Entrepreneurial Employees

By Andrew Bass | Newsletter

I am currently working with Aston University to run an Entrepreneurship Programme for engineering researchers. I am being assisted by a number of my associates and alliance partners, as well as local entrepreneurs, established MDs and professional advisors. When I mention the programme to my consulting clients, they show great interest – the typical sentiment being: “I wish I could get my employees to be more entrepreneurial – could your programme help us?”

The short answer is yes and no. Developing entrepreneurship among individuals who may then start up their own businesses is different to the kind of behaviour that corporates want.

If this is of interest to you, I have a couple of suggestions. First, take the quiz below to get an overview of the factors that need to be in place if you want entrepreneurial behaviour to take hold in your organization, and second, check out my new article on innovation, available on our website.

The three factors which must be in place for entrepreneurial (and indeed any other) desirable organizational behaviour are:

  1. Clear expectations
  2. Skills, tools and know-how (the area the Aston programme focuses on)
  3. Culture that supports rather than works against the desired behaviour.

The mistake for a large organization would be to try to provide skills training without addressing expectations and culture. Have a look at my previous newsletter about risk management for a look at how hedged expectations and a dysfunctional culture undermines desired behaviour.

Here’s a quick (and – you may decide when you look at the scoring system – somewhat brutal) quiz to help you zero in on factors to address if you want to improve entrepreneurialism within, rather than outside, an organization.

None of these questions should be answered casually. My experience is that the first answer is often wishful thinking and further digging shows that the reverse is really the case.

1 Is it regarded as normal for people to come up with ideas and seek backing for them? Yes No
2 If and when they do so, do employees suggest credible initiatives? Yes No
3 When employees bring you ideas, do they make sense in the context of your mission and strategy? Yes No
4 Are initiatives constrained by preset budgets, or is there a willingness to look for money for a good proposition that was previously not envisaged? Yes No
5 Can people easily get quick approval and small amounts of time and money to try things out? Yes No
6 Do you praise and support well thought out, bold ideas, whether they succeed or fail? Yes No
7 Do employees have systematic ways to consider risk-reward trade-offs when making suggestions? (Give me call if you want ideas). Yes No
8 Are people promoted for attempts to make money, or because of their social ingratiation with the right people? (Answer this one by looking at actual promotion decisions – it’s easy to be led astray with wishful thinking): Yes No
9 Is the emphasis in your organization on finding better ways to do things? (rather than making sure that it’s “business as usual” / a peaceful life). Yes No
10 Can you easily identify employee-initiated ideas which have resulted in substantial contributions to overall organizational performance? Yes No


10-9 Yeses. This sounds like a very entrepreneurial organization and you almost certainly scan for further ideas and opportunities constantly. You may well find the innovation article stimulating.

8-7 Yeses. There is likely scope for substantial gains, as you have many elements in place. Look at the questions you answered No to. Consider reading this article on culture and stakeholder management, as well as the innovation piece.

6-0 Yeses. Your culture doesn’t seem to support entrepreneurial behaviour, and change is likely to require strong leadership from someone prepared to take on those benefiting from the status quo (on the bright side: you can save money on training – there’s no point while the culture doesn’t support the desired behaviours when they get back from the workshop!)

To learn more about aligning action on the ground with the strategy set in the boardroom, contact Andrew at andrew@bassclusker.com or explore the free resources available on our website: www.bassclusker.com. Feel free to pass this newsletter on to colleagues