American business had at one time been notorious for its structures and fences, often the fodder and theme for television shows, media and entertainment. Employees and teams followed suit. We logged in, punched the clock, stayed within the lines, as we did our jobs. Career growth and evolution happened in the same linear fashion. We climbed the corporate ladder, literally, straight to the top.
But an uptick trend of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking ushered in, and with it a new culture not just of startups and innovative thinking as business owners -- but among employees and teams as well. Witnessing peers and co-workers leverage technology to become successful employees and entrepreneurs, today's employees are widely creative, entrepreneurial thinkers, looking for employment opportunities where they can stretch their innovative wings within their department, work and job.
From a management and leadership standpoint, the first thing that often comes to mind is the idea that this new era of entrepreneurial employees surely means that everyone will put in longer hours. But in reality it can mean a myriad of new management and leadership needs that go beyond teams and staff working harder. New talent in the business world often want their ideas to be heard, desire to innovate, and in some instances, want to participate or expand their work across departments -- and may potentially walk if these needs are not at least somewhat satisfied. The new increased flow of ideas means that companies are faced with greater challenges of not just determining what ideas should be considered, but also can present challenges in keeping teams and staff focused. This particularly seen in technology development environments but even within marketing, business development and other areas as well.
In some cases, it can also mean employees have side projects, personal brands and other work that for some can be a distraction. Whereas in the past vacation time and paid absence days were used for leisure and travel, many employees are using their off-time to grow, build or manage ideas of their own. While this generally isn't a conflict at most organizations, it is something that companies may and do face in today's entrepreneurial minded world.
For startups and large corporations alike, this new era of talent is worthy of being at the very least prepared for, and at best, positioned to not just gain from it but manage it across the entire organization as well. It goes beyond a lot of the traditional way of operating a company, where departments are silos and little interaction happens between each. Today's business and work environments are far more connected. Development teams may follow company marketers on their personal social pages, camaraderie and connectivity may flow outside of company walls.
But the benefits can surely outweigh any issues -- in fact, part of the value of the startup environment it is flexible, and even needs, teams and staff that are flexible and creative thinkers on their own. This has proven to contribute to everything from key software solutions that solve real problems inside and outside of the organization, to business plans, revenue models and much more. Employees today are highly web and media savvy and technology centric -- we all recall when Rupert Murdoch was said to have been tipped about MySpace from one of News Corp's younger employees.
Here are a few key ways any company of any size can leverage and tap into the benefits of entrepreneurial mindsets, while still ensuring that the company's needs are being met as well:
1. It Starts With Leadership
The key is thinking through where and how the new culture of innovators can add value to your organization and business, and how to best manage it as a part of your company's unique DNA and world. This starts, as with everything, at the leadership level. It doesn't matter if you're a startup with two executive team members, a funded business with a full team or a corporate giant with offices around the world. Taking a minute to talk with your leadership team about where and how the organization can benefit and manage its creative and innovative thinkers can be a great starting point. Leadership teams are also going to need to lead by example ongoing in this area -- for example, if you're innovative and open to ideas, you'll encourage your staff to do so as well.
2. It Requires Structure
Building a structure or program for receiving employee ideas, the process for consideration of their concepts, and where and how to create a balance in the organization are very important. You don't want to have your teams and staff taking away focus during key development or other crunch times. It can be circumvented by setting a framework for when and where ideas are heard -- some companies hold internal events that provide a platform, others have idea boxes and forms.
3. Transparency Can Help
You'll also want to give employees some visibility to what goes on beyond an idea. There are costs involved, time, resources and other elements that are often overlooked or not considered at the initial idea concept. Some organizations allow staff and teams to develop R&D on ideas during specific, structured company hours. Others have process funnels that let employees see that their ideas are being considered and why they may not be brought into the fold. Putting the ownership back on the team member(s) when ideas are brought up and having them play a role in determining costs needed, resources it might take, and long range management can help entrepreneurial minded employees see the larger picture that goes beyond their ideas -- and can often help them understand when an idea might not be right for the company.
4. Boundaries, Not Rules
With so many employees today having the entrepreneurial bug, and many with side projects of their own, it's important to set boundaries to what is and isn't acceptable on company time, or with use of company resources. However, this doesn't need a firm hand per say -- you don't want to squelch ideas and innovation with heavy-handed and formal rules. But by leading with example and setting boundaries about both internal/company ideas and innovation, as well as external persona projects among teams and staff, you can create an environment that satisfies and fulfills your employees while enabling them to participate in the company's forward movement as well.
In addition, you'll want to give thought to how flexible (or not) you'd like to be regarding remote working, work from home and other scenarios outside of the traditional office environment. I've shared some thoughts and tips on the topic here.
Last, it's great to recognize your staff and team for their work and innovations. It can help fulfill a sense of accomplishment both within the company and the market as a whole.