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Hiring people with entrepreneurial spirit. Supporting the open flow of ideas. Celebrating wins in creative ways. Encouraging experimentation while tolerating failure. Promoting competition within teams. Making every employee the ‘CEO’ of something and giving them ‘skin the game’. Role modelling entrepreneurial characteristics and leading with zeal. These are some of the ways in which business leaders are fostering an entrepreneurial culture in their business.

For our “Let’s Talk…” feature, this week, we asked 17 thought leaders, including startup founders, to identify strategies for creating a work environment where intrapreneurs can shine. Read on for further insights from this week’s lineup…

Jessica May, CEO, Enabled Employment & Portfolio CEO, Heads Over Heels: “It’s not just about the furniture in the office! If you’re serious about having an entrepreneurial culture in either an established business or a startup, you have to give people enough autonomy to be creative in finding better, faster, and more successful ways to work.”

Sabri Suby, Founder, King Kong: “Foster the entrepreneurship mentality that constantly looks for improvements and efficiencies and is not afraid to problem solve. You can do this by making a competition of it within teams, celebrating wins and new solutions, getting creative in rewarding this behaviour (going beyond typical KPIs) and include financial incentives. People will be proactive about making positive changes to your bottom line if they know they get a reward for it.”

Dion Oxley, CEO, Quizling & Portfolio CEO, Heads Over Heels: “The Quizling team is small and everyone is really invested. I asked them why or how we were Entrepreneurial – and firstly we all just came to the consensus that I have an issue with the word entrepreneur! Secondly though, it is that everyone visits the partners, they see the pain and take responsibility for it – through coding, through marketing through design. I don’t think anyone at Quizling thinks ‘Oh, I just code’. They are responsible for the success and together we make it happen.”

Edwin Onggo, CEO, GiggedIn: “A lot of entrepreneurship is about problem-solving, experimentation and trying new things in order to create a solution that’ll be of some kind value to a customer. Some crucial components to this process involve asking good questions, coming up with creative solutions, and rapidly executing.

“To create a culture around this kind of behaviour, leaders should reward and celebrate great questions and hypotheses folks come up with. Also, because execution is key, rapid experimentation should be one of the big goals. The fact that teams have come up with great ideas and tested a whole bunch of different potential solutions should be celebrated rather than looking at experiments that don’t work as failures.

“Jeff Bezos often talks about the volume of quality experiments that Amazon runs having a high causal correlation to their success. As a leader it’s important to understand that 9/10 of experiments can often fail and it’s hard to pick which ones will work. So, get teams excited about the process of experimentation itself as opposed to being attached to the outcome of whether the experiment worked or didn’t work itself.”

Renece Brewster, CEO, Visual Domain & Portfolio CEO, Heads Over Heels: “For me, it’s about ensuring everyone in the team understands the value their work brings and how it matters to the overall success of the business. This fosters an environment of genuine care that I believe is a two-way street between employer and the team.

Jonathan Lui, Founder, Soho property App: “A really great way to foster entrepreneurial culture is to ensure the people you hire already have the “entrepreneurial spirit” – it’s not necessarily something that everyone has naturally, and it can be quite hard to force someone to adopt the attitude. During the hiring process, you could ask them questions about what they think about the business, which will help you determine if adhere to the same goals.

“Another way is to involve key executives and team members in the business via employee options. It’s important to align all employees with the intrinsic goals of the business and having “skin in the game” is one of the best ways to do this. The team will become both financially and emotionally driven to ensure the business succeeds

“It’s also important to make sure everyone in the business understands the vision and the mission statement. Every day the team come in to work it’s important that they’re all working on activities that lead to the ultimate goals of the business, but more importantly that they understand why they are working toward these activities

“Finally, celebrating the successes of the team regularly is crucial, both the big wins and the small wins. It’s important to share recognition of the team/individuals with the entire organisation to motivate teams and have a positive culture.”

Liz Rowell, Founder & MD, Red Ark & Pipeline CEO, Heads Over Heels: “Let’s face it, not everyone has the entrepreneurial spirit. Some people will always choose the path of safety and predictability. But everyone in a business can have a great idea, and seeing a great idea seized upon and implemented, be it big or small, will fire up even the most timid of us. Our philosophy is a good idea can come from anywhere, and I foster ‘active listening’ in meetings and contributions from everyone. And it doesn’t have to be a meeting.

