Entrepreneurs are, generally speaking, smart and innovative people. Getting your employees to think like entrepreneurs can help your company grow and innovate. In fact, most entrepreneurs would love to engage employees who are as passionate about the business as they are. But creating an environment where employees feel like owners is a particularly thorny problem. Entrepreneurs must carefully curate a culture where employees feel like they can implement their ideas without incurring risk or punishment, feel like they can take risk, and personally benefit from the outcome of their actions. Here are some steps you can take as a small business owner to fully engage your employees in an entrepreneurial atmosphere without incurring undue risk.
1. Work hard, play hard. Silicon Valley has embraced this idea to a degree that talking employees into working mandatory 10-hour work days during crunch times isn’t even thought of as a burden anymore. It’s because employees are rewarded with flexible hours, high-tech toys, fun events and whimsical promotions. It’s a bit of a trick, as start-ups have artificially induced a culture where one’s work life and home life blur together in an unending filmstrip, but the trick works, especially for millennials and other employees who need a non-traditional workspace to thrive.
2. Promote risk takers. If others see risk takers launch an unorthodox idea and be rewarded—regardless of whether the concept benefits the company or fails entirely—they are more likely to follow suit. Be forewarned that this may also create an atmosphere of competition, which can be healthy or unhealthy depending on the nature of your company culture.
3. Fail better. Make it clear to all employees that failures are not punished here; they are embraced and are used as tools by which employees learn as much from mistakes as they do from their successes. Employees won’t take risks if they are concerned about being blamed, framed or punished for mistakes.
4. Reward new ideas. Encourage employees to share and implement innovative ideas they want to try—and make idea generation and experimentation a big part of the culture. Giving financial gifts or special privileges to employees who open up their concepts to brainstorming sessions can be a dynamic way to engage all employees in the creative process. It’s a new world—open door policies aren’t enough to successfully engage creative professionals these days.
5. Share profits. Whether it’s setting up mechanisms for employees to own part of the company, a profit-sharing plan, quarterly bonuses or other tangible means of rewarding employees, sharing the wealth is an important part of entrepreneurial success. Transparency is also a must-have for start-up culture; open up the financial statements so employees can honestly see where they have directly affected the company’s bottom line.
6. Work in small groups. Research and experiments have shown that employees who work in small groups or teams work more collaboratively, produce better and more innovative products, and feel they have more leeway to innovate, share ideas, and influence the direction of small businesses.