Foster your entreployee: A how to guide for in-house innovation

In a highly competitive, global economy, small businesses need to use every possible resource to compete with the big guys. But many of us fail to recognize and develop one of our most valuable assets - our internal talent.


This outcome is all too logical; built from the ground up by an entrepreneur (or two) with a big idea, skill set, or personality, a business can become so focused around its founder’s vision that it fails to cultivate other talent.

But a top-down structure can disempower employees, stifling growth and creating a passive workplace experience where following protocols takes the place of genuine innovation.

So what’s the answer?

Meet the entreployee - a hybrid entrepreneur-employee.

In my opinion, the entreployee makes a lot of sense. I’ve done a lot of research around the subject and the more I read, the more it stacks up on so many levels. See if you agree...

The key to unlocking growth and innovation lies in a paradigm shift. Instead of reserving the title of entrepreneur - and the freedom and creativity it entails - exclusively for the person in the head office, SMBs should cultivate an environment where anyone in the company can become an innovator. By democratizing the entrepreneurship principle, team members are empowered, transformed from employees to entreployees.

According to Lee Frederiksen, managing partner of Hinge, a marketing firm for professional services, cultivating entreployees can help small businesses grow in important and unexpected ways. "By helping an employee become an expert in something they love, you can actually develop a new specialty for your business," he notes. Frederiksen has witnessed this phenomenon among his clients.

'We were working with a lawyer who loved fashion, and she began to focus on that aspect of the law," he says. "Developing that subspecialty brought clients and recognition to the firm and, eventually, they opened an entire practice dedicated to fashion law."

Learning from the tech sector

Developing internal innovation programs is a family strategy in the tech industry. For example, Google instituted a 20% time policy, allowing employees to devote one day a week to a project that they were passionate about. The policy gave birth to innovations like Gmail, Google News, and Google Glass.

At Cyrus Innovation, employees receive 8.5% in paid professional time, along with a budget, to educate themselves in areas that foster innovation in their jobs. And PayPal has recently started placing startup incubators right inside of its offices.

But innovation does not belong to the tech industry alone, and small businesses would be wise to borrow a page from the tech playbook when it comes to fostering talent and creativity within the ranks.

Retaining and attracting talent

Today, workers crave engagement - a sense that they have a stake in their workplace - even more than traditional benefits such as flextime and paid time off. And that engagement pays off for businesses.

A study by Gallpu found that workers who were highly engaged outperformed their disengaged peers by 22% in profitability and 21% in productivity. Gallup also found that disengaged employees cost the U.S. $450-$550 billion a year in lost productivity. The bottom line is that employee engagement not only matters to individuals - but it can also change the course of a company.

But a corporate culture that fosters entreployees does not occur spontaneously - as the tech sector examples show. Lee Frederiksen suggests implementing a deliberate program to develop expertise and innovation within your business, a framework that he describes in his book, The Visible Expert: How to Create Industry Stars, and Why Every Professional Services Firm Should Care.

"If you have a specific process for nurturing talent and innovation," he says, "your best employees will be more likely to stay with you. It also becomes a recruitment tool, attracting employees who are eager to develop their own careers along with your business."

Keeping the best for your team

In a job market where, according to Forbes, the average worker stays at their job for only 4.4 years and where job-hopping is the norm among the millennial generation, the cultivating and retaining of talent has become a crucial concern for businesses large and small.

Investing in entreployees is a powerful way to create a solid nucleus around which to grow. By giving talent the room and resources to prosper, small businesses can "punch above their weight" in terms of both innovation and development, while at the same time laying the foundation for a stable future that does not depend solely on a single charismatic figure at the top.

What are your thoughts on entreployees? Let me know in the comments.