I’ve been lucky enough to work in businesses ranging from startups to large multinationals and have found that, regardless of the size of the company, a culture of entrepreneurship is a common factor driving success. This means that the people within the business identify with the idea of becoming their own boss, taking things into their own hands, and making a mark in their chosen industry.
Entrepreneurship is often only associated with people who take risks to start new businesses, but we should also value it in large, established companies. We must encourage ‘entrepreneurship’, and the ways we can develop new ideas within large organizations – all with the aim of improving profitability and competitive positioning.
Why creativity is crucial
Entrepreneurship is about calculated and beneficial risk-taking, crucial for growing businesses that are at risk of losing the startup spirit through the natural course of bringing in infrastructure, process, control, as well as increased efficiency and capability. Businesses need to have finely-tuned, predictable organizational systems that support existing customers and technology, but this doesn’t always fit well with change.
In the tough, competitive enterprise climate of today, success in business requires innovation and fresh ideas, and there’s a risk of stagnancy and failure if maverick thinking isn’t embraced. Leaders must not be trapped by conventional thinking and the status quo. This creativity needs to happen even if businesses encounter internal resistance, as new ideas could render existing skills obsolete or require new ways of working.
Approaching innovation with a startup mentality
Think of Kodak, which failed to truly embrace the new business models that digital technology opened. It’s easy to forget that a Kodak engineer created the first digital camera and the company even went on to invest in the technology because it understood that photos would be shared online. But what Kodak failed to do was understand that because digital was so disruptive, it would to all extent and purposes completely replace the printing business.
Entrepreneurs won’t get it right the first time, which means experimentation is essential.
However, this needs care – technologies that are searching for a market rarely succeed, and struggles occur when leaders pursue a path that isn’t working.
It’s why businesses need to move and fail fast. There needs to be a balance of open-minded opportunism and thinking with systematic and disciplined planning. The most effective business combines brainstorming with critical criteria which help narrow down lists of ideas.
The cloud has made a big difference in democratizing data and technology, as it provides ways for employees spread all over the world, regardless of seniority, to contribute. They can respond faster, make better decisions, and continually analyze their performance.
Colleagues working in this way will move and fail fast, in the correct environment. There needs to be a broad system of empowerment to support people who operate in this vein – executed in a way that can determine success.
Encourage creativity and empowerment through culture
Leaders set the vision and must craft an inspiring and productive work environment, which means taking off any rose-tinted glasses and taking an honest look at how their business functions, and where it might need to change. There needs to be a culture of innovation, which fosters the creativity of employees.
To encourage entrepreneurship and that infectious, agile optimism of a startup, leaders must create a flat culture that empowers employees. It must be an environment that’s focused and creates great trust, with clear leadership and the will to allow teams to work with autonomy and independence within the organization.
Innovation, overcoming adversity and beating tough competition requires courageous leadership from employees at all levels, with transparency and accountability central to the organizational culture. Leaders need to communicate what they need from the work, but they must allow employees to figure out how to make that happen while providing the practical tools and support they need.
Entrepreneurship at Sage
At Sage, we create blended teams that are highly focused and agile in their decision making. In the UK, a group of a dozen people is running an integrated media and digital campaign showcasing our new Ambition Ambassador Peter Jones that involves TV, radio, social media, PR, search and digital.
To do this, they work in a highly agile, collaborative, disciplined way, using cross-functional expertise across the company and applying it where it’s needed. The team has shared goals, and they work together to see them through. Because these are common goals for the business, they feel invested in the outcomes.
The cloud and access to data make it possible for all employees to have access to the same information and opportunities to innovate.
By having insight at their fingertips, they can take advantage of the opportunities this can bring though accurate plans and forecasts that they can view and action together. This is crucial – they no longer have to make decisions in isolation.
Leadership should be part of the everyday culture of a business, with employees at all levels of a company being able to lead. When they themselves practice great leadership and exhibit the skills of the entrepreneur, they will enjoy greater empowerment, increasing productivity as they take charge.
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