Hackers are often considered the criminal masterminds of the tech world. They use their skills to find back doors to access government information, plant destructive viruses or steal your hard-earned money.

Below, Koopman offers six steps to help encourage employees to start hacking. (Jahi Chikwendiu/WASHINGTON POST)

But what happens if we throw out the negative stereotypes and redefine a “hacker” as a person who can find clever, efficient ways to solve problems, such as a lack of time, scarce resources, and information overload?

Author Josh Klein has described hacking as “understanding a system well enough to take it apart, play with its inner workings, and do something better with it.”

By that definition, hackers have an edge any business owner would want on their team, especially at a time when firms are racing to keep pace with a business world characterized by rapid change.

Now, there’s an important distinction to be made between hackers and hard-working employees. Hackers don’t work harder; they work differently. Today, working smart is more important than working hard.

Here are just a few ways my employees have already “hacked” our processes for the better.

• One employee hacked the business-plan process by beginning with a draft and allowing our team to add to it virtually.

• One employee got rid of expensive and time-consuming focus groups and used beta product feedback through social networks instead.

• One employee ignored protocols that either took forever or failed and instead got managers to listen to an idea by posting it online.

Hackers make the best employees because they look ahead to the future and question the status quo. They tend to focus on delivering solutions, thrive on finding ways to perform better, and bypass obstacles by finding alternative routes. They solve problems and are relentless in getting things done quickly.

These skills allow them to save time through efficiency and creativity, and that type of efficiency helps cut unnecessary costs, allowing small businesses to become more financially stable with little or no additional investment.

Here are six steps to encourage healthy hacking as part of your company culture:

• Encourage employees to question how things are done

It’s easy to fall into a routine and do things a certain way simply because that’s how they’ve always been done. This kind of thinking is lazy and won’t bring about meaningful change.

• Allow them to come to you with improvement ideas

It can be scary for employees to challenge the status quo, especially if they’re worried their boss might feel threatened or hesitant about change. Make it clear that you want things to improve and are willing to listen.

• Reward employees for creating greater efficiency

Positive reinforcement is a powerful motivator. On the other hand, failure to reward when a reward is due is a surefire way to halt positive change. Reward employees for the behavior you want and be consistent.

• Highlight change and the benefits of change when they happen

One of the most powerful — and most neglected — motivators is honest, sincere appreciation. When you see change and the benefits that follow it, let employees know you recognize the results of their work.

• Encourage employees to hack their workday

Ask your staff to start thinking thinking about what technologies allow them to do things faster, and to examine social tools and networks that grant access to experts to improve decision-making. At the same time, encourage them to search for tools that improve or hasten processes.

• Lead by example and take little personal credit.

This is one of the most important steps in creating employee hackers because it creates a trickle-down effect within the company. Employees will follow your example and feel more comfortable thinking outside the box because it will become ingrained in the company’s culture.

The label “hacker” has developed a bad reputation in many circles, but their ingenuity and efficiency is something to be admired and emulated. Without sacrificing integrity, we can — and should — take a similar approach to business problems.

The goal isn’t to break the rules, but to challenge them and determine whether they should be changed. We’re not trying to wreak havoc, but we do want to shake things up enough to make them better.

Encourage your employees to find your company’s weaknesses, and work to change them to become a more competitive organization.

Michel Koopman is the cheif exectuvie of getAbstract Inc., which provides business expertise through book summaries and abstracts.