Do you try to learn new things at work?
Do you ask your boss to coach or mentor you?
Do you often take on more tasks than your role formally requires?
If you answered “yes” to these questions, you are probably already job crafting, which is defined as the ability to make your job more meaningful by aligning it with your interests and values. This notion is consistent with well-established scientific evidence on the benefits of matching people to a role that is a good fit with their abilities, personalities, and beliefs. With engagement and performance levels being generally higher when people are matched to a role that fits their natural predispositions or potential, it is clear that what we usually describe as “talent” is mostly personality in the right place. As Confucius allegedly said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” In line, a great deal of psychological research indicates that people are much more likely to enjoy their work, to the point of reaching a state of flow or loosing themselves — and any perception of time or effort — when they are asked to do something they actually enjoy.
Individual preferences aside, there appears to be one general element underpinning most effective approaches to job crafting, which is the ability to make your job (or work) more entrepreneurial. This goes way beyond starting your own business or launching a start-up: what I mean by the term is the overall tendency to harness innovation in your work, by finding better ways of doing things, and proactively nurturing progress in your organization. As it turns out, most organizations — especially large corporations — are awash in creative ideas that never get executed. Entrepreneurship is the process that turns those ideas into actual innovations, and when it occurs in large corporations we tend to refer to it as intrapreneurship or corporate innovation. In essence, this means acting like an innovative entrepreneur, but within the ecosystem of a larger, more traditional, organization. Research shows that being intrapreneurial tends to elevate both employee engagement and productivity scores, and that short redesigns — and even a simple reframing — of your role can make your work more intrapreneurial and meaningful. This is particularly true if you are generally more reward sensitive, meaning you are more motivated by chasing carrots than avoiding sticks. In fact, people who are cautious and risk-averse in their typical mindset may end up suffering if their role becomes more intrapreneurial.
So, what are the critical competencies and behaviors you can adopt to make your job more intrapreneurial?
The first is a focus on selling, as intrapreneurs excel at taking dormant ideas or standby projects and revitalizing them with their influence and sales skills. One of the chief obstacles for innovation in large corporations is the fact that many good ideas — including creative ideas that were poorly executed — suffer from a lack of timing, sponsorship, or salesmanship. Recognizing what these ideas are and having the vision, gravitas, and resilience to bring these ideas to the right people — internally and externally — will turn you into a strong change agent. Even people who are hailed as great innovators, such as Steve Jobs, did not actually invent much of anything — but had the vision and marketing skills to make existing ideas more enticing, and to make other people want to buy them.
A second critical competency is to be more proactive, which means making things happen as opposed to waiting for things to happen. If there is one trait leaders rightly adore in their employees, is the capacity to get stuff done, and that is purely a function of proactivity. Proactive people take initiative and move quicker than their peers. They are not afraid of making mistakes and prefer to apologize than to ask for permission. In the wrong culture, this will of course get them into trouble. But they are typically not bothered by that, because they are interested in their job only if they can make an impact. This approach to work very much mirrors the key characteristics of inclusive leaders, which are a combination of curiosity, passion, humility, and a fearless devotion to change. Nobody is a leader for the sake of keeping things as they are. The essence of leadership is change, and proactivity is the fuel for any force of change.
A third key element is to engage in prosocial or altruistic behaviors at work. Paradoxically, few things appear to be more self-rewarding than giving. Indeed, from a very early age, children experience an increase in happiness when they are able to behave in generous and altruistic ways. This is only reinforced in adulthood, with many scientific studies showing that happiness and prosocial acts are positively correlated, and that few traits are as central to happiness and subjective wellbeing as emotional intelligence (a modern name for empathy). This idea is consistent with workplace research showing that people will experience a stronger connection and higher sense of purpose at work if they have the chance to connect and get along with others to feel a sense of camaraderie.
In short, find a way to be nice and do good to others and your job will become much more meaningful and enjoyable. Ultimately, all entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs are in it for this very reason: they want to improve the world and drive progress, and you can do the same through your everyday work.