Business photo by Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network

Published on August 13th, 2015 | by Nancy F. Clark


Grow Your Business And Disregard The Naysayers

By Jen Prosek —

I am an entrepreneur but I owe much of my success to “intrapreneurs” – employees who have stepped up to help me build a small PR firm into an international communications consultancy. In the early years, I came very close to burning out. I was working six and seven days a week as the firm’s chief rainmaker, idea generator, client wrangler and problem-solver.

I knew I had to find a better way. Every entrepreneur understands these issues. You can only get so far relying solely on your own smarts and determination. Competent employees are a huge help, but what you truly need are people who are as passionate as you are.

My solution was to develop my own “Army of Entrepreneurs,” a troop of intrapreneurs who cared as much about the business as I did. My goal was to instill an owner’s mindset in every employee, to engage them by encouraging them to treat the business like it was their own, and be proactive about finding new clients, expanding accounts and developing new products and services.

This model worked great for my company and the concept has taken root and become part of a fast-growing trend. As Alyson Krueger notes in The Rise Of The Intrapreneur,“ . . . never before has there been such a push for employees to take ownership of their own corner of a company . . . Now, companies such as Deloitte, GFK, Accenture, Ashoka, and Barclays have formal programs to encourage their employees to create new projects and roles.”

I developed my model in the context of growing a small business but it’s clearly applicable for big companies, too. But not everyone is convinced and naysayers persist. They may be managers who fear the loss of their power, staffers who fear additional responsibility, or investors who simply don’t see how employee empowerment can be profitable. An Army of Entrepreneurs is, to many schooled in traditional business practices, a very big idea. You will encounter people who will write you off as crazy for even suggesting such a thing.

What ties together all the doubts is the naysayer’s mistaken belief that the model presents insurmountable hurdles. My simple message to them is, overcome your doubts and give Army of Entrepreneurs a chance. It works. When employees can tie their own success to the success of their employer, everyone wins.

Here are four of the most common worries I’ve heard and ways to address them:

1. Employees will lose their focus on the work.

This is the biggest pushback I get when I talk about Army of Entrepreneurs. I hear it a lot when I mention Commission for Life, an incentive program I created where employees get 5 percent of the revenue for the life of an account, simply for setting up the first meeting.

Somehow, some managers have been schooled to believe that employees are so money-oriented they’ll immediately ditch their training, work ethic and common sense to chase commissions every moment of the day. If anything, I see the opposite, a slower-than-I’d-like adoption of the new behavior. I can assure the doubters that no one suddenly stops doing his or her job.

2. Employees will only care about the work they created.

This is really an issue of the quality of people you’ve hired rather than the management or compensation system you’ve set up. We naturally care deeply about projects we have started, projects we nurture and projects that add to our professional and financial status.

But an Army of Entrepreneurs is not just a collection of individuals; there is an important force that binds us. When I encourage individuals to act entrepreneurially, I emphasize two things: the benefits it will bring to each of them individually and the benefits it will bring to the company as a whole. Communicate the dual priorities and you’ll guard against anyone thinking they’re in it for themselves.

3. Entrepreneurs are born, not made.

This one actually makes me angry. Why? Because not only is it untrue, it springs from laziness. If you are looking at your staff and wondering where their entrepreneurial skills are, you need to walk over to the nearest mirror and take a good long look.

Ask yourself whether you have trained your staff for the skills you want them to have or if you’re just hoping they’ll come up with skills on their own. Nine times out of 10, the real answer to the question is that you have not done the training necessary to get the behaviors you desire.

Entrepreneurial skills are learnable skills. To be sure, some individuals are more naturally entrepreneurially inclined than others. Great! Those people are going to be your star pupils in the company training sessions. They will be the ones who “get it” early. Tap their enthusiasm and their natural talent. But do not think for a moment that they are the only ones capable of becoming entrepreneurial. Indeed, they might not even end up being the most skilled entrepreneurs on your team.

4. There is too much risk with decentralized decision-making.

There is risk associated with decentralized decision-making, that’s true. But I would argue there’s greater risk associated with not decentralizing decision-making. Centralized decision-making is actually significantly more dangerous to a company that wants to grow.

If all decision-making is kept cloistered in the management ranks –or, worse, in your own office – you set natural limits to your company’s growth. The company will grow only as fast as you can process the requests that pour in every day.

The benefits of decentralized decision making have been well documented by academic research. Thomas Malone, a professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, looked at the impact in his book, The Future of Work.

Decentralization, he says, has three primary benefits. It encourages motivation and creativity; it allows many minds to work simultaneously on the same problem; and it makes room in the workplace for individualism. Today, there are few businesses that can afford to ignore the demand for innovation and leading-edge thinking.

Next Steps

A single leader or rainmaker alone doesn’t build a great business. Exceptional businesses need the talent, commitment and creativity of an entrepreneurial team. For business owners interested in creating their own team, it may be helpful to keep a few thoughts in mind.

The crux of this strategy is to create an incentive that rewards the employee and helps align his or her personal and professional goals with the company’s objectives. For some, the best incentive may be strictly financial. For others, it may involve more autonomy or creative control.

The next step is to embrace the idea that creating the right culture isn’t optional. Without transparency and openness, a good team can’t thrive or even develop. People must be allowed, even encouraged, to take risks. This management by empowerment is essential.

The third component is to put in place a training program–a boot camp for entrepreneurs. What distinguishes boot camp from other training programs is that it teaches employees about the business, from revenue generation to expenses and to accounts receivable.

There’s one other aspect of the Army team worth mentioning. While this strategy brings in revenue, it doesn’t stop there. Once a leader successfully deploys the Army, employee confidence and satisfaction soar.

Identifying, nurturing and watching the entrepreneurial spirit grow within my company have been a source of great pleasure. While I once felt singlehandedly responsible for my business and my team, I now stand shoulder to shoulder with my Army of Entrepreneurs.


Jen Prosek is the owner of Prosek Partners, an international public relations firm for financial services and the business-to-business sector. She is the author of Army of Entrepreneurs: Create an Engaged and Empowered Workforce for Exceptional Business Growth. She is also the author, with Richard Rende, Ph.D., of Raising Can-Do Kids: Giving Children the Tools to Thrive in a Fast-Changing World.

Article photo by Dell’s Women’s Entrepreneur Network

Nancy Clark is CEO of PositivityDaily, Director of Forbes WomensMedia, and author of The Positive Journal. She coaches companies and executives in business skills with the added benefit of training in positive psychology and happiness -- incorporating the latest scientific studies on changing brain patterns and habits. Clark believes that positivity is the next necessary step to engage employees.

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About the Author

Nancy Clark is CEO of PositivityDaily, Director of Forbes WomensMedia, and author of The Positive Journal. She coaches companies and executives in business skills with the added benefit of training in positive psychology and happiness -- incorporating the latest scientific studies on changing brain patterns and habits. Clark believes that positivity is the next necessary step to engage employees.

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