THE BLOG
06/26/2013 03:48 pm ET Updated Aug 26, 2013

Entrepreneurialism: Is It a Help or a Hindrance?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question 'should employers encourage their staff to act like entrepreneurs?' An entrepreneurial spirit can be a major asset, or even an essential attribute, for employees of one company. At the same time it can be a highly undesirable and risk-laden trait for employees of another.

Identifying which is which has to start with a common understanding of the word itself. People can interpret the word, or description, 'entrepreneurial' differently. For some it could smack of unstructured risk taking, but others may read it as simply meaning strong commercial acumen or see it as describing an individual who can derive opportunity from the widest range of scenarios. At the end of the day both Del Boy Trotter and Bill Gates can equally be seen as classic entrepreneurs.

Let's plump for a definition in the middle of the spectrum and consider entrepreneurial to mean commercially creative and aware, agile and risk taking. With a very broad brush-stroke it's reasonable to argue that start-ups and fast growth SMEs provide a better home than heavily regulated, blue-chip organisations.

However, if the start-up were within medical research you wouldn't want a risk-taker interpreting new drug trial data and deciding on what's safe and what it isn't. Equally, within virtually all FTSE100 and Fortune500 organisations there are roles and departments that simply couldn't function without some creative risk-takers. The trading room floor is as good a place as any to start, when you're looking for a blue-chip Del Boy. But equally there are other sales and marketing positions where these personality types can prove to be a real competitive advantage.

In terms of hiring people with entrepreneurial spirit, it's critical to understand the role and department first, and the person second. If the role can benefit from having someone with an entrepreneurial spirit, then it should be given a suitable weighting when interviewing and during the 'hiring' decision making process. Of equal importance is knowing when the role doesn't require this approach, or where it will bring unconscionable risk. No one would knowingly appoint a risk-taker to be the head of compliance, or at least not any more.

In terms of harnessing employees with entrepreneurial spirit, it's not difficult. Put them in the right role, provide them with the right type of management oversight and incentivise them to achieve your company's goals. The benefits will quickly become clear. They can be highly creative and find opportunities others have missed. In general, they are 'idea factories' and, with the right encouragement it shouldn't matter if nine out of 10 ideas are rejected as inappropriate or risky. They won't mind, as they are serial idea generators. The one idea that is followed through will normally pay for the nine that are explored and ditched several times over.

Pairing, or at least providing these employees, with colleagues that are strong completer-finishers is one of the best ways to get results. The entrepreneurial character rarely comes with strong process orientation or delivery focus. By creating mini-teams of complementary personalities, businesses can overcome these personal weaknesses to the benefit of the wider organisation. The obvious business case studies are WL Gore and Google. Both have gained significant revenues and market share through encouraging employees to explore their entrepreneurialism.

In short, when it comes to entrepreneurialism, even within the same organisation there will be roles and functions where this trait is essential and others where it will be anathema. What can be said for certain is that all companies can benefit from entrepreneurial employees. The trick is to ensure they're in the right roles and provided with the right environment to realise bottom line results, all without exposing the business to unsustainable risk.