Entrepreneurialism is a subject that comes up every day at Chorus Executive, whether we are speaking to employers seeking an employee with an ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ or to employees dreaming of becoming the next Zuckerberg. Why has this concept become such a hot topic lately?

First, employers want their employees to have the insight, creativity, initiative and drive that are the hallmarks of a successful entrepreneur, like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Tony Hsieh of Zappos or Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn. These traits are in such high demand that a specific term has been coined to describe those who innovate from within a company – intrapreneurship.

Second, employees desire the freedom, creativity and rewards that come from being a successful entrepreneur. After all, wouldn’t we all love our ideas to be appreciated to the tune of $29.2 billion (Hoffman) or $74.6 billion (Zuckerberg)?

Is it possible to meet this desire for entrepreneurialism (in both employer and employee) within an established corporation? I believe it is. However, employees and employers need to be aware of the challenges facing both parties when they are operating within an established business, which include the following:

  1. Real entrepreneurs don’t have bosses and don’t like to listen.

    Entrepreneurs like to be the one making all the decisions and like to do things their way. They don’t have bosses or boards to answer to – they are the boss. This trait doesn’t always sit comfortably within a corporate structure, with managers and boards to report to. Because of this, there can be some major growing pains for entrepreneurs stepping into the corporate hierarchy.

  2. Entrepreneurs take risk with their own money (as well as with others’).

    It is easier for entrepreneurs to put money where their idea is because they own the company. They take on the risk, but they will also reap the rewards. Although the endgame for some entrepreneurs is to ‘make it rich’, for many others, it is the idea that is more important. True entrepreneurs have a vision or purpose.

    They have identified a problem and they are fanatical about solving it. They sacrifice their time, effort, money and quite often their family and social lives. How many of your employees would risk their own money on an idea to make your business great? Would you risk your organisation’s investment and your reputation on an idea with no guarantee of success?

  3. Entrepreneurs are forever changing their minds.

    Entrepreneurs have a vision and a purpose. They might have a plan but this can change quickly and often on the fly. In the world of the entrepreneur, decisions are made as each new piece of information or data comes in, helping to create different pathways to success.

    This style of operating is often not possible in corporations, with their checks and balances, processes and approval systems, and the market to report to. It can be difficult for entrepreneurs to do their best work when they are held to strict guidelines and schedules, and many simply don’t want to work in that kind of environment.

  4. Entrepreneurs embrace failure.

    Entrepreneurs like failure because when things don’t go to plan, they gain greater insight into what will work. In the words of Thomas Edison: “I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” We have all heard of ‘agile working’ and the pivot, but in large, complex organisations this can be a challenging idea to embrace. Entrepreneurs thrive in a world of testing and learning, in which failure is not just acceptable, it is a necessary step along the path to success.

  5. Many entrepreneurs are not great managers.

    Many entrepreneurs are great leaders but not necessarily great managers. Leaders create a vision, inspire others and build followership. A manager, however, deals with the day-to-day stuff. They put structures in place, communicate clearly to all stakeholders and have an eye on all the details.

    The qualities of a great leader and a great manager are not necessarily mutually exclusive; however, entrepreneurs often struggle with the minutiae involved in management. In a corporate environment, the obvious problem that can arise is that a team of entrepreneurs will come up with a brilliant idea, but lack the practical capacity to see it through.

When it comes down to it, a true entrepreneur probably won’t work in an established business; they will create their own. However, that doesn’t mean that organisations can’t embrace the best aspects of entrepreneurialism and promote an entrepreneurial spirit by hiring intrapreneurs. So, how can you encourage intrapreneurialism within your corporate culture?

  1. Accept and embrace failure.

    Take a leaf out of Google’s book – the company recognises and discusses their biggest failures at monthly meetings.

  2. Be prepared to go all out – don’t play it safe.

    If corporations want employees to show true entrepreneurialism or intrapreneurialism, they need to give their staff opportunities to play ‘full out’. Give a team of amazing people the chance to invest in the BHAG idea and the resources to be creative. Don’t manage them, let them go free.

  3. Celebrate key milestones without needing to be involved in the day-to-day.

    Trust your intrapreneurs to do what they set out to do without needing to track every step of the process. This can be difficult when working on high-profile projects with significant resources at risk.

  4. Hire different people.

    This is where the words ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ really add value. And this is about more than just gender. Age is another important factor – sometimes inexperienced people can be the most innovative because they haven’t been trained to think or to do things a particular way.

    People from different industries and backgrounds can also offer new perspectives and fresh insights. Hiring a diverse range of employees means including people at different life stages, with different political and religious beliefs, and with different personality types. Teams need analytical, creative and black-hat thinkers, and people whose role is to facilitate collaboration.

  5. Create a win-win situation.

    True entrepreneurs want to have ‘skin in the game’. They want to feel committed and invested in the outcomes; they also want to be part of the win. Create a joint venture opportunity where both the employee and the corporation has something at risk, but also the opportunity for a big pay-off. Those with a true entrepreneurial spirit will back themselves to be part of something they believe in.

Entrepreneurialism will continue to be a hot topic for employers and employees alike. There is no quick way to create a culture that fosters this and, even in an established business, it will require risk and investment. It will cost money, take time, can cause conflict and make people uncomfortable and scared, but when you get it right it is worth it.