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On the Job: Even workers at big companies can act like entrepreneurs

Published June 29, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If you're so unhappy with your job that you plan to look for a new position this year, you're not alone.

A recent Monster survey finds that 81 percent of workers who have used their Monster account in the past three years plan actively to seek another job this year, and 79 percent report they're confident they're going to land another position.

A desire for more money is a motivating factor for many workers, according to the online survey of nearly 6,000 job seekers. But so is a desire for a more personally fulfilling position.

Such reports can be unsettling to many employers.

Companies have been operating with lean staffs for many years because of the economic slowdown, and they may dread the thought of high turnover just as they're ready to ramp up operations.

At least one employer, L'Oreal, is trying to head off such turnover by offering workers a chance to develop more meaningful and fulfilling work, similar to what can be found in start-ups.

Michael Larrain, president of active cosmetics for L'Oreal, says employee surveys show that workers stay on their jobs for more than compensation. They also want work that lets them have an active voice, something he experienced as part of start-ups for a decade.

That's why he's focused on creating a culture of "intrapreneurialsm," or instilling the entrepreneurial spirit within the company so it spurs innovative thinking, passion, ambition and growth.

"I want everyone to ask questions about why we're doing the things we're doing," he says.

That also means that everyone is encouraged to try new ideas without feeling they will be berated if they fail, Larrain says.

"We're going to strike out many more times than we will hit a home run," he says. "But when we do fail, we'll look at what we learned from it and what we can change for the future."

Larrain says he's aware that employees — especially younger workers in Generation Y — want more career development opportunities. Each employee works with a manager to come up with a career development plan because he wants to ensure that top talent doesn't leave.

"I'm watching managers to make sure they're listening to employees. I want them to throw ideas out there and then listen to the discussion," he says. "Our leaders need to be very, very, very strong communicators to establish trust and make sure people feel free to speak up."

As part of that effort, he has established a leadership development program that gives four sales representatives in the United States a chance to be mentored individually.

"We weren't doing a great job of preparing managers and vice presidents to be successful," he says. "That was forcing us to go for external hires," which can be expensive and time consuming.

Instead, Larrain says he is aiming for up to 70 percent of top positions to be filled internally, creating what he calls "a bullpen of superstars."

Larrain also uses a phone conference once a quarter to get feedback from sales representatives. Calls can range from 45 minutes to two hours, he says.

"I don't get to be in the field as much as I would like, but over the last two years we have developed a level of trust so that they can share what they want. There is no agenda. It gives me a chance to see what morale is like, and where we may be dropping the ball," he says. "It keeps the managers on their toes because they know I've got a link directly to the people in the field."

One program designed to spur that entrepreneurial spirit among all employees mimics the popular show "Shark Tank."

Each team took eight weeks to work with a coach on developing dozens of ideas that were presented to senior leaders during two days in New York. Decisions were made immediately on the viability of the best of them.

"It created a buzz throughout the entire division," he says. "It showed that enthusiasm, hard work and entrepreneurship was noticed and acted upon. It's helped really give us jump forward in creating the culture I want."

The number of employees planning on leaving their current position as cited in the Monster survey makes Larrain even more convinced he's on the right path with transforming the culture.

"I want my people to know that they're more than a number in this division," he says. "I want an assistant to walk into my office and tell me she has an idea. I think it's extremely healthy for people to feel they have a voice."

Anita Bruzzese can be reached c/o Gannett ContentOne, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, Va. 22107.