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Could entrepreneurial talent hold the key to your business success?

You know entrepreneurial people can boost your business, but often these talents can seem out of reach. Time to look a little closer to home…

Driven. Focused. Inventive. Positive. Energetic. Entrepreneurial attributes are highly sought after by businesses of all sizes. Often these are the people that inject ambition, courage, optimism and productivity into your team mix, with a can-do attitude and a commitment to succeed. But is it only entrepreneurs that can bring this into your business? And if you find talented individuals with these characteristics how you do keep hold of them?

 1. Ditch the rules

“Entrepreneurial people respond well to freedom and the scope to come up with ideas and solve problems,” explains Investors in People Scotland Practitioner, Stephen McQuillan, “They need room to challenge how things are. They instinctively look for ways to improve things, so keep things flexible. This will allow them to do what they do best – innovate.”

Many businesses are nervous of change, but if well managed it can be attractive to ambitious, ideas driven people who want to see the work they’re doing making a difference. This in itself can then drive further positive change and improvement. “By giving individuals in your business the freedom to find solutions and step up to the plate, what you’re actually doing is creating leaders at every level,” Stephen continues. “Rather than it being about rank or title, leadership capability can be built across your team, and entrepreneurially-minded people have the chance to really shine. That can be a compelling proposition for people to join your business – and stick around.”

2. Be open to new thinking

Creating the right environment for entrepreneurial talent to flourish is really about giving people the opportunity to show what they’re capable of. And that can often mean not just doing things the way you’ve always done them. “Break the mould, break the obvious,” Stephen says. “If you’re running a call centre and you want to employ young people, you might be faced with a less than effective workforce at 8am on a Saturday. But reprimanding them isn’t necessarily the right approach. Instead ask them what working hours would suit them and would work for the business. Don’t whinge when they come in at 8am on a Saturday morning hungover. Instead, ask them when they want to come in. You’ll be amazed at how giving them responsibility for their actions engenders a sense of loyalty.”

If that seems bold, it is. But it needn't be reckless. At the same time, ask them what impact these new hours would have on the business, and how they will help the team achieve its goals as a result. By doing this you’ll encourage your people to think about their role and what their contribution can bring, which, in turn can increase commitment and productivity. “Finding entrepreneurial talent for your business isn’t just about looking outside,” Stephen continues. “You need to start with the assumption that entrepreneurialism exists in your people already and that it’s waiting for somebody to ignite it.”

3. Encourage ownership 

For people with entrepreneurial characteristics, part of the draw of business is feeling a sense of ownership, having built something up that they are responsible for. Stephen explains about Farrpoint, an Investors in People accredited Edinburgh-based technology company that started with four founders and has since grown to have over 20 employees. “As the business grew, the four founders had to start asking what ownership means for the other people in their business” he says. “Is it job ownership, is it task ownership, or is it taking ownership of an experimental day? Whatever the answer, considering the nature of ownership, defining it, and acting accordingly is crucial to keeping people with drive and ambition on board.”

4. Develop a line of sight

Drive and ambition isn’t the preserve of overt entrepreneurs, but can be found and nurtured across your business, to great effect. How? By improving what Stephen calls the ‘line of sight’. He goes on to tell the story of a medium-sized electronic point of sale company based business where the receptionist thought she had to answer the phone in three rings, simply because it was ‘company rules.’ Stephen explained to the MD that by giving the receptionist a clearer ‘line of sight’, he could help her understand that she answers in three rings because it could be their next buyer calling, helping her see her part in the achieving the sales goals of the company and giving her more ownership over her role in the business as a result.

The receptionist later revealed that sometimes she doesn’t put calls through because people ask for things the business doesn't – but could – sell, simultaneously identifying a potential new stream of revenue for the business. “As we talked she was problem solving, thinking ambitiously and seeing opportunities, all from being given a clearer line of sight and adopting a sense of ownership over her role and contribution to the business,” he explains. “If you asked that receptionist whether she thought she was an entrepreneur she’d probably say no. But that’s not to say she doesn’t have the traits you might be looking for as a business. I think nurturing entrepreneurialism is really just thinking hard about the positive behaviours you want and then giving your people the chance to show you they have it.”

5. Help your leaders help you

A lot of this starts with the leaders in your business and how they manage the people in their teams. Identifying potential and nurturing it will encourage talented individuals to stay put and could reveal new talents too. Leaders need to recognise and celebrate success, be transparent about goals, keep conversations going and respond to feedback. But to do all this they need to be nurtured too, so they can see the importance of their own contributions, lead by example and feel empowered to deliver.

“Leaders need to work together and co-create with people the desired behaviours to maximise connections within their teams, which might mean training, development and endorsement,” says Stephen. “But investing in your leaders is investing in all your people because you’ll be creating a culture where productivity, creativity and confidence can flourish. A business with this sort of culture is the kind of place people are drawn to, the kind of place people want to work.”

When you’re thinking about the sort of people you want to work in your business, you’re really thinking about what kind of business you are. The culture you have, the opportunities you offer and the support you provide will define you as an organisation. It will not only draw the right kind of people to you but will compel them to stay.

“If you’re looking for entrepreneurially-minded people you’re really just looking for someone who asks ‘what could it be, rather than what it is,” Stephen concludes. “And the best way to find those people is to start by asking yourself that very same question; of your people management practice, your organisation and your business future. That’s how you’ll attract the people who’ll help your business succeed.”


Top tips for finding entrepreneurial talent

Start with your own people. The skills and behaviours you’re looking for could be right under your nose. Give your people opportunities to shine by working with them to identify the right development opportunities.

Improve your workplace culture. Start by interrogating your values and vision so you’re really clear on the sort of organisation you want to be and the sort of talents you need to get there.

Let your people take the lead. Whether they’re new recruits or long serving team members, by giving your people the opportunity to identify and solve problems you’ll make them feel more valued, more confident in their abilities and more invested in your business.