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Entrepreneurial Culture: Why and How to Build One

Kristen Craft | February 21, 2019

There are many advantages to working for someone else including security, a guaranteed paycheck, and being able to “turn off” at the end of the day. Yet there are also benefits to cultivating a sense of ownership among your team members, including a sense of urgency, a willingness to try new things, and an appetite for faster growth. Ultimately, you want your team to come up with new ideas, but you also want to help them feel empowered to act on those ideas.

Some employees might shy away from taking more initiative because they’ve been punished for doing so in the past. Being explicit about the entrepreneurial team you want to create will make them feel more confident. Write down what it means to be entrepreneurial on your team and what you’ll do to support them. By documenting your cultural values, you let people know that their creative ideas and dedication to the business will be rewarded.

Steps to Creating an Entrepreneurial Culture

Clearly, there are benefits to encouraging a sense of ownership. But how do you actually encourage people to adopt the mindset of an entrepreneur? Is it possible to cultivate a feeling of personal investment and a willingness to try new things? Many of your employees could be entrepreneurial within your workplace if given opportunity and guidance. Here’s how to encourage an ownership mindset among the people on your team.

Communicate that You’re Looking for Input

If an employee thinks keeping his or her head down is the path to secure employment, they will be unlikely to advocate for change. The first step to creating an entrepreneurial culture is announcing that you are open to suggestions and then clearly rewarding those who generate new ideas. Make this part of your team’s operating system. If you have an employee handbook or a culture deck, articulate this as a core value. If you don’t have either, we have tools for helping you build a great employee handbook and/or culture deck. Make both available in a central knowledge management system like Tettra.

Develop a Clear Method for Submitting New Ideas and Taking Action

It’s only half the battle to say that you value change and want ideas. The other half is making it easy to give input and follow through on an idea. Some companies do this by setting up a suggestion box, but a more proactive approach is to solicit advice at company meetings and in one-on-one conversations. This way, you can ask clarifying questions and hear more about what prompted the idea in the first place.

Once people have shared an idea, make it similarly easy for them to take action. Create a process for writing a product brief. Share a template for gathering customer input. Clarify the steps involved in building a marketing campaign. One of the best ways of making it cler is by building templates in Tettra that emplyees can use when they want to flesh out an idea and then execute on it.

Give Positive Feedback to all Ideas

Some ideas are going to be ill-advised, too costly, or have failed in the past. When people suggest plans which won’t work, don’t immediately dismiss them. Give the person positive feedback for coming up with the idea. You can also consider opening up the idea to the group for improvement. If and when the idea is ultimately dismissed, encourage employees to continue coming up with more solutions.  

Allow failure

Innovation is only possible if team members know that they won’t be penalized if an idea fails. If it feels risky to employees stick their necks out, you’ll create a culture where people only follow the existing processes. To create a truly entrepreneurial culture, you have to build an environment that values experimentation and learning above all else. If zero ideas fail, people probably aren’t aiming high enough or trying new things as often as they could.

The real test is not whether you avoid failure, because you won't. It's whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it. . . - Barack Obama

Teach Entrepreneurial Thinking

Many teams have training for broad issues like job safety, data security, or sexual harassment. Consider adding training on how to develop ideas. This could include informal mentoring, funding a library, so employees can read biographies of great entrepreneurs, or devoting a half-day workshop to entrepreneurial thinking. As an entrepreneur yourself, there is no better person to teach your employees how to create ideas.

Give Your Employees Autonomy

Research from the University of Birmingham shows that autonomy is key to employee satisfaction. In addition, when employees feel they have control over their work environment, they are also more likely to come up with ideas on how to improve the company. You can encourage this innovation by measuring outcomes instead of inputs. Share with your team the outcomes you wish to achieve (50% year-over-year growth, for example), but give them autonomy in deciding how to get there.

Reward Innovation that Helps the Bottom Line

Put your money where your mouth is by rewarding successful innovation. Be generous with bonuses when ideas pay off. Tie everyone’s end-of-year bonuses with the company’s success. To help employees truly take ownership of your company, make them owners in the company with stock options or profit sharing.

Document Your Entrepreneurial Culture Initiatives

How many times have you launched an initiative only to have the problems associated with the day-to-day running of the business get in the way? Perhaps you scrap some of the side projects your team’s been working on, in favor of putting out the latest fire. When you sideline entrepreneurial projects in this way, you risk killing the team’s momentum. Worse, employees might get the message that you’re not serious about creating an entrepreneurial culture.

In order to make your culture stick, you need to document the goals and processes you like to use. By creating a system for introducing new ideas to the company, you encourage these ideas to develop. You also empower managers to better support their direct reports. Document your processes in a wiki, such as Tettra, and if you want to be even more efficient, consider building templates that people can use for writing product briefs, documenting marketing campaigns, or sharing incident postmortems.

Write down everything people need to know to innovate: the key attributes of your entrepreneurial culture, the process for submitting ideas, and the format you want people to use when launching a project, among others. By documenting everything, you make it easier for people to lean into taking ownership. Document these systems and build a more high-performance team.