At first glance, the challenge of keeping intrepreneurial staff from leaving to chase the entrepreneur dream might look like a purely 'big business' conundrum. It's actually far from that.
Startups and SMEs may in fact be most at risk from this pattern of behaviour. An intrepreneurial employee might be responsible for much of a startup or SME’s development strategy, innovation projects, technological know-how and competitive differentiation, not to mention potential 'ownership' of customer relationships.
If that talent walks away from the business, and especially if it sets up in competition, it can come at a very high cost to the original employer. Much of what makes your business special might not be something that you've even thought about protecting; some of it might not even be capable of formal legal or other protections.
Larger businesses can generally afford the luxury of recruiting teams, growing and training successors and implementing succession planning. And they can probably more easily justify spend on a whole host of legal and other protective measures to help to mitigate these risks. They may be able to pay or offer more to retain top talent as well.
Having said that, even big business suffers from the loss of instrumental intrepreneurs and there is plenty of published material evidencing this fact.
Which brings me to the question that I have been pondering for a while now:
Is there an inevitable shelf-life to intrepreneurship, so that there comes a point when you simply can’t expect to prevent an intrepreneur from leaving?
Even if you have got the right culture and compensation package for them, at what point do intrepreneurs decide that marching to someone else’s rhythm no longer satisfies their need to transform and innovate a business? The obvious outcomes being that they decide either to make the brave and bold move to entrepreneurship, or at the very least, to go somewhere else where guarantees of genuine intrepreneurial freedom are more enticing?
It certainly happens. A lot. Indeed, most of the inspiring entrepreneurs and disruptors whom we have taken as our creative role models and who form part of our own 'council of wise ones', started out as intrepreneurs. Deliveroo's Will Shu, Appointedd's Leah Hutcheon, the Talented Ladies’ Hannah Martin, are just a few of those who immediately spring to mind. And they are far from alone.
Perhaps there is a shelf-life for some intrepreneurs. Will, Leah and Hannah will doubtless tell you that that was the case for them. It’s understandable that the need to control their own destiny and to break away from frustrations of corporate structures and controls may well prove too overwhelming for the really bold, talented and confident amongst the intrepreneur pack.
Meanwhile, however, there are solutions applicable to all employers, of any shape or size. If properly implemented, these should help to keep these intrepreneurial exits to a more manageable level. Instead, they provide the potential to harness the growing community of business intrepreneurs to substantial employer benefit.
How today’s employers of intrepreneurs can take effective steps to prevent their exit (or an exodus!)
While there are few universally applicable solutions completely guaranteeing intrepreneur ‘stickiness’, the attached article by Larry Myler for Forbes is a brilliant and helpful illustration of how businesses large and small, can successfully prevent their innovators from disillusionment and keep them resisting the temptation to strike out on their own, or to take their competitively valuable talents and knowledge elsewhere.
That's not to suggest that it's an easy task, although all of the advice covered is absolutely achievable. Indeed, I've worked for and with some really great businesses who've managed it very well. Most of them have not been wealthier corporate monoliths.
Much of the recipe for success comes down to the strength and vision of the business leadership, because without this, no intrepreneur stands a chance of satisfactorily fulfilling their ambitions and feeling loyal to their employer.
As Myler astutely points out, 'entrepreneurs have the luxury of building a company's culture from scratch, while intrepreneurs often fight against a long history of deeply held and widely shared beliefs, assumptions and practices', some of which he describes as 'lethal' to innovation and employee incentives to remain in place. Intrepreneurs worth their salt are not initially daunted by this and will generally include diplomacy, negotiation and determination amongst their skill-sets.
But it needs to be accepted by the intrepreneur and the business in which they work, that change is not going to happen overnight. Myler asserts that this 'transformation process requires sacrifice on the part of leaders, who must be willing to surrender ego, forfeit some short-term gains, let go of outdated notions and drop pathological priorities' at the same time as showing 'trust, respect, confidence and esteem for their workforce'. That is going to take a bit of time, patience and often, a lot of courage by both leaders and their intrepreneurial innovators.
Whatever the nature or size of your business, if you want to be or stay ahead of the pack, I highly recommend the attached read. More than anything you decide or do, it's your talented, intrepreneurial people who most hold the power for your business to be the very best it can be. The good news is that taking care of them doesn't require courage or vision, that's just common sense.
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Most people believe intrapreneurs are simply internal entrepreneurs who can be expected to act in the same ways, be driven by the same motivations, and respond similarly to a wide array of circumstances. These are naïve assumptions that, more often than not, will derail intrapreneurship. Now you know the differences. Happy innovating.