Richard Branson hires them, should you?
In June 2011, three young men walked out in-front of five entrepreneur investors and pitched their popcorn business plan on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den. All three were employees of Saatchi & Saatchi at the time. Two years and £70,000 of Peter Jones’ investment later, one of them – Tom Callard – still works with the agency. Their brand, LoveDaPopcorn is going strong and Callard’s boss has given him and his co-founders full support of Saatchi’s creative teams and designers.
Saatchi & Saatchi had employed three young, entrepreneurial guys – it knew what they were working on but didn’t try to come in their way. This may seem like a crazy strategy – why would you employ people that you know are harbouring (or likely to later down the line) their own business ideas? But the advertising agency is not alone. There are a multitude of employers out there seeking to employ those with an entrepreneurial spirit.
“Steve Jobs designed the new Apple building before he died so that people had to socialise a lot more than in a conventional building therefore sharing and incubating their ideas,” says Barney Ely, director, Hays the recruiting experts.
“He wanted to create a culture of entrepreneurialism and ideas – he recognised that even though Apple is a hugely successful brand, if they weren’t always ahead of their game it would die out. The best investment employers have in this service-lead economy is people and their ideas – these differentiate one company from its competitors.”
Intrapreneurship is defined as the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working within a large organisation. It is a step away from an entrepreneur – the idea is that these people and their ideas stay within a company rather than setting up on their own (unlike the Saatchi popcorn team). Somewhat unsurprisingly, our nation’s favourite entrepreneur is a fan.
“While it’s true that every company needs an entrepreneur to get it under-way, healthy growth requires a smattering of intrapreneurs who drive new projects and explore new and unexpected directions for business development,” writes Richard Branson in Entrepreneur Magazine.
True to his word, his own company Virgin Media, practices what the white-bearded tycoon preaches.
“Virgin was founded on the belief that with the right idea and a little bit of backing anything is possible,” says a Virgin Media spokesperson.
“This entrepreneurial spirit and belief in the power of ideas and enterprise is part of everyday life at Virgin Media. For example, Virgin Media people form a core part of our Virgin Media Pioneers community which supports thousands of young British entrepreneurs.
“We’re also rolling out a new internal networking platform for our workforce, so they can better collaborate, share ideas and find others with similar interests or relevant skills to help shape the way we serve our customers through new innovations and ways of thinking. In fact, we offer the same platform we use internally to our business customers, showing how we now practice what we preach when it comes to using social media to unlock ideas.”
The benefits of encouraging intrapreneurship are pretty big. A company which takes its ideas only from the top down can sometimes lose sight of what it is trying to achieve and what the true possibilities are. These ideas can create a competitive advantage which can be of massive value. Allowing entrepreneurial employees to act on their ideas also does wonders for talent retention and attraction.
“A culture where entrepreneurial spirit is encouraged is a fantastic attraction to new talent,” says Ely. “Staff will feel more appreciated and valuable if they know that their ideas might make a difference to their company. It breaks the idea of monotony and gives people a voice.”
Although hiring these entrepreneurial characters can have a proven benefit to a company – if it is to work, it must come with preparation. The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) has recently carried out some research into how businesses of all sizes can benefit from taking a more entrepreneurial approach to business.
“There’s no point in encouraging or hiring entrepreneurs if the company culture doesn’t support it,” says Claire McCartney, research adviser at the CIPD.
“If there’s no process for generating ideas, it’s frustrating for both parties so it’s important to have a proper system in place. The people with ideas need to be put in front of the right decision- makers and organisations need to have processes which help decide which ideas should be taken forward.”
Fostering an environment which has ideas bubbling up from various tiers of an organisation and creating an atmosphere of innovation can do wonders for a company. Just one brilliant idea could have the power to turn a company around or send sales soaring. But it is important to create a balance.
“Not all positions in a business organisation are well suited for entrepreneurial individuals,” says Karl Gregory, MD of Match.com.
“It’s important to balance the entrepreneurial individuals with those employees who are more driven by detail and execution. If your workplace needs a risk taker who isn’t afraid to get stuck in and try new ideas, then someone with entrepreneurial skills is ideal. Having said that, they can also lose focus and sometimes disrupt a project when it is at the execution stage, and does not need to be re-worked.”
If a balance can be struck, processes put in place and talent is encouraged to use their skills and ideas to better the company, it’s on to a winner. In an economy where financial rewards fall shy of those pre-credit crunch, talent puts value in other employer attributes. Businesses which nurture the ideas of their employees can become well-known for this kind of environment and can become desired destinations for talent.
Can it go wrong? Saatchi & Saatchi lost two talented employees when they set up their popcorn business and are destined to lose a third when it takes off.
“There is always the risk of it going wrong. But, I’m a firm believer that the juice is worth the squeeze,” says Leo Bedford, founder of Itchy Feet.
“One great innovative idea can transform a company. The risk of your team leaving is worth the probability of them staying multiplied by the gains associated with their idea.”
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