Hiring a new employee or taking a new job is exciting for all involved, from managers to recruiters to the talent themselves. There is electricity surrounding the possibility of what’s to come. It takes a huge investment of time, energy, and resources on both sides to find the right fit, and as a result, companies are tempted to capture total ownership of an employee’s productivity. But is this really fair, or even smart?
Both parties want to foster growth: The organization hopes the people they choose to represent them will bring experiences and skills to propel the company forward. And the employee is eager to combine their education and skills with exposure to new experiences and people to broaden them as professionals. But sometimes, an employee’s definition of professional growth isn’t limited to their accomplishments at one single workplace; they may also want to build a side hustle—and that can be a deal killer in traditional corporate cultures.
If companies really want to maximize the engagement of what might be their most ambitious employees, they need to loosen the reins and change their stagnant views against entrepreneurship. In fact, they should deliberately nurture that independent business-minded spirit in an effort to build mutual trust and loyalty...or risk losing out on top talent.
When the honeymoon’s over
Often, in traditional business settings, employees are asked to sign an intellectual property (IP) document stating anything the employee creates is owned by the company, even if it is done on the employee’s own time and dime. This is meant to prevent an employee from competing in the same space as their employer, but sometimes the contract language reaches well past that. Basically, as long as they receive a paycheck, anything the employee builds, programs, cooks up, creates, or designs can belong to an employer.
Particularly in software development firms, people have grown so used to this SOP that they, unfortunately, fail to negotiate in their own best interest when confronted with these clauses. Too often, either they accept it and then harbor feelings of frustration that metastasize into an unhappy and unmotivated employee, or they seek another place to earn a living altogether.
For employees whose own passion projects can be an important source of income or a creative outlet, a sense of distrust between employer and entrepreneurial employee is fomented there and creates a foundation for a less-than-symbiotic relationship moving forward.
And so, any sparks of excitement forged during the hiring process die a pretty quick death under extreme house rules or overreaching legal IP terms and conditions.
Ben Cerezo, a Project Strategist here, is also co-founder of a tech startup that aims to revolutionize access to physical exercise and health by creating an innovative remote video platform for trainers to work more easily with their clients. Ben was honest with Theorem about his role and intentions around his company, called Neuflect, when he went through the hiring process.
“I would not have taken the position here if I hadn’t received support for my efforts around Neuflect,” Ben says.
I probably wouldn’t work someplace that discouraged me from working on my own entrepreneurial endeavors since that would impede on my free agency.”
Ben believes an employer’s claim to IP rights from the output of their employees should only be triggered when it pertains directly to what the employee was hired to do. To him, anything beyond that would be considered a “lost opportunity cost of pursuing my dreams” and require potentially cost-prohibitive compensation in exchange for that restriction.
Sara Cannon, one of our Business Development Managers, who also co-owns a small brewery in Pittsburgh, says she would’ve been “devastated” if she had been forced to choose between her full-time career and the brewery if Theorem saw her endeavor as competition for her time and attention or a genuine concern for the security of their business.
“I’m highly suspicious of any company that doesn’t invest in treating employees like individuals,” Sara says. “Scrapping blanket policies in favor of more custom agreements that make sense for the situation is a smart move that can help companies create competitive offers and a compelling work environment.”
Compelling might be an understatement. Employees who are unfettered by creative constraints are better able to use all the tools cultivated throughout their experiences to benefit their employer and clients. Those who have ambitions beyond their core workplace are true innovators who will be more prepared to find solutions because they may have encountered something similar on their own journey. They are less likely to need (or want) micromanagement to achieve goals because they have proven to be highly capable of critical thinking, and even benefit from their own failures, as those are moments for learning and growth.
Happy employees make great employees
One of the most obvious reasons entrepreneurs make great employees is because they are fulfilled in their lives and not longing for “greener pastures.” When people learn, grow and feel empowered, it increases their self-confidence and, in turn, naturally boosts dopamine levels in the brain, which creates a positive cascade of emotional benefits for the employee and a wealth of tangible benefits for the employer (and their clients).