“One of our greatest innovations, our shopper marketing platform MygoodEbox, came about from a conversation during a coffee break in the kitchen. Our digital lead came up with it, I loved it, embraced it, championed it, and together we built it. But a good idea on cutting paperwork and red tape, or an insight gleaned from researching a client’s business, can also kickstart something great. So, inspire your people to think, to listen, to speak up and then work out a way to act – individually or collectively.”

Lance Hodgson, Marketing Manager, Mentorloop: “Here are the three key strategies that come to mind…

  1. Make everyone the ‘CEO’ of something: If employees feel a sense of ownership over part of a business, whether that be an entire department like marketing or just a piece of a department like marketing collateral, they will take pride in directing that part of the ship and make entrepreneurial or ‘executive’ decisions – just like an owner.
  2. Encourage people to experiment: This is a semi-extension of the cliché that you should allow (or encourage) people to fail, but I prefer to think of it as enabling people to experiment. Framing everything like an experiment changes the notion of failure because it’s inherent in experimentation – which is more powerful than merely saying failure is acceptable.
  3. Maintain psychological safety: The belief that you won’t be punished for making a mistake or expressing a seemingly outlandish idea. The vast majority of people need to feel safe to openly disagree, debate, and express opinion – which is to foster ideas, innovate against the accepted, and be entrepreneurial.”

Gemma Manning, Managing Director, Gemstar Technology & Manning & Co: “In entrepreneurship, every problem is an opportunity. An opportunity for growth, for change and to do what we do better. Like the greats Elon Musk and Richard Branson have shown us, entrepreneurship is a careful balance of risk taking and problem solving. Great ideas can be spawned out of problem-solving and that’s why passionate entrepreneurs need to be committed to the problem-solving process as well as fostering a broader understanding on the importance of problem solving.

“For example, as part of the Gemstar YoungGems program held in October, teams from Murdoch University’s Perth and Singapore campuses actively participated in nine intensive masterclasses, which helped the students understand the ‘why’ of doing business and to solve real-world problems through strategic marketing. Programs like this are essential to teaching our next generation of entrepreneurs how to overcome their problems by utilising their strengths and persevering. Encouraging platforms whereby ideas are tested, and boundaries are pushed, are essential ingredients to the rollercoaster world of entrepreneurship.”

Clare Rudduck, NSW Sales Director, Yahoo7: “For me, an entrepreneurial culture is an environment where innovation, creativity and calculated risk-taking are not only ripe, but encouraged. These five key approaches for leadership foster such an environment at Yahoo7:

  1. Hiring based on passion and not just experience can help drive a culture that embodies the entrepreneurial spirit, giving your business a competitive edge that makes people want to be part of it.
  2. Demonstrate entrepreneurial characteristics in leadership, such as promoting an open flow of ideas, investing in the long-term and always being curious.
  3. Invest in training that supports and drives creativity and problem-solving amongst teams.
  4. Plan for risk to allow for test and learn initiatives.
  5. Reward problem-solving that tackles issues and advances the company’s interest, beyond monetary outcomes.

Fostering an entrepreneurial culture requires continuous effort. It must be cultivated and ultimately is the result of a concerted effort by leadership to drive productivity, success and innovation.”

Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin, CEO, BlueChilli: “Culture is an output, not an input of your leadership, and there are three pillars for creating an entrereneurial culture, regardless of your organisation size:

  1. Speed of execution: The number one reason why startups succeed is speed. Successful startups are those that can simply manoeuvre, iterate, or build faster than their competitors. You need to ensure your management layers do not cause bottlenecks that slow down decision making, and the easiest way of doing that is…
  2. Empowerment of people: I’m often asked what I do as a CEO, my response is “I enable people to make decisions until they can’t, and then step in so they can”. Empowerment is about giving ownership of a problem, the resources they require to solve that problem, and a share in the reward that comes from solving that problem.
  3. Tolerance of failure: Being innovative means you’re going to break things. A tolerance of failure means that rather than rewarding the success, you reward the attempt. Tolerance of failure means you openly discuss when things go wrong, and collectively work out how to prevent it, then empower the people to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

Joel Robbie, Co-founder & CEO, Nod: “My job as a founder is to make sure that we don’t just hire entrepreneurial individuals but actively encourage that talent. Fortunately for Nod, everyone that has approached our startup to be part of the team has shown a keen eye for entrepreneurship. Some have exercised the talent before, some have felt stuck in a large corporate with big ideas but no hope of applying them.

