Developing an Entrepreneurial Culture – by Mike Stephens
In this personal blog by Mike Stephens – CEO of Entrepreneurial Spark, we explore the 4 key building blocks of developing an Entrepreneurial culture. We as a company have been working with many large organisations and we want to be able to share what we have learnt from doing so. We will build these blocks in a series of posts, so be sure to check back for the next key building block each day this week.
Over to you Mike……….
“Thought I would write a quick scrap-book piece about entrepreneurial culture. It’s a term we are hearing a lot of as we explore how we can change the world for entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs. I can see why an entrepreneurial culture is desirable to large organisations – imagine the entire workforce taking ownership of their roles as though it were their own business! Strategy, innovation, decision-making, all happening at individual level and contributing to the higher organisational purpose.
Of course, most conversations around building an entrepreneurial culture go back to mindset. The way that people think and act determines “the way we do things around here”, which is a broad brush way of describing culture.
I refer to this piece as a “scrap book” because it’s still raw. The insights are fresh from speaking to several companies and third sector organisations. We don’t have all the answers yet, but what we are learning about the key elements of an entrepreneurial culture and how you can develop one, can be discovered here.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, people need to know where they’re going. How can they decide if they want to be in the canoe if they don’t know where it’s headed? And this needs bringing to life for them – what does it look like, feel like, sound like and smell like when we as a company achieve our vision?
It needs to be emotive – if you don’t inspire the hearts and minds of your people with your vision then why are they going to get out of their comfort zones and lay themselves on the line to help you create it?
Within your vision you can create bursts of energy and inspiration – run challenges or sprints, put a quarterly business problem out there and offer a prize for the most innovative solution. Give people something to talk about at their desks.
Once people know where you’re trying to get to, then they can jump in the canoe, get the paddles out and start Entrepreneuring® a way to get there.
Call it “empowerment” if you like, at its root is trust. Processes kill entrepreneurial culture because they make everyone act the same regardless of the nuances of the situation. The opposite of ever-more-complex processes is trust. Autonomy and action are at the heart of entrepreneurial behaviours, and without trust neither is possible.
If you want your employees to be entrepreneurial, you have to trust them to do the right thing in any circumstance, or at least to make mistakes that aren’t catastrophic for the business.
When I got my first “serious” job my manager said to me “I’ve recruited you because I back your capability and judgement, not because you can follow a process map. So if your gut is telling you something then go for it, and ask for forgiveness rather than permission.” Empowered? Trusted? Certainly, and I worked hard every day to make sure I was worthy of it.
A common problem with trust is not that leaders mistrust the morality of employees, but that they don’t believe they have enough information to make an informed decision. People are generally good and want to do the best thing for their employer, they just don’t always have the full picture. So to build an entrepreneurial culture, you have to remove the barriers to information so that everyone can make informed decisions when it counts.
“How am I going to fit this in on top of my day job?” is a common question for staff to ask when new cultural expectations come in. Innovation, finding new ways of doing things or even just getting relentlessly passionate about customers – these are bread and butter for entrepreneurs, but practically impossible if your staff are already at 100% capacity (or even worse, at 110%!).
It’s on the leadership to create capacity. If you’re committed to having an entrepreneurial culture, you need to invest in it, and that means people need breathing space. Google famously allow employees 20% of their time to work on side projects. Microsoft build entrepreneurial behaviours into performance objectives, and incentivise them as strongly as any financial metric.
However you do it, people will only change their behaviour if you give them space, development and motivation to do so. In time being entrepreneurial will not be seen as “the extra stuff”, it will become “just the way we operate”, but in the early days it will divert some of your resources and you need to be prepared to make this investment.
Great entrepreneurs are collaborators. They work well with others and use their strengths to get maximum results. The key to this is that they wake up ready to communicate. If you want your entrepreneurial culture to succeed, then pumping up the communication in this area is vital.
This doesn’t just mean top-down communication. The most important area to build an entrepreneurial culture is fostering cross-department communications. New ideas won’t get anywhere if staff can’t navigate the organisational hierarchy and build consensus, and the only way this is possible is to foster relationships across the silos.
What to communicate about? The biggest thing I see missing in this area is failure. Organisations have well-established routes for sharing success – glitzy dinners, intranet pages with voting, vouchers and financial rewards. Entrepreneurs fail a LOT, yet very few people talk about it. If you want an entrepreneurial culture you will need to learn to deal with failure. Where is the recognition for a valiant first attempt? The award ceremonies for all the well-executed ideas that turned out not to be the right ones? Celebrate the work and the process, celebrate the learning, just celebrate something other than success which is only a tiny portion of an entrepreneur’s life.
We don’t want to normalise failure in all areas as this could affect business results, but good communication can destigmatise it in the right areas and enable people to have a go at something new with less fear of reprisal.