Cultivate an environment where individual expression, ideas and solutions are valued, encouraged and rewarded.
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August 14, 2020 8 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Entrepreneurs are innovators. They are the movers and shakers who challenge the status quo. Never satisfied with “the way things have always been done,” they try new things because they are perpetually striving for more. They aren’t phased by economic downturns, difficult political climates or even global pandemics. Instead, they forge ahead, seeing the “problems” at hand as opportunities for something greater. Entrepreneurs understand a different approach can lead to different, better results. More importantly, they do what it takes to create new products, services and outcomes.
As the Center for American Entrepreneurship puts it, “Entrepreneurs play a disproportionate role in commercialization of new products, and essentially all of the most transformative innovations have been brought to the fore by entrepreneurs.” Armed with outside-of-the-box strategies, entrepreneurs create new rules, establish new frameworks and often dominate markets. Consider Elon Musk and Tesla capturing 29 percent of the electronic vehicle market share in Q1 of 2020.
How does an organization cultivate and retain entrepreneurial thinkers in order to experience greater innovation, impact and revenue? It’s important for employers to understand the specific qualities of entrepreneurs and the way they operate. With that understanding, employers can then build programs to attract and retain entrepreneurial thinkers. The following key attributes of entrepreneurial thinkers are related to innovation, independence and self-responsibility and a collaborative approach.
When it comes to innovation, here’s where entrepreneurial thinkers shine:
- Entrepreneurial thinkers think big and dream bigger. They are not limited by existing budgets, resources, or capital restraints. They are solution-oriented and speak up — even when their ideas are not yet fully formed, supported or “popular.” They know that sharing ideas with others (no matter how bold they may seem) can spark additional creativity, increase motivating discussion and stimulate alternative and superior solutions.
- Entrepreneurial thinkers don’t overthink things. They aren’t afraid to take a risk and make a gut-level decision. They operate within their full authority and don’t run to their boss at every turn. Operating within a sphere of personal ownership also includes taking responsibility when things don’t go as planned (see independence and self-responsibility).
- Entrepreneurial thinkers understand failure sometimes happens. They aren’t paralyzed by the fear of failure and they continue to try new things. In fact, they often “fail forward,” testing new approaches—understanding that each “failure” is an opportunity to learn something new. When failures occur (and they inevitably will), they don’t hesitate to start over.
- Entrepreneurial thinkers are persistent and consistent in their pursuits. They don’t let one dead end stop them. Instead, they continue to seek out and traverse alternative and unique routes.
- Entrepreneurial thinkers are far more concerned about meeting their goals (and the goals of the organization) than they are worried about what other people think of them. They may lead unconventional lives and be deeply committed to causes they believe in. Their appearance—clothing, hairstyle, body art and mannerisms—may make a statement, but that’s just another way they express their creativity and commitment.
The best way for employers to inspire innovation from entrepreneurial thinkers is to create an environment where it’s “normal” and safe for entrepreneurial thinkers to be safe to be themselves and express in ways that come naturally to them. Today’s pandemic-initiated remote environment provides employees more control over the way they “show up” for work while also lessening the ability for leadership to micromanage their activities. Employers can further encourage entrepreneurial employees’ spirit by cultivating an environment where individual expression, ideas and solutions are valued, encouraged and rewarded, while providing employees the freedom to achieve organizational goals on their own terms.
Absent this flexibility and acceptance, entrepreneurial thinkers are more likely to venture on their own and start their own business. According to Small Business Trends: 2020 from Guidant Financial, the number-one factor motivating employees to transition to entrepreneurship is the desire to be their own boss.
Independence and Self-Responsibility
At a glance, the desire for employees to be their own boss may sound like an ego trip. In fact, it’s much deeper than that. This desire is born from an innate sense of self-responsibility and dedication to something greater — if not an employer, entrepreneurs are loyal to their mission. Here are ways their intrinsic motivation serves a company well:
- Entrepreneurial thinkers are independently solution-oriented. When presented with a problem, they spend time figuring it out on their own. At the same time, they aren’t afraid to ask for help when they hit a wall and don’t know where to turn.
- Entrepreneurial thinkers are proactive. They anticipate the needs of their boss, their employees and the organization. In turn, they go above and beyond to deliver accordingly.
- Entrepreneurial thinkers do their research. While intuition is an important part of what makes entrepreneurs successful, few rely solely on intuition. They support their gut feelings by checking in with others, doing market research, seeing what the competition is doing and reacting accordingly.
- Entrepreneurial thinkers own up to and fix their mistakes. They have integrity and tell the truth. They are forthright in letting their coworkers, bosses and team members know when they’ve made an error. They aren’t afraid to apologize, and they take steps to resolve any remedial actions needed.
The best way for employers to support this inherent desire to achieve is to give trusted entrepreneurial thinkers the autonomy to work independently and make decisions within specific parameters. Doing this allows entrepreneurial thinkers to achieve organizational goals as their own boss, while retaining and soliciting support from the corporation’s leadership team as needed.
Another indicator from Small Business Trends: 2020 notes the number-one challenge for employees who transition to business ownership is a lack of capital and cash flow. Considering the stable cash flow of corporations, offering entrepreneurial employees perks like commissions for innovations, funds for personal and professional development and a generous time-off policy on top of a substantial benefits package may keep entrepreneurial employees with integrity loyal to the organization.
Especially within a large corporation, entrepreneurial thinkers understand nothing successful operates in a vacuum. They are aware of outside influences and take care to address and include industry and peer perspectives. Specifically, they lead with the following collaborative approach:
- Entrepreneurial thinkers are comfortable filling many roles. They never say, “That’s not my job” or concern themselves with titles and limits. They do what it takes to get the job done and are as comfortable making copies to help the team as they are delivering a high-level presentation to board members.
- Entrepreneurial thinkers look out for their teammates. They aren’t in this game for themselves. They’d prefer everyone win and move through business with an abundance mindset. As such, they create and illuminate a path for others to follow.
- Entrepreneurial thinkers are master collaborators. They infiltrate departmental silos, bond inside and outside of their group and call in the necessary supports and partners to not only get the job done, but help others achieve success at the same time. They also have big-picture goals to not only change their immediate circle, but the larger collective while making a positive impact.
- Entrepreneurial thinkers understand business models, but also appreciate personal impacts. They don’t take business decisions personally, yet they consider people personally when making business decisions.
The personal, collaborative nature of entrepreneurial thinking drives professionals forward, often taking them farther than they could have gone alone.
When entrepreneurial thinkers are given the space to express and share ideas, the autonomy to work independently, a network to collaborate with and the stability of being backed by corporate resources and rewards for their contributions, there’s a higher likelihood that a win-win arrangement can be forged. This reciprocity among entrepreneurs and employers can result in staggering innovation, profound creative impact and strong revenue gains.
It’s time to think big and dream bigger. Entrepreneurial employees can help.