Wednesday 19 August 2009

Doing it on the side

Something new managers often struggle with is what their response should be when members of their team are involved (or are considering being involved) in external, perhaps even related, business activities. I encourage it wholeheartedly, with a small number of key caveats, on personal development grounds.

Trying out "their own thing" will teach your guys about responsibilities well beyond those that you can reasonable expect to expose them to in their role, and give them some insight into the difficulties of running a business, taking care of finance, marketing to customers, and making product decisions. There is so much to the operational side of an organisation (even a tiny fledgling one) that they would otherwise not have many chances to experience first hand. This can help your team members develop their creative, entrepreneurial side and give them a much better appreciation of the challenges their colleagues elsewhere in the business face. This is so beneficial that I'm even found guilty of supporting such ventures with advice and coaching from time to time.

The caveats? There are only 2 key things that must be true to qualify what I’ve said above:

1 - You still have a job. Outside interests should not impinge on the quality, quantity, or timeliness of work, and if they do then one of these things must go. My policy is to provide a flexible working environment, but I'm not here to subsidise your startup either.

2 - You shouldn't compete with your employer. For most people in our industry, our roles come with a duty to innovate and develop new product to further the companies interests. Whenever something extracurricular can be even slightly interpreted as related, it needs to be raised with management and explicitly categorised into 'company IP' or 'fair game' for everyones benefit.

Regardless of which side of the employer/employee relationship you sit on it is always worth finding out what your company policies are on this kind of thing before getting underway. Being uninformed might mean you start out with the best intentions and end up having to make difficult choices later.

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