Don’t Hire Entrepreneurs

I remember back in university, after I’d already started my first business, I took a workshop on entrepreneurship. It was supposed to help you figure out if you had what it took to be an entrepreneur, and so we discussed some of the characteristics of entrepreneurs.

The first on the list: you’ve been fired from a job. Apparently, most entrepreneurs have been fired at least once. Why? Because entrepreneurs usually aren’t good employees.

So why do we want to hire them?

Many of the business owners I know have made the mistake of hiring people and grooming them to be entrepreneurs. These business owners think they’re being clever by recognizing the kind of talent that their own bosses never recognized, and by giving their employees the powers and freedoms they never enjoyed in their own jobs. Just as importantly, the business owners hope that they can harness all that entrepreneurial energy to get more productivity out of their employees, to make a more successful business. And there’s that hope that it’s the path to owning rather than running a business. But it’s really just well-intentioned narcissism.

Where does it lead? Invariably these employees-turned-entrepreneurs do exactly what they’ve been trained to do: they start their own businesses. I saw one internet marketing company crumble after a carefully groomed employee left to found his own internet marketing company, taking most of the clients and some of the key staff with him. A few years later the same thing happened to a service industry company friends of mine owned.

We love to encourage entrepreneurship because that’s who we are. We want to raise little baby entrepreneurs within our own organization. But the reality is that a business doesn’t need more than one entrepreneur. And what that entrepreneur really needs is good management.

Entrepreneurship is such a buzzword these days that people try to attach it to just about anything. We’ll talk about a new CEO being “entrepreneurial” in her approach, or we’ll use neologisms like “intrapreneurship.” But don’t get confused: the CEO’s of great companies are rarely entrepreneurs unless they were also founders. And “intrapreneurs” are not internal entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs are in love with creating, and taking risks. Entrepreneurs usually want to run the show, risk everything, and make a masterpiece.

Intrapreneurs aren’t the same. They’re innovators and risk-takers, but they love working within an existing system. It’s not a lesser role, just different: intrapreneurs have the end goal of leveraging the power of an existing organization to do new, wonderful things. It’s about bringing something new to a company that’s already great. In fact, intrapreneurs have the power to do a lot more than most entrepreneurs–such as the intrapreneurial creators of Gmail did within Google. More resources, more power to do cool stuff.

Great managers are also not usually entrepreneurs–in fact they’re the opposite. Where entrepreneurs often gravitate towards risk, managers learn how to minimize it. Entrepreneurs run the show, managers ensure the flow. Entrepreneurs create resources out of nothing, and… well, often managers have to do the same thing. But again, management is about taking a great thing and making it even greater, whereas entrepreneurship is about starting something you believe in, but that has no guarantee of being great or successful.

Smart entrepreneurs don’t hire entrepreneurs, they hire great employees, from magical managers to superstar salespeople.