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Need to Incite More Innovation This Year? Foster Entrepreneurial Employees

Posted by Dawn White on Jan 27, 2022 8:33:53 AM
Dawn White
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group of entrepreneurial employees being innovative together, with a lightbulb in the foreground

It’s a new year, and that brings a sense of new promise and optimism. For many companies, it’s a great time to renew that entrepreneurial spirit that drives their innovation and fuels their employees.

For other companies, maybe it’s a great time to think about cultivating an entrepreneurial culture for the first time. Whether you’re an early startup or an established organization, you can foster an entrepreneurial spirit among your employees.

IDI has a history of innovation and entrepreneurialism, and we continue to emphasize that approach in our day-to-day rhythms. Let’s explore what it means to develop an entrepreneurial spirit at your company.

Related reading: It’s Time for HR to Get a Seat at the Table of C-level Management

Business Benefits of an Entrepreneurial Culture

As a company grows and matures, inefficiencies threaten your success, and you need to find ways to standardize the way you work. Roles become more defined, departments are formalized, and processes are developed. These are all essential elements of a successful and growing organization, but they come with a risk: losing your entrepreneurial spirit.

An entrepreneurial spirit is vital to organizations that value innovation, employee engagement, and quick decision making. Companies that foster an entrepreneurial culture enjoy several benefits, even as they mature and grow — benefits that the competition often misses out on.

Employees at entrepreneurial environments see themselves as entrepreneurs, no matter what their role or position in the company. This fosters more creative problem solving, finding more opportunities, and developing more innovative solutions. Employees have greater ownership of their work, are empowered and equipped to make decisions, and have greater satisfaction in their work.

An entrepreneurial culture also fosters more collaboration across teams, tearing down inefficient silos and improving communication throughout the company. This also reveals hidden issues earlier and leads to better problem solving at the root of the matter.

The trickle down effect is greater productivity, better decisions, and better innovation that keeps your company at the forefront of your field. Customers notice the difference, which opens the door for more sales and higher customer retention.

Characteristics of an Entrepreneurial Spirit

What does an entrepreneurial spirit look like in your company? Here are some common traits that entrepreneurs share:

  • Optimism. A can-do attitude is essential, because it fuels everything else that entrepreneurs are known for.
  • Innovation. Entrepreneurs are continually coming up with new ideas and finding creative possibilities. They can reframe problems, which allows them to arrive at novel solutions.
  • Risk-taking. To think innovatively, you need to be willing to go where no one has gone before — to take risks, to think unconventionally, and to be the outlier from the crowd. Entrepreneurs aren’t reckless, but they are willing to take calculated risks. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” is their motto.
  • Resourcefulness. An entrepreneurial spirit finds tools at their disposal that others don’t see — or aren’t willing to use. They’re scrappy, and they can use whatever is at hand to achieve results.
  • Continual learning. People with an entrepreneurial spirit are hungry to learn new things — often in a wide variety of areas. Innovation comes by applying ideas from disparate fields in new ways. The more you learn, the greater your problem-solving skills.
  • Proactiveness. Entrepreneurs don’t wait for permission, they don’t follow the crowd, and they don’t wait for emergencies to strike. They take initiative and get down to business as soon as they see opportunities or threats.

Your organization can foster these kinds of qualities in your departments and in your employees, no matter how established or how large your company may be.

How to Cultivate an Entrepreneurial Spirit in Your Organization

Some of the most innovative companies are multinational corporations that have been around for decades. Nate Klemp at Inc.com spotlights companies like Google, Intel, and 3M have built-in processes to encourage employees to be entrepreneurial. Those frameworks have birthed innovations like GMail and Post-It Notes.

No matter what kind of company you’re in, you can approach projects and problems with an entrepreneurial spirit. Here are some practical ways Klemp recommends to develop entrepreneurialism within your own organization — and some of our own thoughts.

Get executive leadership

Not only should your top leaders endorse the changes you initiate, they should be the driving force behind them. Executives should set expectations, actively encourage entrepreneurial initiatives, and participate in them, themselves.

Create time for innovation

Google and 3M have a program called Innovation Time Off (ITO). At 3M, it’s a “15% Time Policy” and at Google it’s a “20% Time Policy.” Employees are encouraged to take time out of their work week to dedicate solely to innovative problem solving. They can tackle any company problem they want to, and any employee can participate.

To get the biggest bang for your buck, set aside a certain time every week and have every employee participate. Allow no meetings, answer no calls or emails, and completely unplug from distractions. If you don’t purposefully carve out this time, demands from customers and other stakeholders will take a higher priority.

Connect ITO to core business goals

Every employee should know what your company’s goals are for the year, and how their department’s own goals align with them. When employees have a goal to focus on, it’s much easier to direct their creative thinking in a productive direction.

Start small

To develop an entrepreneurial spirit in your employees, it may require some major culture shifts in your organization. Or, you may not be able to afford a 20 percent ITO program. In that case, start small.

At IDI, we’ve used breakout sessions to create innovation. After a staff meeting, the company breaks out into several small groups for a 30-minute session. Each group tackles a company issue and generates solutions to the problem.

We’ve enacted many ideas that came out of those breakout sessions. Even when the ideas weren’t adopted immediately or exactly as originally proposed, it has provided great benefits to our employees — the activity gives them greater agency, emphasizes their individual significance, fosters problem-solving skills, boosts collaboration, enhances morale, develops friendships, and introduces more fun and variety at work.

Reward individual effort

Any time an employee shows initiative to solve a problem, they’re being entrepreneurial. Always reward the effort, even if you don’t adopt all of their suggestions. The best rewards are heartfelt and align with employees’ motivations (i.e., they aren’t always monetary). Always give credit where it’s due, and do it promptly.

2022 Is the Year of the Entrepreneur

In the current economy, innovation isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. Entrepreneurial companies will see greater success and lower employee turnover.

As you evaluate ways to enhance your company culture, we hope you’ll consider IDI as a trusted resource. Whether or not you’re a client of ours, we’re here to help you navigate the HR complexities that you’re facing. We have decades of experience at our disposal, and our team of experts is here to help you make smart decisions with confidence.

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