THE BLOG
12/02/2014 10:10 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How to Develop Innovative Leaders at Every Level of Your Organization

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At age 22, Jennifer Prosek started a public relations company. She was highly motivated and talented, and was able to start building a team of people to work with her. But the addition of new team members seemed to stall the growth of her company.

One day, Jennifer found herself complaining to a couple of her founding partners about how employees didn't seem fully engaged. For the most part, they seemed to just come in and do what was asked of them, but nothing more.

Jennifer wondered, "Why aren't our employees helping us build the business?"

She and her partners realized the answer was simple: they had never asked employees to do that.

Jennifer decided that instead of seeing team members as employees, they should see them as entrepreneurs, and they should work to build an army of such entrepreneurs.

This simple insight changed everything. Today, Prosek Partners employs 90 people and has clients around the globe. The firm is able to attract highly talented people who are fully engaged, highly innovative, and have a true owner's mindset. Prosek Partners has been recognized as one of the "Top Places to Work in PR" by PR News, and was named "Small Agency of the Year" by The Holmes Report.

The business results of building an army of entrepreneurs at Prosek Partners were so striking that Jennifer eventually wrote a book, appropriately called Army of Entrepreneurs, which has been praised by deans and professors at Columbia Business School, Wharton, Yale School of Management, and INSEAD.

I recently had a chance to chat with Jennifer about some of the tools she applied to create an army of entrepreneurs.

Teaching the Business Side, Not Just the Craft

The first step Jennifer took was to help the creative and communications-type people she was hiring to understand the business side of a PR firm. Team members now receive an education that is essentially a mini-MBA.

Team members are encouraged to think of themselves as owners of the company and submit ideas that could help the business grow, and the mini-MBA training they receive gives them tools to more easily achieve both of those objectives.

One example of this is a team member who was hired strictly for PR purposes. But when social media first came on the scene, he saw a strategic opportunity that no one else saw.

Because he has such an owner's mentality, he asked for and was granted permission to develop a social media strategy before most other PR firms even knew what social media was. His innovative strategy was so successful that his job was eventually restructured to be entirely focused on digital communications.

Extreme Transparency

The leaders at Prosek Partners also realized that it is not very helpful to know how to use information about the business as whole unless people actually have access to that information. Thus, there is an extreme level of transparency at Prosek. All team members have access to the exact same information that the owners do (the only thing that is not made public is the salary of another team member, but apparently everyone talks about that anyhow).

Share the Wealth

One of the most powerful programs at Prosek Partners is a simple idea called Commission for Life. When any team member makes an introduction between a company and Prosek Partners that results in that company becoming a client, the team member is rewarded by receiving 5% of the revenue generated by that client for the lifetime of the relationship.

There are three major benefits to this approach.

First, it provides just enough of a nudge to incentivize team members to go out of their way to talk to people about the great company they work with. One entry level team member did just that by going and talking to a new neighbor when she learned that the neighbor was a senior leader in a company that would be an ideal client for Prosek Partners. This company is now one of Prosek's largest clients.

Second, it's a smart marketing approach. Instead of paying for marketing that may or may not ever lead to a new client, the program allows Prosek Partners to only pay for marketing once they're receiving revenue from a client.

Third, it further helps team members understand the business side of the firm. For example, one team member once inquired why she didn't receive her 5% check for a couple months. After investigating, it was learned that the client was delinquent on payment. This was a great opportunity for her to learn about the delicate nature of extending credit and the importance of good working relationships with clients.

A Wonderful Service

In addition to creating innovative leaders at every level of an organization, there is another benefit to helping team members see themselves as owners and have both the education and information to act as such. It is a great way to serve team members by helping them develop.

When we help people develop personally and professionally, we win on a personal level, too. Coming to work is an enjoyable experience. We might even find ourselves looking forward to Monday mornings.

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Matt Tenney is a social entrepreneur, an international keynote speaker, and the author of Serve to Be Great: Leadership Lessons from a Prison, a Monastery, and a Boardroom.