“We believe fostering an entrepreneurial culture is important and is at the heart of everything we do. By promoting individual autonomy in a team environment, smiling upon freedom of expression and actively applying people’s ideas every single day, entrepreneurship is deeply embedded in our organisation.”

Jeremy Duffield, Co-founder & Chairman, SuperEd: “Nothing beats passion for driving an entrepreneurial culture. You know it’s going to be a challenge and you know you can’t do it all yourself. That’s why it’s critical to lead with zeal and drive a passionate commitment, sharing your passion with the team to make it a reality. Mission drives passion so, as Simon Sinek, says “start with why” and have your purpose at the core of everything that you do. Be outside-focussed – your ‘why’ should be about the client because entrepreneurship is about making something better for someone else and doing well by doing that.

“A competitive spirit is also healthy for fostering an entrepreneurial culture. It’s always great to have someone to measure yourself against – a competitor to beat, a hurdle to overcome.  It’s about building strong competitive muscle in the team.

“I always liked the ‘eating the Big Fish’ metaphor, particularly if you’re the ‘big fish’ still thinking like the ‘little fish’. It’s important for you to keep harnessing the drive and searching for the key point of difference that made you big in the first place.  If you’re big, complacency is your biggest enemy.”

Eddie Gellar, Co-founder & CEO, Tinybeans: “Foster a team environment that is mission-driven, transparent and offers a clear definition of what winning means. People can’t contribute if they don’t trust you or know what the goal is. To create a culture of creativity that encourages contribution, leaders need to ensure that they communicate (and keep on communicating) the vision. Then offer a framework on how everyone can contribute to that vision and that all ideas are great ideas. People thrive on being listened to and having a sense of contribution to a common goal…

“Encourage everyone to contribute to the mission through the culture and ensure they are recognized for it. Rewards are also a great tool and they don’t always need to be monetary. They simply need to connect to the outcome and make people feel appreciated in some way.”

Patrick Llewellyn, CEO, 99designs: “Leaders need to keep their teams aware of company performance and results, to prompt their ideas and strategies. The transparency is a great way to remind the team that their hard work is valued and does pay off, motivating them to continue striving for great performance.

“At 99designs, we have an organisation-wide concept called 99time. This allows our staff to get involved in self-directed projects, that can help them impact our business. They take on passion projects to improve an element of our business, or their own skills, fostering their individual entrepreneurial contributions to our team.

“We have such a talented team at 99designs, and naturally some of our team members go off and grow their own start-ups. We love to celebrate this, and try to support them on their journey as much as possible.”

Greg Taylor, Group VP (APAC), New Relic: “The most successful companies foster an entrepreneurial culture by having strong core values and hiring according to cultural fit.

“Culture flows from the top. People take their cue from their leaders and this can impact a company for the better or for the worse. An over-authoritarian workplace discourages people from using their own initiative and can stifle traits that enhance innovation and productivity. An overly democratic environment lacks focus to keep the company moving toward its goals.

“Leaders can foster an entrepreneurial culture by creating an environment where people are empowered to act entrepreneurially and have permission to take the lead and create positive change. Fostering this type of culture requires continuous effort. The entrepreneurial vision needs to be communicated and reinforced regularly. It needs to be a part of board discussions and a topic for performance reviews. It is the result of a concerted effort by the company to drive innovation, productivity, and success.”

Valeria Ignatieva, Co-founder, DCC Jobs: “Where teams are dispersed, as with our team, technology plays a big part in the day-to-day communication and collaboration. It’s vital that teams, whether they work in the same physical location or remotely, maintain a strong information-sharing philosophy, especially from a leadership point of view. This is how great ideas flow and you achieve strong growth.

“By reinforcing that any team member can suggest ways to improve processes in their area or across the whole organisation leaders encourage the intrapreneurs to shine and at the same time incubate an environment for change and progress. Showing team members how valued they are by celebrating both the small and the big achievements is another essential element in encouraging team members to stretch and effect change.”

About “Let’s Talk…”

“Let’s Talk…” is an exciting weekly initiative that provides entrepreneurs and industry experts with a forum to share rapid-fire views on a range of issues that matter to start-ups and SMEs. Every Wednesday, we pose a themed question to a line-up of knowledgeable industry figures, with a view to picking their brains for valuable insights to share with you, our readers.

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James Harkness

James Harkness

James Harnkess previous editor at Dynamic Business

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