There is an artificial and inflated fear that all employees are unscrupulous and will steal a company’s “secret sauce” just to make their personal fortune at the expense of their employer. This is, of course, a terrible thing to happen, but it’s quite rare. It takes more than a single good idea to replicate a company’s success in any meaningful way. Far more common, yet invisible to the corporate eye, is the fact that countless workers feel so stifled and suffocated by their longing to have something of their own, that they leave a company altogether.
So what’s riskier? A trusted hire abusing IP rights for their own gain, or the silent morale killer of a restrictive agreement?
Nikki Cannon, one of our Technical Business Analysts, recommends fostering a supportive environment for creative employee endeavors over contracts that can do more harm than good. Nikki, who is also the founder and CEO of an activewear and intimates company, was inspired to create her own clothing line from her personal experiences. Nikki points out that, especially in tech, IP is usually repeatable regardless of any agreement.
“People are the secret to success, not intellectual property,” says Nikki.
Employees working at their optimal creativity levels will generate better work and allow for elevated teamwork to support more elegant solution-building.”
Ben agrees: “There’s a lot more to working someplace than getting a paycheck, and there’s a lot more to hiring people than gaining access to their IP.”
Entrepreneurs are problem-solvers
Smart employers recognize and value employees who channel their creative energy into their own businesses and side hustles. They understand that these folks bring a diversity of thought, problem-solve differently, and are intimately familiar with the challenges of maintaining a healthy and profitable organization. That’s the kind of positive, growth-mindset environment any business should strive for and can create.
Entrepreneurs make great employees because they are always “on,” generating lots of unique solutions and pivoting quickly, so there is never a shortage of new ideas. They can also be extremely empathetic, helping them to “see around corners” and think a few steps ahead with a finely tuned big-picture outlook.
From her location in Parque Batlle Villa Dolores, Uruguay, Lucia Bustamante, Product Designer at Theorem, founded Mujeres IT, an organization that supports women in tech.
“Entrepreneurs often become leaders,” says Lucia. “In a culture of ownership and innovation, entrepreneurs can contribute so much since they have also been innovative for their own projects. They are self-starters who use their initiative, are more likely to achieve success, and they are ambitious, which makes them work harder.”
Entrepreneurs context-switch easily
Entrepreneurial employees wear many hats and have the unique ability to context-switch easily. Context switching, commonly known as multi-tasking, can derail productivity, but those who run their own business are not just well-practiced at this, they sometimes enjoy it or excel at it.
“I actually tend to be more productive when I have a lot of things going on,” Sara says. “There’s nothing harder for me than getting motivated from a dormant position, so I try to always keep it moving, when possible.”
Similarly, the varied experience and amplified drive employee entrepreneurs have helps them switch their vantage points more easily. They’ve amassed a knowledge base and set of leadership skills that can contribute to any role. This is particularly valuable on project teams where all roles are expected to speak confidently to stakeholders, or on smaller agile teams where it’s beneficial to have a robust range of skills.
“That outlook of always looking for ways to improve drives our need to find the best for our clients,” says Nikki.
How can businesses attract—and keep—more entrepreneurs?
It begins with respect and trust. Given some latitude, an entrepreneur employee is loyal and able to support the employer’s clients with more attention to detail and added motivation than others. Why? Because they feel supported in their own endeavors.
For Lucia, a workplace that she’d deem worthy of her talents must have a culture of innovation and ownership that is reflected in the company's projects. She is most satisfied with an employer that regularly shares words of motivation and satisfaction from employees and has the flexibility to manage people’s schedules in a way that allows handling outside-work projects.
Now, I know that a workplace that allows me to pursue my passion projects is a place where I can grow as an individual and as a professional, and, it is a place with a healthy culture that cares about people.”
Employees who enjoy a healthy work-life balance, work-day flexibility, and agency in their daily jobs bring forth their best for employers and their clients. When a company trusts and respects employees' time and competency—especially when they are an entrepreneur—the ROI is tremendous.
Whether the employees are entrepreneurs or parents, or caretakers of aging parents—whatever the case may be—all of their efforts are time-consuming endeavors. Supporting all employees and allowing for that balance increases satisfaction all around.