Stop Bothering your Employees with Entrepreneurship

It is decided, the theme of your next company convention will be “All entrepreneurs!” You’ll talk about Google, Tesla, Facebook, plus a Chinese champion for good measure. The manager of your Lab in San Francisco will come to talk about the latest local innovations. You will show a film that will explain “the six qualities of a good entrepreneur” with rock opera music. After a closing speech by the leader who, in essence, will say that it is only a matter of courage, the roadmap will be clear.

And then nothing will happen. On Monday morning, everyone will return to their posts and life will resume. All entrepreneurs? in your dreams!

I no longer count the number of company conventions or executive retreats where the agenda is to make the company more entrepreneurial. Employees are bombarded with messages praising the entrepreneurial posture. Innovate! Get started! Be brave! Accept to make mistakes! Be like Google! Take the plunge!

And the more it goes, the more uncomfortable I feel with this imperative. In my opinion, there are three problems with it.

First of all, it’s a bad prescription. It is certainly in the interest of companies to develop entrepreneurial postures, or even entrepreneurial entities, to improve their capacity for innovation. But hoping that everyone has to become an entrepreneur is a fantasy. Imagine that everyone could become as well. The solution to the corporate transformation problem is not for everyone to become an entrepreneur.

Secondly, the entrepreneurial imperative is counterproductive. It is not in the organization’s best interest for everyone to become an entrepreneur. If you manufacture trucks or produce pizzas, the first condition of your survival is to get these trucks or pizzas out on time, on specs and on budget. Let everyone become an entrepreneur and nothing will work anymore. The “creative chaos” defended by some is nice on paper, but in reality it is the death of the company. And asking a pizza maker to think and act like Google is not reasonable; Google does not make pizzas.

Help! They ask me to be an entrepreneur! (Source: Wikipedia)

Thirdly, and most importantly, the entrepreneurial imperative is stressful and humiliating. Employees are already overworked and immersed in everyday problems, under pressure for results. And on top of that, you ask them to be entrepreneurs! This is adding considerable pressure to them. Implicitly it means telling them that they are mediocre and that they should be superheroes. It is denying their identity and that of the organization. It is an act of violence. It is moral harassment.

A false vision of entrepreneurship

The reason for this anxiety-provoking dimension is also due a lot to the way entrepreneurship is presented. As I often observe, poor collaborators are presented with the face of the entrepreneur as a creative superhero with magical powers: able to lead others, loving risk, visionary, agile, technologically savvy, resilient, patient, courageous, persistent, etc. Don’t throw any more! As all these qualities are developed, stones are added to the bag to be worn by the employees during the great entrepreneurial race. Not only do we send them back an image of mediocrity – if I don’t have all these qualities, I’m a mediocre – but we set the bar so high that failure is assured even before it begins.

Nothing could be more absurd. Research has long shown that entrepreneurs are not superheroes with magical powers, but normal people with qualities and weaknesses, applying simple principles grouped under the name of effectuation. To compensate for a weakness, they associate with others. Great ideas emerge from a creative process; they do not emerge from a stroke of genius. Entrepreneurship is a daily practice, not a Homeric epic.

Entrepreneurship anyway? Yes, but differently!

So we have to start all over again. Yes, the need for transformation is there. It implies a change not only in the organization but also in its management style. This is a profound change. Yes, entrepreneurship is the means to enable this transformation, because it is a way to transform the world; it can therefore transform the organization. But it can only do so if two important changes are made:

  • The first change is the what: it is not necessary to require each employee to become an entrepreneur but rather to help him or her to (re)become an actor in his or her environment; it is not a question of having entrepreneurship everywhere, but of being inspired by entrepreneurship to better manage and above all to put the organization back in motion so that it can gradually transform itself. Entrepreneurship must therefore be mobilized in a totally different way within the company.
  • The second change is the how: we must abandon the super-heroic conception of entrepreneurship in favor of a social conception: entrepreneurship is about normal people partnering with others to do new and useful things and take pleasure in doing so. To do this, they apply the principles of effectuation. These principles are simple and universal. Everyone can learn and practice them in a few minutes. Everyone can even enjoy it. The anxiety-provoking dimension can thus disappear in favor of a very simple practice: life.

The challenge is therefore to restore life within the organization that expelled it because of a Cartesian conception of management. This is what entrepreneurship, if properly understood, can contribute to.

To learn about effectuation and its five principles, read Effectuation: How Entrepreneurs (Really) Think and Act.

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