2.1 Enterprising Behaviour

Employees reporting self-improved work practices
Employees reporting involvement in innovation and improvement
Employees reporting supervisor / line manager acceptance of new ideas
Employees reporting contribution of ideas important to future of the business

The purpose of this section is to give you an understanding of the important role Leadership has in encouraging and developing enterprising behaviour in employees. As you work through the content, please consider how Line managers exert a powerful influence on the ability and willingness of employees to take the initiative or to play an active role in change. Reflect on your own organisation or one you are familiar with, and consider what has been done – or needs to be done – for line managers to play such an enabling role? Reflecting on your own experiences and the information contained in this section, think of examples in which enterprising behaviour has been encouraged as well as the benefits achieved as a result. 

Entrepreneurship is not just for those at the top: in the right circumstances, employees at every level can identify opportunities for innovation and business development. It depends on an organisation’s ability to create the processes, individual competencies and motivation to enable employees at all levels to act entrepreneurially. As intrapreneurs, employees have the ability and legitimacy to achieve strategic goals by working creatively in the spaces between formal organisational structures.

Intrapreneurship happens when employees take the initiative and try something new without being asked to do so. The intrapreneur transforms ideas into successful ventures while operating within the organisation’s context and strategy. Innovative employers empower and provide intrapreneurs with the resources needed to create and sustain this dynamic process of product, service and process innovation.

The biggest challenge for intrapreneurs is dealing with the “Corporate Immune System”, the organisational structures such as bureaucracy, hierarchy, and rules and policies which don’t support an intrapreneurial culture and behaviour. Many organisations struggle with applying intrapreneurship within their daily routines due to narrow task definition combined with targets and schedules that deter opportunities for serendipity and idea generation.

Recognising and supporting intrapreneurs is the biggest challenge for Entrepreneurial Leadership.

Leaders need to take a systemic view of their own organisational structures and practices. Creating the culture of innovation and intrapreneurship needed for twenty-first century challenges requires tenacity. It means empowering intrapreneurs to challenge deeply embedded attitudes and behaviours, ask difficult questions, and bring in experiences from a diverse range of other organisations. In short, it changes the focus of relations between management and frontline employees from ‘how?’ to ‘why?’

With the accelerating dynamics of competition, the key to competitiveness no longer lies in re-applying past successes. It lies in the ability and techniques to lead and facilitate creativity, instilling the desire in people to become intrapreneurs, and creating an environment which enables and empowers innovation – as part of everyone’s job.

Read Rosemary Exton’s article on entrepreneurial behaviour in the National Health Service.

Encouraging enterprising behaviour means:

  • taking risks instead of focusing on safety: being overly focused on evaluating the business benefits of an idea at the early stages is a sure way of killing creativity, learning and innovation;
  • failing often: encourage regular experimentation and share the lessons when things don’t work;
  • valuing the crowd instead of experts: bring unusual combinations of people together across functional and hierarchical divides, creating a climate where the force of the better argument wins over seniority;
  • building an eco-system rather than a hub: create spaces where innovation and creativity can arise from multiple groups of people rather than exercising central control;
  • embracing serendipity: create opportunities to learn from unusual sources, both internally and externally;
  • challenging authority: expect and encourage employees at every level to ask difficult questions, even when these create a level of discomfort for leaders and senior teams;
  • celebrating intangibles: recognise the importance of things that make organisations thrive such as strong relationships, shared learning and passion – don’t just focus on factors that can be measured on spreadsheets;
  • stimulating and supporting strategic thinking at every level of the organisation rather than spending too much time producing lengthy but rapidly outdated strategies;
  • telling people over and over again that reflection, discussion and shared learning are not a luxury: they are what keeps the business ahead of its competitors and can even help meet those pressing deadlines by generating smarter solutions.

Forum topic: Do you have examples where inspiring ideas have come from unexpected people?

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