Why Encouraging Employees To Be Entrepreneurs Can Create An Incredible Place To Work


Laura Vanderkam

January 17, 2014

Once upon a time, companies frowned on employees having second jobs (or even serious hobbies). The fear was that it would distract people from their main gig.

But this is changing for a few reasons. First, moonlighting has changed: running an Etsy store selling jewelry, or a blog reviewing books, can fit flexibly into almost anyone’s life.

Second, employers increasingly value entrepreneurial skills. When the market shifts constantly, even behemoths have to enter new spaces and find new ways of reaching customers. “Any brilliant business is built on an amazing ability to problem solve,” says Cillian Kieran, founder and CEO of CKSK, a digital advertising agency. How cool is it if your employees are already developing these skills on their own?

And finally, smart managers know that what people do outside of work can help them at work, too. Knowing what people enjoy “gives you insights into people’s true passions,” says Kimberly Palmer, author of the new book The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life. “They’re spending their weekends and free time doing this. They clearly love it. However you can incorporate it, it helps people feel more connected to their co-workers and their jobs.”

Here are a few ideas for making people’s passions work for you.

1. Open up.

Because of old taboos, many people won’t talk about their night-and-weekend gigs. You have to raise the topic. Kieran specifically asks about people’s passions in the hiring process, and tries to hire people who have something fascinating they do outside of work (not necessarily paid, but something interesting nonetheless). To be creative, “we need to expose ourselves to new things all the time,” he says. Talk about your own gigs too. Kieran does programming in his spare time, and works on motorcycles. You never know what will spark a good idea.

2. Give people time.

Google’s “20% time,” in which employees work on what they want roughly one day a week, has been written about so much it’s almost a cliché (and some press claims it may not be happening much at Google anymore. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t smart. People come up with interesting ways to leverage their interests to solve your problems when left to their own devices.

3. Create dream projects.

This is the advanced version of idea No. 2. Rather than wait to see what your team members come up with, go ahead and start a project that you can see will leverage their unique sideline skills. Palmer, whose day job is as a financial writer for US News and World Report, started an Etsy store selling digital planners a few years ago. US News recently put her on a project creating ebooks for them. Her digital publishing skills, learned on the side, “totally helped me do my job better.”

4. Consider one HR problem solved.

Many companies stage brown bag lunches to hear from experts on different topics. It’s a relatively cheap retention and training tool. So what’s a way to make it cheaper and better? Ask team members to speak about their passions and sidelines at these lunches and you may never need to hire an outside speaker again. When you’re learning about somebody else’s passion, “hopefully you’re absorbing some of the knowledge they have,” says Kiernan. You’re also showing people that they’re valued–not just for what they do from nine to five, but for what they do outside that time as well.

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