How to Nurture Independent Employees (Who Still Stand by You)


Independent Female Boss

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Guest contributed by Lisa Messenger

Ten years ago, you rarely heard the term ‘intrapreneur’ – the buzzword used to describe an employee who has an entrepreneurial spirit. But these days, it’s front and centre of every work place as we all do our best to engage and develop those working within our ranks who could easily run their own. Perhaps you have one (or you are one) – the staff member who follows their initiative, turns an idea into reality and works with passion and purpose. Basically, the ideal employee – or are they? The downside of giving your staff total autonomy in the office is their independence might backfire on leaders, if you’re not careful. Driven, ambitious and determined, an intrapreneur can follow their dreams right out the door, if a company doesn’t give them a reason to be loyal.

And while they can be hard to handle at times, there is great value in having an intrapreneur as part of your team, or company.

I am particularly aware of this when nurturing my staff. Our entire magazine is built on an ‘anything is possible’ premise; our pages filled with the inspiring stories of professionals, creatives, thought-leaders and artists who work without limits, take chances and aren’t afraid of risky decisions. I encourage my team to think independently, freely and rebelliously but every day, I still need them to come into the office and commit to my company.

I’ve happy to say my core team has been with me since the start of Collective Hub, helping the magazine to expand to a global publication sold in 37 countries and the online platforms to go even further. It’s been an amazing journey and I couldn’t have done it without both their commitment and self-sufficiency.

But intrapreneurs have their challenges. It’s an interesting contradiction but one that leaders of the future have to master. How can you nurture independent employees who think like renegades but are as loyal as family? Here are my top tips:

Create a Safe Space.
I’m not talking about installing smoke alarms and ensuring there’s no loose floorboards. It’s important to create a culture where employees feel like they can make their ideas heard, without feeling judged, overpowered or ignored. Be aware that different people communicate differently. Forcing everyone to pitch ideas at a weekly meeting may be a nightmare for introverts. Instead start a ‘cyber comments box’ – it could be a shared Google document where employees can suggest ideas, either under their name or anonymously.

Act Like an Owner. This is one of the employee principles at LinkedIn. As one former intern explained in a blog post, “For some [this] means making wise financial decisions on your budget, others it is turning off the lights as you leave a room, or picking up trash that someone left behind.” This mindset is vital for employee loyalty – encouraging people to look past their job description and feel responsible for the 360-degree outcome of a company. It only takes small changes. Research has found that an employee’s sense of ‘psychological ownership’ can be boosted simply by personalising their office with family photos or allowing them to choose their own job title.

Get Out of the Office.
On a hot summer’s afternoon, when you’re sitting at a desk behind a window, the freelance life can seem very tempting. That’s why I encourage my team to escape into the outside world, whether that means scheduling a meeting at a pavement café, taking a micro-break in the park or hosting a brainstorming afternoon beside a hotel pool (yes, we’ve done this). Airbnb applies its brand motto – ‘You belong anywhere’ – to its employees, who can roam between different workspaces in their global offices, inside and out.

Money does Matter. There’s sometimes a misconception, especially in the startup, that loving your job is enough to make up for an appallingly low salary. Studies do show that wages are less important to Gen-Y than baby boomers but it’s still important for a worker to feel financially valued. As a leader, this may mean thinking creatively, especially if an accounts department is watching you carefully. If a junior staff member has an idea for a new platform or product, can you offer them a percentage of the profit in exchange for overseeing it? It’s a morale boosting gesture, plus we’re all more likely to give a project our all if it could potentially fill our pockets.

Explain Your No-Moments. At some point even your star employee will have to deal with one of their key ideas being rejected. This can lead to a dejected worker scouring job boards for vacancies, which is why it’s so important to explain your reasons using hard facts and data. Why isn’t the concept commercially-viable right now, could it be explored in the future or could you evolve the idea to make it more do-able? Always remind employees that not every idea can be implemented. As Steve Jobs said, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on… It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.”

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