The art of entrepreneurial engagement: by Véronique Rapetti

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What is engagement in the context of entrepreneurship? As an entrepreneur how can you feel engaged with what you do, and more importantly, why is it important for your teams to be engaged?

I am asking these questions, as here at the New Entrepreneurs Foundation, we have just taken on board a new cohort of 37 highly passionate, aspiring entrepreneurs, and seeing them working together and being “engaged” during our 3- day residential Boot camp, led me to think about engagement and start-ups.

In the world of corporates, or large organisations, there are many articles on creating a culture of engagement; many surveys showing that if the employees don’t feel engaged, if they cannot relate to the mission and vision of the company they work for and therefore don’t feel part of it, lower productivity and lower morale will certainly affect the organisation competitiveness.

In the very competitive market place that surrounds any start-up launch, could engagement be another lever for success?

I recently asked Dale Smith, Director of Creation at Bridge Talks, what does engagement means in the context of start-ups. His immediate response was “engagement comes from an intrinsic drive”.

True entrepreneurs are engaged by the simple act of wanting to get things done, to work towards a purpose, a goal that is of course very personal. Or sometime it is also because they simply cannot “not do it”. This is how Leslie Onyeso, Founder, Kwanji recently explained to us why he launched his business and why he gets up every day to work on his business.

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(From left to right: Rob O’Donovan, Founder, The Eleven; Will Silverwood, Managing Director (UK), Iris-Worldwide and Leslie Onyesoh, CEO & Founder, Kwanji)

In other words, one could say that entrepreneurs are naturally engaged, authentic and interested in what they do, they have a drive to succeed in what they do regardless of the environment in which they operate, like a horse with blinkers: it is the end point that matter and that is what keeps them engaged and motivated.

Their energy, passion and self-motivation will fuel them to start and finish the job. So, how can they transfer these traits to the people that will join them in their entrepreneurial journey? How can you as an entrepreneur, while you are building your team, create a culture of engagement from the start that will ultimately benefit both your growth and bottom line?

Scott Northcutt, Senior VP of HR at Bacardi Limited explained during another Bridge Talks event that people want:

  • A sense of belonging to something
  • Feel proud
  • Feel valued
  • Be able to be involved and contribute

So what do you need to create engagement with your new team members? Because not everybody will have the same sense of drive as you have. How can you transfer your passion and self-motivation, and how can you select based on it?

Let’s say that developing employee engagement follows the same process as launching a new product or service to your customers. You need to know what your customers buy and what will keep them buying in the future.

The advantage for an entrepreneur is that you can start this process at the same time as you are creating and growing your business. If you start by treating any new recruits as your internal customers, then I think it is about having in place:

  • Clear and consistent communication channels and transparency
  • Clear vision and sense of purpose
  • Openness and honesty in any feedback you give them
  • Clear objectives and goals to achieve
  • A community where people can share same values, feel part of a unified group
  • Appoint “Brand Ambassadors” that will be proud to talk and live your brand and stay connected and engaged with all the employees
  • A recruitment strategy that hire “radiators” people, ie people who are always positive and motivated

And never forget to have fun!

Employee engagement is not a soft goal, but if you do it right, from the start, it will help your brand, your business performance and your growth ultimately. As Doug Conant, CEO of Campbell’s Soup said: “To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.”

If you are able to create a start-up environment, brand and culture that is exciting to work for, your people should be able to embrace, engage and enjoy the entrepreneurial journey, like you and with you!


Véronique Rapetti
Learning Director, New Entrepreneurs Foundation