What if Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, or David Karp had worked at your company before they founded Facebook, Google, or Tumblr? How would they do? Would they flourish or languish?
Would your company recognize their unique strengths and put them on the fast track? Or would it try to assimilate them into the company culture, try to mold them into something they're not, and stifle their entrepreneurial spirit and creativity?
There's a reason Stanford University is an incubator for hundreds of high-tech success stories like Google, Yahoo, Cisco, and Sun. Why so many entrepreneurs and VCs came from Intel and Microsoft. Why IBM, P&G, and GE are on the resumes of hundreds of CEOs.
Those organizations know what to do with innovative up-and-comers. When they recognize talent, they encourage it. They feed it. They give it what it needs to thrive. And yes, they promote it.
If you want to promote innovation, risk-taking, and entrepreneurial behavior, here are seven qualities to identify in your employees.
They care about the company like it's their own. Innovators are all about the technology, the product, the concept, whatever it is they're passionate about. It's like their baby. They'll do whatever it takes to help it grow, even if it isn't their own.
They have no patience for the status quo. Collaboration and teamwork are popular organizational concepts, and understandably so. But they can and often do lead to groupthink. Real entrepreneurs never want to hear about how it's done, how it should be done, or why it can't be done. Once they set their minds to something, they just want to do it. Don't try to deter them. Instead, put them in charge.
They identify problems...and solve them. Entrepreneurial thinkers have a sixth sense for identifying what customers need to have or really want to do, even if they don't know it themselves. They're born problem solvers.
They tell you what you don't want to hear. Perhaps the most damaging aspect of bureaucracy is that it tends to generate yes-men who sugarcoat the truth and cover their butts. An employee who tells you the cold hard truth regardless of the risk, who has the courage to do the right thing in the face of adversity, is a rare gem.
They live, eat, and breathe their work. By all means, encourage your employees to seek balance in their lives. That said, when you find those rare individuals that so love what they do that they live for their work, don't question it. Don't fight it. Just turn them loose.
When they speak, people listen...and follow. Visionaries are natural leaders. When they speak with such genuine passion about their ideas, it resonates with people. It speaks to them. They'll listen and they'll follow. Of course, it helps if they're right.
They do whatever it takes to get the job done. Some people are like pit bulls when it comes to getting things done. Once they sink their teeth into a challenge, they never let go until they accomplish what they set out to do. You want that in your organization.
The reason why the high-tech industry and Silicon Valley continue to grow and thrive is because they're enormous flywheels for innovation and entrepreneurship. If you want your organization to accomplish great things, if you want your company to become a market leader, you need to do what they do.
Look for those unique individuals who can help take you to the next level. And when you find them, promote them.
This column originally appeared on Inc.com.
Steve Tobak is a Silicon Valley-based strategy consultant and former senior executive of the technology industry.