Strategy & LeadershipBusiness TransformationWhy entrepreneurial employees need to be challenged

Why entrepreneurial employees need to be challenged

Many people most readily associate the word “entrepreneur” with individuals. Initial thoughts tend to turn towards the likes of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or even – at least until recently – Donald Trump. The word “innovator” provokes much the same knee-jerk response.

It’s this kind of thinking that perpetuates a longstanding and damaging myth – the misguided notion that entrepreneurship and innovation are the exclusive preserves of a chosen few. We’re immediately in the realms of super-dynamic business founders, charismatic leaders, research & development (R&D) wizards, “them”.

This, quite frankly, is nonsense.

The truth may seem less glamorous, but it’s actually just as exciting and maybe even more so. Real and lasting competitive success is driven not by rock-star CEOs or “geniuses” but by entrepreneurship and innovation as organisational constructs – and that means everyone should be involved.

It also means attracting the right people in the first place and ensuring they encounter a culture that encourages them to stick around. Although it’s tempting to think a sizeable wage goes a long way towards ticking this box, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest generous remuneration plays only a small part in the retention of entrepreneurial, innovative employees.

The Unilever Professor

One person especially well placed to comment on this issue is Unilever’s Jim Crilly, who has held 16 different positions across the whole R&D spectrum during his 30 years’ service with the company. Unilever is a classic example of an entrepreneurial and innovative company whose culture and vision have carried on for decades, and Crilly has pioneered several major projects during his time there.

In Crilly’s vast experience – which he was gracious enough to reflect on as part of our latest research – entrepreneurs and innovators may well expect fair reward for their efforts but seldom see pay alone as a deal-breaker. Instead they’re mostly motivated by factors such as the freedom to work on interesting and purposeful initiatives, the pleasure of peer recognition and the intellectual stimulation that comes from a cross-disciplinary philosophy.

In other words, the sort of people who preserve an organisation’s entrepreneurial and innovative outlook enjoy exercising their minds. As Unilever and less long-established giants such as Apple and Google have shown, one way to ensure they have ample opportunity to do so is to instigate “innovation challenges”.

Crilly highlights the importance of direction and focus in maximising the effectiveness of such initiatives. It’s not enough, he says, merely to ask for ideas, as many of them may well turn out to be comparatively aimless. As Unilever realised some time ago, it’s best to provide a degree of framing – say, the general area on which to concentrate, the consumer needs that ought to be met or the types of technologies that might be exploited.

Jobs did precisely this when he invited Apple’s employees to work around the notion of “a thousand songs in your pocket”. The result was the iPod. There’s nothing wrong with purely spontaneous innovation – after all, the search for a truly brilliant idea is sometimes greatly assisted and informed by a trawl through lots of bad ones – but a trade-off between quantity and quality is obviously desirable in the long run.

It’s by challenging employees that organisations maintain energy and inspiration. The alternative is to slip into a rut of ingrained thinking, with deep-rooted behaviours and routines increasingly defining “the way things are done around here”. Some of the biggest and most successful companies have fallen victim to the curse of inertia, the comfort of complacency and the cosy appeal of stability.

Embracing the radical

Consider, for instance, Hoover, whose managers famously rejected James Dyson’s concept of a cyclone vacuum cleaner. While Dyson saw how the functionality of his invention would benefit consumers, Hoover’s decision-makers couldn’t envisage a world without dust-collecting bags – a key revenue stream in their longstanding business model. This is what can happen when an organisation becomes so mired in the incremental that it fears embracing the radical.

What's Hot

HRD Roundtable Report: Levelling Up Onboarding for the Hybrid World

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Levelling Up Onboarding for the Hybrid World 5 May 2022

3m

HRD Roundtable Report: Levelling Up Onboarding for...

Attracting new talent is shooting up the priority list, but also proving more difficult than ever. After the effort of finding the right person, are w...

View event
HRD Roundtable Report: Redefining Company Culture in Hybrid Work Environments

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Redefining Company Culture in Hybrid Work Environments 26 May 2022

3m

HRD Roundtable Report: Redefining Company Culture ...

The process of redefining a company culture is a complex one. Culture contributes directly to the day-to-day experience of employees, and many leaders...

View event
Learning to win the talent war: how digital marketing can develop its people

Whitepaper | Talent Development Learning to win the talent war: how digital marketing can develop its people

3m

Learning to win the talent war: how digital market...

This report documents the findings of a Fireside chat held by ClickZ in the first quarter of 2022. It provides expert insight on how companies can ret...

View resource
HRD Roundtable Report: Strategies For Re-Engaging The Hybrid Workforce

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Strategies For Re-Engaging The Hybrid Workforce 5 May 2022

3m

HRD Roundtable Report: Strategies For Re-Engaging ...

We know hybrid working is here to stay, forcing many organisations to experiment with innovative and creative strategies from 4-day working weeks to u...

View event
HRD Roundtable Report: Making it ‘Worth It’ – What We Need to Reward, Engage and Retain

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Making it ‘Worth It’ – What We Need to Reward, Engage and Retain 3 March 2022

3m

HRD Roundtable Report: Making it ‘Worth It’ – What...

We know the pandemic has caused many people to revaluate their careers and relationships with work and have been seeing the impact in global trends in...

View event
Dave Ulrich: How can business and HR leaders simplify complexity?

Leadership Development Dave Ulrich: How can business and HR leaders simplify complexity?

7m Dave Ulrich

Dave Ulrich: How can business and HR leaders simpl...

HR thought leader Dave Ulrich outlines ways leaders can deal with complexity in an increasingly busy world, including how to think critically and turn...

View article
HRD Roundtable Report: Using HR Data to Inform Organisational Decision Making

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Using HR Data to Inform Organisational Decision Making 5 May 2022

3m

HRD Roundtable Report: Using HR Data to Inform Org...

