How to make your staff entrepreneurial

Written by Yvan Marston

While it may sound like heresy to the entrepreneurial business owner, instilling your employees with the values and skills of a self-starter can improve productivity and increase profits. That’s what Bill Russell was looking for when he signed up his staff for entrepreneurial training.

“‘Am I bringing my staff along to become direct competitors?’ was definitely a passing thought,” admits Russell, president of Interprovincial Corrosion Control Company Ltd., an engineering firm based in Burlington, Ont. But his need to build a competitive advantage outweighed that risk. His team underwent training designed to give them a common goal, and to help them feel part of something purposeful and meaningful.

By showing this type of investment in each individual, Russell hopes his 35-person company will improve productivity in the next six to 12 months and that, in three to five years, he’ll still see all the same familiar faces.

Though instilling entrepreneurial values in your employees isn’t an overnight process, here are a few ways to start.

Strive for entrepreneurial thinking — not entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurial types are a company’s “source of sustained competitive advantage,” says Benson Honig, an associate professor of organizational development with Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.

But a company staffed with wannabe entrepreneurs is, by its very nature, ineffective, as everyone will launch in their own direction. That’s why you should instead aim for “the entrepreneurial environment,” says Honig. It’s one that’s open to new ideas, is extremely creative, supports failure (“Because you can’t succeed without having those failures,” he says) and is dynamic and exciting.

Make employees partners

Small entrepreneurial firms, according to Honig, should give every one of its first 20 employees an equity share in the company. How much of a share depends on the amount of capital you have, the experience your staff members bring to the table, the market value of their skills and what you can offer to pay them.

Honig says it boils down to a simple formula: the best people will want lower salaries and higher equity shares. Typically, he says, a 2% stake will help you bag a senior manager, whereas half a percent should keep most other team members happy.

But don’t exclude anyone. “You’re essentially creating a culture where everyone is committed to the organization so it can’t be exclusive,” says Honig. “Anyone working for you on the front end is taking a risk because if they’re good, they can make more money elsewhere.”

Sell your vision internally

Getting employees to buy into your company’s vision is easy if they feel they are a part of it, says Stephen Maloney, managing director of Burlington, Ont.-based Newport Group Inc., the firm that trained Bill Russell’s employees. Proper communication, he explains, will help you include employees in the process of change.

“If you don’t understand how your job has an impact on the company, it’s difficult to go beyond your role,” says Maloney. “Understanding revenue generation and cost control means you can understand how your work affects the company’s bottom line.”

Encourage risk taking

Too many employees don’t act for fear of failure, or of getting fired. But supporting failure, says Honig, is key to encouraging innovation. Nonetheless, Maloney cautions that a policy encouraging risk taking should be closely monitored by management.

“It’s essentially about promoting action,” he says. Employees learn and grow from their mistakes, and management’s monitoring and evaluation of these types of decisions and actions can minimize the risk to a company.

Read other pointers on How To contribute to your business success!

© 2004 Yvan Marston

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com