Working in an entrepreneurial firm

Nov 19, 2015

More so than the everyday small business, organizations that aim to grow must employ specific types of people.

Not every A/E or environmental firm is an entrepreneurial firm. But, if you’re reading this, odds are yours might be. There are some big differences between ordinary small businesses or privately held companies and entrepreneurial firms. Growth is what it’s all about. Entrepreneurs want to create value in their businesses, not just extract from it to live a particular lifestyle. These differences affect the types of people who will survive and thrive in an entrepreneurial firm. If you are running an entrepreneurial firm – not just a small business – here are some qualities I would look for in employees:
  • People who don’t fear change. Growth requires change. Most people don’t like change because change creates stress. You need people who thrive on it and get bored if things aren’t changing. Entrepreneurial firms are constantly changing, and their people have to change with it.
  • People who don’t want to be put in tightly defined roles. When you work for a growing company, you have to be flexible and willing to do the job that needs doing. Those who prefer a fixed, crystal-clear set of duties and responsibilities will probably not like working in an entrepreneurial firm where they could be called upon to help capitalize on a new opportunity or to put out a fire at a moment’s notice.
  • People who see work as fun and have their heads in the game, vs. those who believe work-time and fun-time need to be separated. Nothing drives me crazier than to send an email to someone at 5:02 p.m. and not hear back from them until 8:31 a.m. the next day: It tells me they don’t really have their heart in their work and just want to separate work from personal life. That’s great in a government job or a small business, but it won’t work in an entrepreneurial, high-growth environment, where engagement is everything.
  • People who have a desire to constantly learn new stuff. If someone doesn’t want to learn and just wants to do the same thing every day, they probably won’t be happy in an entrepreneurial firm. The constant change requires constant learning. New people, new software, new clients, new projects, new locations, new everything. Entrepreneurial firms require their people to constantly learn and evolve as the organization does.
  • People who can think long-term and who can delay immediate gratification. Entrepreneurial firms probably cannot afford the same pay that a stable company might provide. Growth sucks up cash and requires constant reinvestment. The long-term rewards may be greater, but the short-term rewards could be less. You need people who understand this, but then you also need to “make good” on that implicit promise.
  • People who can handle the idea that not everything they do or try works out, and that’s OK.Entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial firms do a lot of experimenting. Different services, different ways to do things, new people, new offices, new technologies, new marketing tactics, companies acquired, etc. But not everything they do works out. Along with constant experimentation, you’ll pick up a certain number of failures. That’s OK, as long as none of them tank the company. You need employees who aren’t going to be crushed by the occasional failure.
  • People who had their own business. If you have never had your own company – no matter how small – you’ll have a harder time understanding the motivations of owners who want to grow their business. It helps to hire people who have already experienced some of this firsthand. They’ll fit in better.
  • People who crave excitement and identify with the success of the company. Being part of an entrepreneurial company is FUN. You need employees who need to have that fun, want to be a part of that success, and take pride in it. They show where they work on their Facebook pages. They brag about the company to their friends. They wear the company T-shirts on weekends. They never refer to the company as “they” or “them” and instead have pride in the firm’s success and see why that is good for them.
Think about these points. You want an entrepreneurial firm? Hire the right people who are likely to fit in! MARK ZWEIG Is Zweig Group’s founder and CEO. Contact him at If you want to find out more about recruitment and retention policies that work, check out Zweig Group's brand new Recruitment & Retention Survey.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.