06.23.16

4 Ways to Foster a Culture of Entrepreneurship At Your Company

by Karl R. LaPan, President & CEO, Northeast Indiana Innovation Center

We live in challenging and uncertain times. When I was first out of college and joined the General Electric Company now called “GE”, it was regularly shared that, “Loyalty is 24 hours deep, and on Friday we are even.” That’s why the younger generation tends to change jobs every few years, and they are likely to have 13-17 careers (not just jobs) in their lifetime. They follow their passion and dreams first. Career progression follows later, if at all. For older people like me, the GE-ism is a clear reminder to “polish your skills” and “sharpen your saw” to stay professionally competitive and personally relevant.

This new ’employment context’ leaves many companies with two options: accept what is or attempt to get more out of their employees by encouraging their innovativeness, creativity  and entrepreneurial spirit, while at the same time being attentive to the bottom line and staying relevant in the marketplace.

As humans, we are creative by nature. We all have an innate ability to identify problems & patterns, seek opportunities, and find innovative and novel solutions – all skills which lend themselves to entrepreneurship. While I hate the term, in larger companies, it is often coined “intra-preneurship.”

While the change trajectory may seem steep, there are simple (and gradual) structural and programmatic changes that could help create more internal entrepreneurs or an entrepreneurial mindset while improving communication and bolstering loyalty. Here are a few:

  1. Encourage structured time to ‘tinker’. Build cross-functional/multi-disciplinary teams with the objective for various departments/functions to work together and find better ways to innovate for the customer’s benefit. Give people ‘time’ to work regularly on their organizational pet projects. Be sure to make sure the physical setting and workplace reflects the best ways for your people to work, learn and laugh.
  2. Dial into your organization’s vibe – catalyze your people’s entrepreneurial energy. Regularly encourage and nurture the entrepreneurial mindset through lifelong learning, project team participation, and conducting adult field trips (aka innovisits – benchmarking organizations outside our industry who are good at something you want to be great at!)
  3. Create a culture of appreciation and celebrate the small wins and successes along the way. Acknowledge and celebrate employees who take risks — regardless of whether they succeed or fail. Taking chances will drive the organization forward. Create an internal Opportunity Fund to fund cool ideas, leverage leadership development opportunities or put a small group in charge of creating and launching new products and services. By doing so, you will be investing in entrepreneurial capacity building and capitalizing on great ideas flowing through your organization.
  4. Develop a cadre of internal storytellers. Create passionate champions and advocates for sharing your organization’s purpose, culture and ethos. Engage these motivated and capable people as ambassadors in your company (giving company tours and sharing their own stories). Take the time to invest in this elite group’s skills, knowledge and abilities. You’ll find that their enthusiasm is contagious. Also, you will find these efforts will foster and grow the dynamism of your internal entrepreneurial culture efforts. The best way to diffuse culture is to immerse people into it.

The bottom line: Change willingly or be changed. If your organization doesn’t take it upon themselves to disrupt its own business model & change how it competes and wins in the marketplace someone smarter and faster will catch you off guard and change the rules of engagement for you. My experience is it is much easier and better to focus on fixing yourself.

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