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Why entrepreneurial thinking is needed in Australian boardrooms now more than ever

There is no hiding the fact that the rate of change in business makes our collective heads spin. No industry, no business, and no worker remains untouched by change.

Many examples of how innovation and disruption has impacted businesses and industries exist – if you’re interested in finding these, a simple Google search can help you out.

What all of this change and disruption means for business is that bringing entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial thinking into the boardroom is fast becoming a necessity.

Disrupt or be disrupted

New and emerging technologies lead to different ways of doing business. From business models through to sales strategies and workforce management  – it has all been impacted by change and innovation.

The old-fashioned ‘continuous change’ programs are even more relevant today, and they have been rebranded as ‘innovation’ done by ‘intrapreneurs’ (i.e. internal talent bringing entrepreneurial tendencies into the workplace).

Significant innovation and business/industry change will happen – either by incumbents or up-starts taking advantage of weaknesses and/or opportunities that the existing behemoths don’t see or are too slow to take advantage of.

What we need is innovative and visionary thinking at the highest levels of organisations to make sure that ‘disruption’ is baked into the corporate culture and complacency is killed.

What we need are entrepreneurs in the boardroom.

Get out of the way

The biggest stumbling block to bringing innovative thinking into the boardroom is the existing directors. Entrepreneurs and innovative thinkers are often viewed as mavericks or ‘pie-in-the-sky’ thinkers. This makes people uncomfortable. And uncomfortable doesn’t sit well with conservative, dark-suited folk.

The irony is that the people charged with ensuring the continued sustainability of an organisation are actually the ones standing in the way of the business moving forward and adapting to the modern business environment and adapting to changing consumer behaviours. The most significant risk directors now face is the risk of doing nothing, rather than the risk of doing something.

It’s time to step up or get out.

Embracing entrepreneurs in the boardroom

Bringing entrepreneurial thinking into the boardroom doesn’t have to upset the apple cart (too much). Engaging an identified entrepreneur as a special advisor to the board is a good starting point. You can then bring that person on to an “innovation committee”, and work up to bringing them onto the main board.

Whichever way they are engaged with the board, the existing board members need to take the entrepreneur seriously. This is probably easier said than done. Consider: if you are a board member struggling to open your mind, ask yourself “What would I have said to the Netflix offer if I were on the board of Blockbuster?”

If you’re an entrepreneur on a board…

Firstly, congratulations!

Secondly, you need to understand what your role, duties, and responsibilities are as a company director and work to them. Know them and live them.

Thirdly, you need to understand the business. A quick way of losing the faith of other board members is to start throwing out those ‘pie-in-the-sky” ideas that absolutely make no sense to the business. Do your homework. Learn the business and present your ideas in a way that makes them relevant and appear achievable. For example, present an idea, and then present a suggested implementation plan along with the implications that go along with it and an idea of costs and benefits. You want to make the leap of faith as comfortable as it can be for the other decision-makers.

The future may be uncertain, but one certainty is that innovative thinking is needed for any organisation to survive. The board holds ultimate responsibility for embracing disruption.

It’s time that the boardroom is open for innovation…

About the author

Lisa Cook is the Founder and Managing Director of Get on Board Australia. The organisation delivers education and development courses that are open to new and aspiring company directors from all professional backgrounds and all types of industries (public, private, NFP, sporting organisations and clubs, etc). Lisa sits on the board of a number of organisations in the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors in Adelaide and Sydney. Lisa holds a degree from Charles Sturt University in business management and marketing, and has completed the Foundations of Directorship program through AICD.


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