When my daughter was born in 2007, I was overjoyed and terrified. Of course I was nervous about being a first-time mom. But what really scared me was the possibility that the company I had built over a decade might sputter and fail if I diverted my focus, even for an instant.
I was just a few weeks into my maternity leave when I realized my company wasn't going under. In fact, it was thriving. That happy outcome was the direct result of a strategy I had been percolating for several years. At the time I was working six or seven days a week and facing burnout. I needed a new way to configure my business, one that tapped the tremendous talent of my employees.
That was the genesis of the "Army of Entrepreneurs" model.
Now, having come through the most challenging period in our history, I can see that while my maternity leave crystallized the strategy, the true test was the prolonged recession. We stayed afloat and in 2009 and we were named a 5000 Fastest-Growing Company.
What's most extraordinary to me, however, is that our success was built by a powerful team of motivated employees, not order-takers in an owner-led practice. In short, we have built and deployed our own Army of Entrepreneurs.
What is an Army of Entrepreneurs, exactly? It's an internal force of committed, creative employees. It is also a management and leadership model. With innovation and creativity driving the new economy, human capital has never been more important. But old management models don't truly encourage the kind of entrepreneurial thinking needed for success.
That's where the Army model comes in. Every employee is empowered to develop an "owner's mindset" and use his or her own resources and initiative to help the business succeed. That may mean coming up with a new product, a breakthrough idea for a client or a streamlined process. The unifying idea is that each person becomes a powerful force for growth within the organization.
At CJP Communications, the Army model has helped to forge stronger teams, increase sales and client satisfaction, and develop employees who truly embrace the company's brand.
The Army model was developed in the context of growing a small business, but it works for big companies too. The Army model is also particularly relevant for women-owned businesses, which account for more than 10 million companies in the U.S., according to the National Association of Women Business Owners.
The Army's flat management structure and focus on individual empowerment not only help to reinforce the culture of many women-owned businesses, they also establish a meritocracy where employees can advance based on their abilities.
The crux of the Army strategy is to create an incentive that rewards the employee and helps align his or her personal and professional goals with the company's. To kick-start the Army, I introduced "Commission for Life," in which the employee who sets up a successful new-business meeting--that's it, just sets up the meeting--receives a percentage of the revenue for the life of the business relationship.
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, an army 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 to accounts receivable.
I am continually amazed at how few people truly know how their employer operates and makes money. To be fully engaged employees must understand their contributions and how they fit into the larger picture.
Other aspects of building an Army of Entrepreneurs typically include finding and cultivating new business relationships; expanding existing client engagements (particularly valuable in this economy); using technology to increase communication and productivity; and recruiting, retaining and compensating the best talent.
Taken together, all of these elements create a nearly unstoppable force and an immense payoff. When I hatched the Army model, I thought it would be a "nice" way to grow the business and develop the staff. With the economic downturn, it became necessary--and a huge contributor to our continued success.
There's one other aspect of the Army 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. Leaders and managers benefit too. Identifying, nurturing and watching the entrepreneurial spirit grow within my company has been a source of great pleasure. While I once felt singlehandedly responsible for my business and my team, I am now standing shoulder to shoulder with my Army of Entrepreneurs.
Jennifer Prosek is the owner of CJP Communications and the author of Army of Entrepreneurs: Create an Engaged and Empowered Workforce for Exceptional Business Growth, to be published in February 2011 by AMACOM. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted from w2wlink partner site, Forbes Woman.