5 tips on dealing with your entrepreneur inside

How does Process Excellence sit with people who break the rules?

Ian Hawkins


Start ups benefit from the agility and drive of the entrepreneurs who founded them – but not all entrepreneurs are currently running their own business. People with an entrepreneurial mindset can be found at all levels in businesses large and small: HBR calls them ‘the entrepreneurs inside’ - and if you’re engaged in PEX, those entrepreneurs have the potential to cause you problems. How does Process Excellence sit with people who are notorious for breaking the rules?

It’s a question you need to answer. Only one out of nine companies sustain profitable growth for 10 years or more, and Bain & Co’s book, The Founder’s Mentality’ sets out a blueprint for bucking the trend. Their ‘Founder’ – largely analogous to an entrepreneur – is a key element.

So how do you get the benefits of employing an entrepreneur, without the nightmare of someone who’ll do their own thing, wreck your operations, and set up their own company anyway (stealing your best clients in the process)?


1. Identify your entrepreneurs

Knowing who the entrepreneur inside is will give you a head start. Don’t worry too much about the bottom line in the sales team: instead, look for the gregarious, the ones coming up with new ideas, the people who dream of starting up on their own. This paper suggests that entrepreneurial traits are apparent in children as young as ten. 

Your entrepreneur inside might not be obvious on paper. It’s a mindset – not a metric.


2 Understand why they are there

If these entrepreneurs are hard wired to be self employed, why are they working with you? Find what the blocks are to them setting up solo – because when the cage door is opened, sooner or later they will fly through it.

What’s stopped them from going solo? Funds? A lack of self belief? Have they already crashed and burned, and are only working for you because their first (or fiftieth) idea didn’t work out and they’re after a steady income?

However you respond, the trick is not to sabotage the entrepreneur’s career to keep them on the inside, because they will find a way out sooner or later anyway. Instead…


3 Use your (limited) time wisely

Entrepreneurs need to feel they are part of the decision making process. You can’t just tell them what to do – you need to get them to buy into the idea themselves.

And nobody buys into an idea better than an idea they’ve been a part of building. Think about what you can do to create a ‘safe space’ for your entrepreneur to grow and try their ideas out.

Gallup recently found a staggering 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged, resulting in poor productivity and low levels of service. To get your entrepreneur to stick around and be useful, you need to engage them. Fortunately there’s a conference for that. 


4. Give them space and resources

Len Schlesinger and Charlie Kiefer in HBR  recommend an ‘act-learn-build‘ cycle: the upside of this is that the needs of the entrepreneur – to try their own thing, to learn from their mistakes – is catered for. There are clear outcomes that can benefit a business: if your entrepreneur inside isn’t already in R&D, perhaps they should be. 

5. Let them go

If they are a bona fide entrepreneur, the truth is you’re likely to lose them eventually, unless they rise to the top of your company. So make the most of the limited time you have them on site, and when they go, manage the relationship so that you become the client rather than the competition.

Making the workplace a fit around the entrepreneur’s mindset is a challenge, but one which could pay off: you’ll certainly find new ways of doing things, often by means of revolution rather than incremental change. You’ll have an evangelist on the inside of the business and, crucially, someone who is capable of riding the emotional waves of short term failure as they head towards a brighter goal.

To be the one in nine companies that sustains profitable growth for 10 years or more, you’re going to have to make HR part of PEX.

To find out more about the entrepreneurial strategies you should think about adopting, read this