Do You Really Want Entrepreneurial Employees?

May 12, 2011

I’ll admit it: I’m biased.

You see, all of the entrepreneurs I grew up with were much better entrepreneurs than employees. My father is an entrepreneur and both of my grandfathers were entrepreneurs, too. I’ve also heard stories from their time working as an employee and not only were they not as productive as they could have been, they were less than happy being an employee. Being their own boss was a better fit for multiple reasons.

So when I was sent Army of Entrepreneurs by Jennifer Prosek, I was admittedly skeptical. In some ways, I still am but there seems to be a better argument out there for incorporating principles of entrepreneurship into a company. 

Integrating Entrepreneurialism

Probably one of the more interesting concepts I got out of the book was this idea of integrating elements of entrepreneurialism into a company. Even if you don’t hire (or want) entrepreneurs in your company, I think there are some key lessons here.

Employee empowerment is a powerful tool that is used throughout the book. When you give employees ownership of their successes and failures as well as ownership in the overall company’s result, it can help turn in a massive improvement overall. It’s not so much about hiring entrepreneurs (at least, that’s my take), it’s more about finding what keeps people driving towards a common goal. Convincing people to care about the end result is critical whether your company is five or 50,000 strong.

Another thing that is acknowledged is the massive culture and process overhaul that is required to integrate entrepreneurialism into the company. If you don’t have it and haven’t hired for that skill set, there is going to be a bit of pain there in changing.

While Prosek is enthused about the results of the change, I personally wouldn’t be so quick to jump in with both feet. When companies get excited about upheaval, they often forget what has worked. A book with a neat solution always sounds better, but if you don’t do something to retain successful process and culture, you’re throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Entrepreneurial hesitation

One of the noticeable things about this book is that much of it seems focused on small businesses. That seems to make sense based on Prosek’s position as CEO of a smaller PR and communications firm. Even though she spends an entire chapter making the case for entrepreneurism in large companies, it just felt less compelling than the focus on smaller companies.

This seems perfectly natural. For one, owners of smaller companies aren’t necessarily naturals at delegation and employee empowerment. When you start to grow beyond a few employees, you simply are unable to manage every aspect of the business. It might be easier for an entrepreneur to look at the talent in their organization and try to figure out ways to empower them and align them with your vision.

At larger companies, anyone elevated to an executive position has already gone through the process of delegating, empowering, and aligning multiple times. That’s not to say that every CEO of a Fortune 500 company is brilliant at it or that they don’t have room to grow but there is a requisite amount of knowledge required to progress to that spot that small business owners and CEO’s don’t necessarily have to go through.

Overall: still not convinced

Even though this book seems more applicable to smaller companies than larger ones, the key concepts are still solid for any company. Give credit to Prosek as she stretched beyond her experience to find some common ground in all businesses. Empowered, aligned and accountable employees make better decisions. These traits of entrepreneurship transcend owning a business and work well for regular employees and employers alike.

But is having an army of entrepreneurs necessary for success? Is it even a good framework for every company to learn from?

You can still call me a skeptic.

Having entrepreneurs sounds good until you realize that even the most entrepreneurial place is still going to feel constricting for a true entrepreneur. If you’ve seen the steady stream of co-founders and key employees embark on their own from startups and established companies in Silicon Valley, you know that there is a retention challenge there.

Given that, it doesn’t hurt to try to capture the drive of entrepreneurs as long as you aren’t throwing out the good with the bad.


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