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Driving Innovation: Identifying Your Employees' Entrepreneurial Spirit

Driving Innovation: Identifying Your Employees' Entrepreneurial Spirit
Image credit: Shutterstock

When you hear the word entrepreneur, what springs to mind? The likes of Richard Branson, the late Steve Jobs or even Mark Zuckerberg may pop into your head. We tend to think of entrepreneurs as global business founders and leaders: those with the big ideas, innovations and companies.

Yet the entrepreneurial spirit need not be confined to the CEO’s office. In reality, some of your employees may already be displaying the entrepreneurial behavior necessary for running a company and being a leader.

While some bosses might see this as a threat, it’s something you have a duty to encourage. What’s more, if you’re able to tap into these traits and help cultivate them, it could bring exciting advances for your enterprise.

Spotting and nurturing workplace intrapreneurs

So how can these individuals help you to enhance your business? It’s not a question of creating entrepreneurs within your company; instead, it’s about recognizing those who are already displaying the traits. Within a workplace, these people are sometimes known as “intrapreneurs” –entrepreneurs working within a company– and you can use them to benefit your business.

This idea was well captured in a 2012 study The Effect Of Intrapreneurship On Corporate Performance which researched the impact that these individuals had on the success of the business as a whole. The study found some striking results, concluding that there was a positive relationship between the performance of the company and the number of intrapreneurial individuals within it.

Yes: the more entrepreneurial talent there is in a business, the greater the success of the overall enterprise. People displaying entrepreneurial talent, even within your company, can help to drive it forward.

So, how can you aid this process?

Well, your first challenge as an employer is identifying the intrapreneurs so you can support and nurture them effectively. While entrepreneurial values are by no means restricted to a certain demographic, research suggests a peak in the 35-44 age group, perhaps the age that workers reach their full innovation potential.

Still, the millennial generation must not be overlooked. While often stereotyped as the startup generation, two-thirds of millennials say they actually prefer the stability of full-time work to the freelance lifestyle. This in itself presents an interesting opportunity for business owners to capitalize on young talent in the workplace. Nurturing these individuals when they enter your workforce could not only persuade them to stay, but also help them to help you grow your business.

The stats are one thing, but what really makes someone an effective intrapreneur is the way they behave. According to one entrepreneurship expert, the distinguished management scholar Dr. Randall Schuler, there are ten key behaviors which separate high-level entrepreneurial workers from the rest:

1. Have a creative mind Innovation stems from creativity. Without it, there can be no forward movement in the company. Schuler dubbed this trait “highly creative and innovative behavior,” the idea being that entrepreneurial people have a will to change the status quo and also that they notice opportunities in the market.

2. Focus on the future It’s fine being creative and innovative, but if a creative person lacks focus, their talent will be wasted. Having a “very long-term focused” personality ensures that their innovative tendencies continue over time rather than being a fleeting fancy: they are able to identify what adds value and what diminishes it.

3. Be a team player Of course, when working in a business, teamwork is essential. It’s being able to realize that sometimes others have to take control that makes these individuals integral to the business. According to Schuler, an entrepreneur ought to have a sense of “highly co-operative, independent behavior.”

4. Be a risk taker In this world, you get nowhere unless you’re willing to take risks. Entrepreneurial individuals must be “very high-risk taking” if they are to make a real difference within a business. The good thing is that this behavioral trait is usually easy to identify among employees.

5. Get results While those who lack entrepreneurial spirit tend to be focused on the process of work, you’ll find that innovative members of your team show a “very high concern for results.” This is a necessary part of being a leader, even within a workplace scenario.

6. Take responsibility It’s uncommon to see a successful entrepreneur shirking their responsibilities. Indeed, the innate “high preference to assume responsibility” is likely something you will see in a worker entrepreneur as well. They take pride in owning both their successes and their mistakes.

7. Roll with the punches The business landscape is always changing and both leaders and their team need to be ready to adapt. Perhaps that’s why Schuler noted that high entrepreneurial workers are “very flexible to change.” They can adapt to any given scenario.

8. Weather the storm In the same vein, business can be highly unpredictable. Workers who are entrepreneurial are “very tolerant of ambiguity and unpredictability,” and thus can deal with high-pressure situations.

9. Be a planner Sometimes, planning your next move is just as important as implementing it. Rushing head first into a new endeavor may seem courageous but could lead to problems down the line. According to Schuler, entrepreneurial people tend to have a “very high task orientation.”

10. Be effective Finally, according to Schuler’s research, these individuals must also have a “focus on effectiveness.” Whereas those who are less likely to be entrepreneurs tend to center on efficiency, natural-born leaders are solely concerned with how effective each activity is.

The science of the workplace intrapreneur

As a business leader, you should be actively looking to identify these behaviors in your staff. To help you keep an eye out for entrepreneurial values and traits, there are some scientific scales you can use to help assess your employees. There are even a few online tools that are available to help you in the process- here are three such options:

1. The BP10 tool by Gallup If you want something that’s easily accessible and measurable, Gallup offers a handy tool for a small fee. The Builder Profile 10 (formerly known as the Gallup Entrepreneurial Strengths Finder) seeks to identify ten separate talents among your workforce and, in turn, to identify their entrepreneurial strengths.

Once you’ve bought the package, your employees simply take a 30-minute online assessment, which requires them to answer questions about their work style. At the end of the assessment, they will be provided with an evaluation of their skill set. The custom report will help both you and your employee gain a deeper understanding of how they can progress.

2. Entrepreneurial competency by Ventureprise On the other hand, if you would rather not pay for a full evaluation, Ventureprise have a competency measure you can use online. Their document describes a measure for entrepreneurial talents and helps you identify quickly and easily where your employees fall on the entrepreneurial spectrum.

The aim of the document is to offer useful resources regarding “typical entrepreneurial competencies” which you can use in your current business. By concisely describing both “entrepreneurial traits” and “entrepreneurial motives,” the Ventureprise measure offers a rounded view of innovative talent.

3. Business Development Bank of Canada Finally, the Business Development Bank of Canada uses a quick self-assessment test which seeks to identify these values within individuals. Users are presented with 50 statements and must determine to what degree they agree with each of them.

This survey-based model is essentially an in-depth aptitude test, which helps both you and your employees to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Once these traits are clear, training and development measures can be taken to enhance them.

Creating an environment of empowerment

In the end, as a business leader, it is your actions that are responsible for creating an environment of empowerment. As a leader of a company it is your job to identify the entrepreneurial talent within your workforce, and nurture and grow that talent. What’s more you should learn to utilize that talent to drive innovation and enterprise growth.

But how can you cultivate this kind of environment? It could simply be a case of adapting your leadership style. Research shows that leadership based on relationships helps increase the entrepreneurial spirit of the company, whereas a task-oriented leadership style has the opposite effect. By engaging more with your staff, rather than simply issuing commands, you can help boost their potential.

If you lead by example, your employees will follow suit and together you will drive the company forward. By taking on board these lessons, you have the power to enhance your enterprise while at the same time keeping your staff engaged and proactive.

Related: The Case For Team Building Efforts Is Stronger When The Times Are Tougher