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How to become more entrepreneurial: a guide for employees and their organisations

Entrepreneurialism is not about working alone: coming up with fresh ideas and realising them is a social process.
Entrepreneurialism is not about working alone: coming up with fresh ideas and realising them is a social process.
Jun 18 2020

Becoming more entrepreneurial could help both employees and their organisations to thrive in a rapidly-changing economy. This help might be especially significant in a  world that emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.

This is the recommendation of JRC experts who have recently released The entrepreneurial employee in the public and private sector. What, Why, How? a report on what makes employees entrepreneurial, why being entrepreneurial is important, and how individuals can become more entrepreneurial within their existing organisations.

The coronavirus pandemic will leave profoundly-changed societies in its wake. But the crisis also offers opportunities to rebuild better, by creating more resilient societies, and more entrepreneurial working cultures, not only in the private but also in the public sector.

The EU has been encouraging citizens to pick up entrepreneurial skills for years. In 2016, it released the European Entrepreneurship Competence Framework (EntreComp), which lists 15 key skills, ranging from creativity, through perseverance to proactiveness.

Such skills were already indispensable to drive the green and digital transformations forward. Now that the coronavirus-pandemic forced countless firms to rethink their business models, they will be in even higher demand.

The report was produced by the JRC on behalf of the European Commission department for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG EMPL) as part of the department’s work on implementation of EntreComp.

Entrepreneurial employees: No lone fighters – The "what"

There are some popular misconceptions about entrepreneurs. The stereotypical image of entrepreneurs are special individuals with a unique talent who strive for success on their own.

This is far from the truth, the authors of the report point out. Entrepreneurship is not ordained at birth, but something learned and nurtured.

Coming up with fresh ideas and realising them is a social process: Empathy with others is necessary to recognise the needs that go unsatisfied and creating new value as a response. Such values can be economic, social, entertainment, or influence-oriented, or can contribute to harmony, by easing strains or reducing inequality.

In addition, interactions with others (peers, suppliers, colleagues operating in the same sector) is needed to put ideas to the test. Entrepreneurial individuals should be open to embrace others’ contribution and change tack.

Finally, turning ideas into reality is a collaborative endeavour where the opinions and energy of colleagues are also needed to implement novel proposals.

Even if people are more approachable than what novice entrepreneurs would think, 80-90 % of idea-pitches are still shot down, meaning that initiative-rich employees should cultivate a network of the people who are willing to get on board.

Even humble talks at the coffee vending machine can turn out to be opportunities for finding allies. Yet a conscious effort to discover supportive colleagues, preferably cross-cutting departments cannot be replaced.

The need for change – The "why"

Too many businesses are built on routine-based processes, the ‘this-is-how-we-do-things-around-here’-style of conservatism and incremental gains from optimising the same old model.

By moving away from this way of thinking, both the employee and the manager would stand to benefit.

For many companies, giving their employees a free rein to explore their innovative spirits is a necessity if they don’t want to be left behind amid constantly shifting conditions on the market and the turmoil wreaked by the coronavirus outbreak.

For others, it offers the prospect to explore newly found niches and capture a larger share of the market.

Employees would get a chance to self-realise and get credit for creating new value. Their managers would be appreciated for making the organisation more prosperous, even if giving employees more freedom would mean relinquishing some control.

No losses for the bosses – The "how"

Whereas the report focuses on giving instruments for employees to become more entrepreneurial, managers’ role  should not be underestimated. Fostering an organisational culture, in which their staff can feel a sense of agency, the capability to shape their surroundings, is their responsibility.

Yet enterprising employees often bump into walls when proposing new initiatives. Thinking about novel ideas can be seen as refusing to fall in line behind corporate culture.

Other managers pay only lip service to entrepreneurialism. They often isolate entrepreneurial employees into separate units or create 'skunkworks' departments for exploring oddball ideas.

Not encouraged to interact with their peers, the creativity of these units is hobbled, while employees relegated to normal roles give up thinking outside the box.

Some managers content themselves with not changing culture by claiming that their employees "are not really entrepreneurial".

But this is an overly static view of creativity, and they could do a lot to foment ideas by contributing to a more favourable atmosphere.

It would be a good start to stop stigmatizing failures and look at them as parts of the learning process instead. No idea emerges as perfect, constant revisions and consultations are needed to make them work.

The coronavirus pandemic will doubtlessly lead to some destruction, and will accelerates many of the market shaking dynamics already in place. Organisations and their employees can  spot opportunities in this transformation , and act upon them to create value for themselves and others.