Every company that ever started had to start from somewhere and they often began life as either one person with a dream or a small group of like-minded people. Take for example Bank of America – did you know it was entrepreneur Orra E. Monnette that formed Bank of America, Los Angeles in 1923 only to merge it with the Bank of Italy established by another entrepreneur out of San Francisco called Amadeo Giannini in 1928.
What about William E. Boeing and how he strategically planned the future of his business by buying Heath’s shipyard in Seattle which would later become his first airplane factory. He had his beginnings not in the airline trade but in the timber sector where he made his initial wealth.
The problem that many large companies face as time goes by is they are at risk of losing that innovative and entrepreneurial spirit as the weight of running a large corporation begins to set it.
In fact, when I inherited the management reigns of one of the world’s largest employment company’s it was beset not by sales and entrepreneurial spirit but by process, administration and bureaucracy gone wild. Founded by a one man after the Second World War the business had come to dominant the recruitment and employment sector but after a while began to lose market share having essentially trained its competitors. The challenge that this business faced like so many others is that it had started to lose its edge and instead of remaining competitive and ahead of the curve they ended up being behind the eight ball.
Jack Welch, that guru of change management and former head of GE knew what the problem was:
This is the risk that many start-up and established companies in the tech industry will inevitably learn that unless you remain entrepreneurial you are at risk of being over taken.
So, what three things do company’s need to consider when retaining that entrepreneurial competitive edge? Take a look:
Employ start-up people and fresh thinkers: There is no doubt that the spirit of entrepreneurship is very much about surrounding yourself with fresh and innovative thinking. Instead of going with the safe option all of the time seek out employees that can really demonstrate an ability to be both creative and innovative at the same time - in large organisations I actively encourage the formation of a dedicated team of disruptive thinkers whose sole purpose is to take conventional ideas that may be floating around the business and come up with unconventional ways of both execution and implementation. In order to “up-end” the traditional employment process start with looking at who is doing your recruitment. If the agency is nothing more than pushing the same old candidates then go with an agency who themselves can demonstrate they too are entrepreneurial.
Embed a culture of failure that leads to success: All too often we try and teach success within a business without teaching that in order to succeed we sometimes fail. Why do we do this? Because when you have a look at how performance bonus and review structures have developed you often get two sides of a fence for how well an employee is doing – the things that they have achieved and the things that they have failed at. By focussing more on the failure points we have the opportunity to identify solutions that will ultimately lead to success – but first, we have to let our employees know it is ok to fail so long as the learning experience is evident by what comes next. What do entrepreneurs know? The successful ones have battle scars from failure!
Retain your customers – don’t just assume they will be loyal: There is an unnerving trend these days that by emailing a lot of people they will somehow respond to your sales message contained in the email and buy from you. Or, that when you use some annoying call centre or rings a customer at dinner time on a weekday that you’ll secure the sale. You will be wrong on both points. One of the keys to retaining your customers is by rediscovering what you did well at the beginning and invariably it is about the personal touch and physical contact. Instead of sending blanket emails with a low hit rate the investment in a face to face meeting or coffee can be hugely successful. Why? Because customers are already overwhelmed with those focussed on technology not as an effective sales tool but an internal efficiency and less costly way of doing business.
What do we call this approach? Intrapreneurship! and in coming weeks i'll be writing a lot more about how you can turn your organisational culture around from one of admin and pure process to one that is competitive through entrepreneurial spirit. Watch this space!
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