's possible, test out some solutions. See what you can gin up. Is there a low-cost experiment that you could try? Is there some way that you could begin to validate something?


The key to developing an intrapreneurial mindset is not to rely on the comforts of the corporate apparatus.


Corporations often have enough money and manpower to go around. If you are a scrappy entrepreneur, you don't have these. You have to rely on your wits and some duct tape to get things done. If you bring this kind of mentality to a corporation, it's extraordinarily powerful.


If you had no resources whatsoever, were constrained by budget, manpower, and time, how could you effectively solve a problem? Thinking within this frame of mind can often lead you to robust solutions.


While companies like Google, Intel, and 3M are well-known for their intrapreneurial success, it's still difficult to drive intrapreneurship within many organisations. How can HR and business leaders contribute to developing and sustaining entrepreneurial attitudes in employees?


One of the keys for corporations to encourage intrapreneurial thinking within their employees is to understand why they are not behaving entrepreneurially.


By and large, it comes down to one major reason, which is that people are afraid to take risks because they are scared they will fail. They believe that failure will lead to punishment or, perhaps, the loss of their job. If that's what people think, you can understand why they wouldn't want to be intrapreneurial. Who wants to take a risk that will lead to them getting fired?


HR and business leaders need to de-risk the process for potential intrapreneurs.


First, publicly call out the fact that intrapreneurial behaviour is encouraged. Second, celebrate employees who do behave in such a manner. When you see success, hold it up, shine a light on it, and say, "This is what we're looking for." When you are praising certain behaviours, you will generally get more of those kinds of behaviours.


Perhaps even more critically, corporations need to hold up and celebrate the people who have failed in their intrapreneurial endeavours within the company. That's the part that people are most afraid of: what happens to all the people who tried something but didn't work out? Did they get broomed out? Leaders need to hold up that person and let it be known that you are praising their effort.


It doesn't matter if the project failed because the whole point of intrapreneurial thinking is not about spending millions or billions to accomplish something. It is about trying to test something quickly on a tight budget and validate it. If it doesn't work, it's not the end of the world, because you didn't spend a lot of time or money. In fact, you have a victory since you have more data and information, which will enable you to make better and smarter choices later .


In your book, Reinventing You, you describe a three-step process to personal branding. Why is a personal brand important, and how could each step you've laid out help people get started on this front?


Your personal brand is a synonym for your reputation. It matters enormously because most people in the world are not those you have worked with personally and directly. The vast majority hear about you through second-hand information. Thus, you want them to hear good things. You want to have a great reputation so that if someone becomes aware of you, the information about you makes them want to work with you or hire you.


I suggest a three-step approach to personal branding:


♦ The first step is to get a sense of how you're currently perceived in the marketplace. One simple and fun way to do this is what I call the 'three-word exercise'. Reach out to friends and colleagues who know you reasonably well, and ask them, ‘If you could use only three words to describe me, what would they be?’ By the time you get to the fifth or sixth person, you will see patterns in what people tell you.


It's helpful because most of us have a limited idea of what it is about ourselves that people find the most distinctive and unique. When you begin to get insight into that, it enables you to figure out your strengths and what you can lean into to drive your competitive advantage.


♦ The next step is to understand what you would like your brand to be and imagine the future you want. That involves doing some creative visioning, identifying where you want to go, and looking at what you need to close any gaps. It could be additional training, taking classes, working on beefing up some of your soft skills, expanding your network in a different industry, or cultivating contacts outside of your company if you have been at your organisation for a long time.


♦ The final step is what I call living out your brand. Many people think about developing a personal brand as a one-time activity, but that's not right. You are constantly recreating your brand with each interaction you have with people. So you need to be very conscious about how you are presenting yourself. That doesn't mean being fake or stilted. It means understanding the messages that you are sending on a day-to-day basis.


Who comprises your circle that you hang out with? Who are the people you surround yourself with? What kind of leadership roles have you taken on? What are the things you talk about? How do you treat other people? All of these questions matter as they shape your personal brand and how others perceive you.


Over the past year, several million people across the globe lost their jobs. What advice do you have for those coping with a layoff?


As I mentioned earlier, I was laid off during the chaos following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US. So I can empathise with people who have lost their jobs. One advantage, if we can call it that, of losing your job in a pandemic is that it is less stigmatised. People will not immediately assume that you got laid off because you must be terrible at your job. There's a lot more understanding in the marketplace because we're in a pandemic, and the economy is terrible.


You could be an amazing employee and performer, but there simply aren't jobs to be had in some industries during an international crisis. This situation makes it easier for you to break into other sectors because many smart employers see it as their lucky break to get high-quality talent that otherwise would have been swept up by other companies and industries.


Here are some key points to consider when searching for a job:


♦ Sometimes, when people are laid off, they get panicky and become profligate in their job applications. They start treating their resume like an assembly line, sending it off to hundreds of places. This a mistake because the point isn't to play a numbers game but to be deliberate. If you are in an industry that has collapsed during COVID-19, and you need to shift to a new industry, you are at a bit of a disadvantage because your experience has been in another realm. You've got to be thoughtful about making a case for how your skills translate. Write deliberate cover letters, explaining the skill translation, and what you can bring to your new job. 


♦ The best way to break into a new job, particularly in a new industry, is to have a warm lead that will vouch for you. Taking the time to use social media sites, such as LinkedIn or even Facebook, to see who you know, who works at a particular company or knows a certain hiring manager is important. You will be far more likely to get an interview or possibly even land a job if you have someone that they already trust vouching for you and saying, ‘Well, she might not have experience in this particular industry, but she's smart. She'll be able to pick up whatever she doesn't know very quickly.’

With 6+ years of experience, Ankita has performed diverse roles across the entire spectrum of corporate HR — from hire to retire. She is currently Deputy Editor at Human Capital.


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