Historically, HR hasn’t been as effective as it could be in sharing and communicating data with wider teams. It’s paramount that we remove the self-in...

View event
Digital transformation investment grows but critical skills gaps remain - Coursera report

Digital HR Digital transformation investment grows but critical skills gaps remain - Coursera report

7m Leah Belsky

Digital transformation investment grows but critic...

Covid-19 has accelerated the rate of digital learning on a global scale. Coursera's latest report provides an update on employee proficiency in a numb...

View article
Wellbeing in the hybrid workplace: how to successfully drive engagement

Employee Engagement Wellbeing in the hybrid workplace: how to successfully drive engagement

7m Alara Basul | Sponsored

Wellbeing in the hybrid workplace: how to successf...

Remote working has impacted the way we communicate as a workforce, but striking the right balance between creating an engaged workforce and a successf...

View article
How to create a company culture capable of empowering the modern workforce

Culture How to create a company culture capable of empowering the modern workforce

7m Alara Basul | Sponsored

How to create a company culture capable of empower...

While new working patterns that emerged from the pandemic have earned a permanent spot in the workplace, creating a purpose-driven culture based ...

View article
WATCH: Connection and collaboration in a hybrid workplace

Leadership Learnings WATCH: Connection and collaboration in a hybrid workplace

7m Amy Kirkham

WATCH: Connection and collaboration in a hybrid wo...

Alison Noon-Jones, VP of People & Culture at Leidos UK & Europe, shares how crucial employee engagement and participation is when shaping the people s...

View article
Turbulence ahead: Why it’s time to be bold in your leadership

Leadership Development Turbulence ahead: Why it’s time to be bold in your leadership

7m Terence Mauri

Turbulence ahead: Why it’s time to be bold in your...

HRD thought leader and Hack Future Lab founder Terence Mauri sets out why the biggest risk to leadership is not turbulence itself, but leading with ye...

View article

And this brings us to another crucial point: it’s vital to recognise that entrepreneurs and innovators are willing to take risks and that risks can occasionally end in mistakes. Tolerance of failure is therefore imperative because failure is a necessary element of learning. As Crilly stresses in defending the cause of “scientific dabbling”, innovation isn’t a defined science: you have to try things and see what happens.

The bottom line is that even a company set up by an entrepreneur or an innovator is by no means guaranteed to mirror its founder’s qualities forever. After all, Henry Ford gave the world an entirely new way of doing business, but the Ford Motor Company of today bears few of the distinctive hallmarks of his dynamism and inventiveness. Ultimately, it’s an enterprise’s ongoing behaviour that counts – and that’s why it’s so important both to find and to challenge employees who have the necessary mindset.

Simon Mosey is a Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Nottingham University Business School, Director of its Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (HGIIE) and co-author of ‘Building an Entrepreneurial Organisation’. [email protected]

Comments are closed.

What's Hot

HRD Roundtable Report: Levelling Up Onboarding for the Hybrid World

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Levelling Up Onboarding for the Hybrid World 5 May 2022

3m

HRD Roundtable Report: Levelling Up Onboarding for...

Attracting new talent is shooting up the priority list, but also proving more difficult than ever. After the effort of finding the right person, are w...

View event
HRD Roundtable Report: Redefining Company Culture in Hybrid Work Environments

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Redefining Company Culture in Hybrid Work Environments 26 May 2022

3m

HRD Roundtable Report: Redefining Company Culture ...

The process of redefining a company culture is a complex one. Culture contributes directly to the day-to-day experience of employees, and many leaders...

View event
Learning to win the talent war: how digital marketing can develop its people

Whitepaper | Talent Development Learning to win the talent war: how digital marketing can develop its people

3m

Learning to win the talent war: how digital market...

This report documents the findings of a Fireside chat held by ClickZ in the first quarter of 2022. It provides expert insight on how companies can ret...

View resource
HRD Roundtable Report: Strategies For Re-Engaging The Hybrid Workforce

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Strategies For Re-Engaging The Hybrid Workforce 5 May 2022

3m

HRD Roundtable Report: Strategies For Re-Engaging ...

We know hybrid working is here to stay, forcing many organisations to experiment with innovative and creative strategies from 4-day working weeks to u...

View event
HRD Roundtable Report: Making it ‘Worth It’ – What We Need to Reward, Engage and Retain

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Making it ‘Worth It’ – What We Need to Reward, Engage and Retain 3 March 2022

3m

HRD Roundtable Report: Making it ‘Worth It’ – What...

We know the pandemic has caused many people to revaluate their careers and relationships with work and have been seeing the impact in global trends in...

View event
Dave Ulrich: How can business and HR leaders simplify complexity?

Leadership Development Dave Ulrich: How can business and HR leaders simplify complexity?

7m Dave Ulrich

Dave Ulrich: How can business and HR leaders simpl...

HR thought leader Dave Ulrich outlines ways leaders can deal with complexity in an increasingly busy world, including how to think critically and turn...

View article
HRD Roundtable Report: Using HR Data to Inform Organisational Decision Making

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Using HR Data to Inform Organisational Decision Making 5 May 2022

3m

HRD Roundtable Report: Using HR Data to Inform Org...

Historically, HR hasn’t been as effective as it could be in sharing and communicating data with wider teams. It’s paramount that we remove the self-in...

View event
Digital transformation investment grows but critical skills gaps remain - Coursera report

Digital HR Digital transformation investment grows but critical skills gaps remain - Coursera report

7m Leah Belsky

Digital transformation investment grows but critic...

Covid-19 has accelerated the rate of digital learning on a global scale. Coursera's latest report provides an update on employee proficiency in a numb...

View article