The digital revolution has everyone on edge. Technology is replacing jobs faster than people can retrain themselves. New business models like Uber and Airbnb are disrupting entire industries, seemingly overnight. Managers everywhere are looking for ways to increase their value and visibility with their employers.
One of the most effective means to do this, of course, is to have your team outperform expectations. And the primary way leaders can do that is to encourage employees to develop entrepreneurial behaviors such as taking responsibility, holding themselves and others accountable, and taking risks. The following steps will help raise your team’s “entrepreneurency” quotient:
Tear down the knowledge silos within your team
In startups, everyone knows everyone else’s business because roles are fluid and the team is small. Incumbent companies have a more developed set of roles and responsibilities, and with that a division of labor. That very division of labor creates an environment full of unspoken and unacknowledged assumptions about other team members’ roles and responsibilities.
I recommend the development of a product or service map. Take one of the goods or services your team is responsible for and diagram it out on a whiteboard, with the entire team involved. The goal isn’t simply to document the steps but to make the implicit assumptions about the work, process, and policies explicit.
Long-held tensions between team members often evaporate when they finally understand the other’s workload and intent. This exercise almost always surfaces efforts that are well intended but are not adding value for the end user.
Demonstrate risk taking
At the core of the entrepreneurial mindset is a propensity to take risks, to try something new. If it doesn’t work, you learn from the attempt and try again. Unfortunately, the way to get ahead in most of Corporate America is to rack up a string of successes, not of failures or pivots.
You have to create a space where taking risks is not merely tolerated, but encouraged and rewarded. First, negotiate the room for your team to take those risks with your supervisor. This is easier if you are meeting your numbers and current expectations. Pitch the changes you want to make as a trial to improve or solve something existing, or as an innovation to create something new.
Rally the team by giving them the opportunity to help identify and plan the initiative. At one agency, an entire creative team essentially wanted to fire a particular customer, and with good reason. The numbers didn’t justify the action without layoffs, however.
The result of an all-hands brainstorming session was for the team to commit to winning new business on their own time. It took three attempts, but the team spent nights and weekends working together to win a comparable piece of business to replace the offending client.
The interesting thing is what happened to the team. They were more engaged and willing to take on the extra responsibility because they understood the parameters and were given the authority to address their situation.
Eliminate the word “failure”
Recognize that not every initiative is going to work. The leaders in baseball’s batting averages are consistently in the .300s, which means they have a 60 – 70% failure rate.
Instead of thinking in terms of success or failure, think of outcomes in terms of effective or ineffective. Even an initiative that doesn’t yield the expected outcome can be an effective use of time and resources if the individual or team learns something that improves their skill set or helps them approach the next endeavor differently. And an otherwise “successful” project can be ineffective if it blinds someone to the need for change or takes the team in the wrong direction.
No matter what the outcome of the risk taken, process it the same way. Knowing the objective—to learn, to test, to experiment, rather than to “win”—allows the team to ask the following questions: How effective was our effort? What did we learn? What can we apply next time or to other activities? Acknowledge and celebrate the effort, not the outcome.
Encouraging entrepreneurial behaviors in a team won’t happen overnight, but if you start with these tips and take some risks, there’s no telling how effective you may become.
Become a champion of strategic change—a leader who can leverage prospects for strategic opportunities, inspire risk taking and innovation, and move your team forward.