The most innovative business owners tend to have an entrepreneurial mindset. This scrappy spirit, which is likely what propelled them to start a business in the first place, can drive owners to continually look for ways to solve problems, seize new opportunities, mobilize resources, and take bold risks.
Yet many of their employees don’t share this same entrepreneurial mindset. In fact, Gallup’s 2023 State of the Global Workplace report, based on a survey of 122,416 employed respondent, found six in 10 employees said they are psychologically disengaged, 44% are stressed, and more than half are looking for new jobs.
While business leaders are focused on big-picture issues, such as maintaining cash flow, building a loyal client base, and cultivating long-term growth, employees may feel stuck in their day-to-day demands, focused on meeting weekly project deadlines and hitting monthly sales targets. What’s not on their agendas that could potentially help fuel motivation? Innovation and growth.
5 Ways to Promote an Entrepreneurial Mindset
How can you encourage your employees, from those on the front lines to the upper echelons of management, to assume an entrepreneurial mindset? These five strategies can help you promote the kind of creative and critical thinking among staff that help foster new, innovative ideas.
1. Pinpoint a Sense of Purpose
To inspire employees to think and act like entrepreneurs, leaders can help them embrace the company's purpose. Employees can feel more invested in a business when they buy into its core values, believe their work is important, and can see their true impact.
A company’s purpose may be rooted in a desire to change the world, the discovery of new ideas and solutions, or an aspiration to serve others. You can create a purposeful company culture and show your teams why their work matters by outlining:
- Your company values
- How your company’s products or services make people’s lives better
- How your business can improve the local community or even society as a whole
For example, The Walt Disney Company's mission is to “entertain, inform, and inspire people around the globe through the power of unparalleled storytelling.” Patagonia’s core values highlight quality, integrity, justice, and eschewing convention by doing things their own way. Microsoft’s mandate is to “empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” This connection to a higher purpose can not only give meaning to people’s jobs, but it can help them consider new ways of fulfilling the company’s mission – just like an entrepreneur would do.
Employees can feel more invested in a business when they buy into its core values, believe their work is important, and can see their true impact.
2. Challenge the Status Quo
Entrepreneurs can spend time on big-picture thinking, like questioning business practices and evaluating market conditions to determine whether a new product or service might meet an unmet demand. Organizations that become complacent and fail to encourage their employees to challenge existing business structures may fall behind.
Take Kodak, which had been an industry leader in film photography for decades. Although a Kodak engineer invented the first digital camera in 1975, Kodak’s leaders were slow to bring this new technology to market, partly because they were concerned digital photography would threaten the film-based business model, according to an article by Harvard Business Review.
The company didn't release its first digital camera until 1991, according to the Kodak website. By that time, it was competing with several other players that had invested heavily in digital. In 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy – but rather than go out of business, the company used this as an opportunity to shake things up. After restructuring and emerging from bankruptcy a year later, Kodak challenged its former status quo by focusing on B2B solutions, such as commercial print, rather than consumer solutions. The company remains in business to this day.
Importantly, you can make sure employees know challenging the status quo won’t be met with a defensive response. You can express support for employees when they present new ideas, even those that might upend your current business practices.
3. Engage in Experiments to Ease Customer Pain Points
When employees encounter roadblocks or notice customers are experiencing difficulties with a company’s products or services, they often wait to be told what to do rather than taking action.
You can encourage employees to use “design thinking” to address recurring problems and customer pain points. Design thinking involves empathizing with the users of products and services to develop creative, impactful solutions. You can let your team know the company is open to the flow of ideas from the bottom up and is willing to invest in testing a variety of potential solutions.
You can also provide employees with the space and time to brainstorm, asking “why” and “what-if” questions, running experiments, and trying different tactics to improve products and services and make the customer’s journey easier. You can allocate a designated amount of funding to develop ideas for solving customer problems.
When an employee’s new idea leads to positive changes, a performance bonus might be a good idea. Also, you can tell the rest of the organization about the accomplishment. That will likely help the employee feel valued and can inspire others to bring their own ideas forward for experimentation.
4. Take Decisive Action
You can promote an entrepreneurial culture that favors taking swift action to execute a well-thought-out plan. This means guarding against too many meetings, unnecessary emails, and other inefficiencies that are the hallmark of bureaucracies.
Are employees talking more than doing? You can ask people where they might be encountering bottlenecks and do your best to remove them. You can give the green light to moving forward with new initiatives while setting deadlines for rolling out changes and outlining metrics.
For example, in 2004, Dove showed outside-the-box thinking when it developed its Real Beauty Campaign, a marketing campaign considered to be a huge departure from traditional beauty campaigns. Instead of using professional models in its commercials, Dove sought to build self-confidence by featuring real women of different ages and sizes – a campaign that resonated with consumers. The Dove Self-Esteem Project was also launched to help educate young people about body confidence and self-esteem.
5. Allow for Failure
Clearly not all ideas will bear fruit. On the road to progress, a business is bound to encounter setbacks and failures from time to time. If people are made to feel embarrassed about their mistakes, they may stop taking risks.
You can create an environment of psychological safety, where employees feel empowered to speak up and try new things without fear of retribution. Managers can model acceptance by admitting to their own previous professional failures and discussing how they bounced back.
When the results of an experiment fall flat, you can still applaud employees for their ingenuity. The team can seek to understand why things went wrong and what can be learned. If employees see that their performance is measured not by whether their ideas worked out but by their bold attempts to improve the business, they are more likely to continue developing solutions that will ultimately pay off.
By promoting an entrepreneurial mindset, you can foster a workplace culture of experimentation and learning that can differentiate your company as an engaging place to work and inspire people to develop innovative ideas.
A version of this article was originally published on February 21, 2018.
Photo: Getty Images