Employee-preneurs. What are they and what should you do with them?

Posted by Fiona Horton on Mar 21, 2019 9:07:00 AM
Fiona Horton
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Employee-preneur is a term that’s gaining traction in the commercial sector. Increasingly, employees are encouraged to go beyond the remit of their role whenever they have the capacity to add value. The benefit to businesses is clear: you hire someone to do A, B and C. As it turns out, they’re already at D by lunchtime and could probably hit J, K and L by 5.30pm, given the right kind of encouragement.

But what is the right kind of encouragement?

Well, first of all, it’s essential that employers realise that Employee-preneurs don’t have big ideas just for the fun of it. They do it because they expect a return on the investment of their time and effort. Namely: respect, recognition, development and tangible rewards. So, if you’re a manager or business leader, it’s essential that you build these returns into your people plan. Otherwise, your best people’s big ideas are going to get snapped up by a competitor organisation that will reward them for it.

Because the most motivating factor for an Employee-preneur is knowing that their effort is worth it, the worst thing a business leader can do is to treat Employee-preneurship with suspicion, dismissal, disdain or demand without reward.

If you have ambitious employees who are never short of ideas on your hands, it might be easy to slip into the trap of thinking they’re trying to ‘get their own way’ or ‘treat it like they run the place.’ But it’s very likely that they’re just trying to help you to achieve the strategic goals you’ve set out for your organisation using the best of their abilities. So it’s important to embrace their unstoppable spirit, encourage it, ask what you can do to help further develop it and show how much you appreciate it by rewarding it (which tends to mean with the possibility of promotion, financial incentives and/or the promise of appropriate training).

It’s also important to keep your ear to the ground. If an employee is constantly talking about a great idea they’ve had, it’s important that you give it not only your time and due consideration but also, if you believe in it, your support to make it happen. Imagine all the incredible opportunities to develop your department or organisation you could miss if you simply take a top-down approach to management, telling your people what they should be doing, rather than hearing out and helping them to implement their great ideas. The ‘worker’ will simply take your dismissal of their ideas and get on with the job as directed. Whereas the Employee-preneur will think to themselves, ‘well, if you don’t want it, I’ll take it to someone who does.’

The main thing to remember is that, if you demand that your people go above and beyond, they’re going to start to notice if they don’t get anything in return for it – and that’s a sure fire way of breeding employee apathy. Which is shorthand for an underperforming department or business. By showing people that their ‘outside-the-box’ thinking has value in the form of rewards, you encourage them to keep doing it. If, on the other hand, you foster a culture of continual must-try-harder-ism, you will make your team think that, no matter how entrepreneurial they are, they will never be good enough. This will have an impact on their self-confidence, performance and, ultimately, on your bottom line. 

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Fostering the entrepreneurial spirit within your team, rather than suppressing it, will pay off hugely in terms of morale, productivity and your reputation as an employer (i.e. Employer Brand). And, perhaps more importantly, developing an environment rooted in Employee-preneurship will be a central element of any successful Culture Mirroring project. Culture Mirroring is, essentially, the process of building culture from the bottom up; letting your culture be determined by the brilliance of your best people; presenting your Employer Brand as a meritocracy, where outstanding ideas and behaviours beget not only Board level recognition but a reflection of those ideas by the very people on the Board. In other words – the strategic direction and ‘tone of voice’ of the Board is determined by those who deliver the very best work for the company – including those at the lowest levels.

If you’re able to mirror the culture of your people effectively, you will wipe out any sense of ‘us and them’ between the senior management team and those on the ‘shop floor’ in one fell swoop. Which is immeasurably good for productivity. It’s what used to be known as a ‘one team’ culture, except that term was flawed from the beginning because it was demanded rather than nurtured-by-example. Telling people, ‘we’re all one team,’ is tantamount to telling a crying child who wants to go home that they must finish their candyfloss and stay to enjoy the fun of the fair. You can’t force it – you have to live it yourself, first, if you want anyone to get behind it. So that means showing (rather than just saying) you believe in a spirit of Employee-preneurship – embracing big ideas, implementing them, congratulating them, rewarding them and sharing your own, too.

The employee-employer relationship is often a complex one but, as with all great communications strategies, the answer is beautifully simple. Embrace the idea that the best ideas often come from the bottom and that your job is simply to show how much you appreciate them in order to keep them coming.

Topics: Workplace Culture Management