Set Yourself Apart | Operationalize an Entrepreneurial Spirit

Distinguished FishA few of the larger organizations I’ve worked for include ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ on their list of core values. Unfortunately, most of the employees are unclear as to what that actually means and how they are expected to display entrepreneurial characteristics in their daily activities. Within a smaller organization or a startup, this may be more easily realized given the inherent mindset and culture of the work environment. But for larger organizations, corporate bureaucracy, complexities, control, and investor pressures bring a host of challenges and barriers. Established brands, organizational hierarchies, and endless policies and procedures can breed complacency.

No matter the size of the organization you work for, or even if you are in fact an entrepreneur launching your own business, proactively incorporating core elements of an entrepreneurial spirit is vital to distinguishing oneself in a sea of talent, building professional excellence, and achieving long-term success.

Merriam-Webster defines an entrepreneur as one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise. Having the entrepreneurial spirit essentially means filtering everything – the work you do, how you do it, the company you do it for, and the clients you serve – as if you were the owner of the business, and translating that into actions.

Working for a company that supports this mindset certainly gives you open permission to display the qualities necessary to do what’s right for the business. However, what if you work for an organization where this may not be explicit to the corporate culture or values? I would argue that in today’s professional environment, these work traits transcend any environment, can shine a spotlight on the rock stars, or may set you on a path to a greater opportunity.

So how does one operationalize an entrepreneurial spirit? Below are some typical principles of the entrepreneur profile anyone can proactively apply no matter what their chosen profession or organization type.

Self-Motivated

Core to any entrepreneur is having the inner drive and self-motivation to wake up each morning and enthusiastically go after the opportunities of the day. There is no one telling you what you need to do, how to do it, or when–you’ve built in your own incentives or stimuli based on your passions. Don’t wait for others to light your fire. Figure out what motivates you, keep it at the forefront of your mind, and have the self-discipline to stay the course.

Results Driven

Entrepreneurs are very action oriented and move with direct intent. They don’t show up each day drudging through a list of tasks that someone gave them, just to collect a paycheck. They are focused on the results required to drive their business forward, to be profitable, and to make a real difference.  

They are focused on the results required to drive their business forward, to be profitable, and to make a real difference.  

Your organization, business unit, or team likely has predefined goals and objectives—align your activities to these to drive the desired results necessary in achieving those goals. Break the goals down into actionable daily and weekly tasks, and make them measurable. You want to be able to report back to management the results you have achieved, not the tasks completed.

Fiscally Responsible

If being entrepreneurial is about thinking like an owner, then fiscal responsibility is a no brainer.

When we work for organizations as an employee, it’s very easy to lose sight of what things cost and how much waste can occur. Even if you’re someone who has no oversight to the budget, being attentive and diligent about departmental spending is one of the smartest contributions you can give. The more money we save the business by eliminating unnecessary spending or waste, the more funds become available for investment elsewhere, such as salary and bonus pools, educational programs, charitable funds, and new capital investments.

A simple tip is to view how you spend money in your organization as if it were your own. If there is serious need for investment somewhere, provide the right business case to your manager showing them the value it brings. But be mindful of those smaller spends like travel, supplies, software, phone calls, expensive meals, and so on. These can add up to big dollars resulting in overspend and potential penalties. No one wants to work for a company with financial troubles. Be responsible with company dollars. It’s simply the right thing to do.

Seek to Understand 

When I host town halls or webcasts with executive teams, they share a variety of information with employees at all levels. Inevitably I get feedback from some individual who can’t understand why any of this is important to them. They feel that hearing all the financials or details about a company project has absolutely nothing to do with them and that it’s a complete waste of their time.

All I can say is, this person will never be a true success with that mindset. They’ll always be the one passed over for promotions and will never be asked to work on the new and exciting projects.

Entrepreneurs seek to understand every aspect of the business, the marketplace, competitors, technologies, and trends so that they can bring the best of themselves and their thinking to the business. They thrive on taking this information and synthesizing it into actions. How can anyone possibly be effective and excel in their profession if they don’t understand the big picture and can’t incorporate that into the work they do? Make it your business to absorb everything you can, learn every part of the company and its services, and continue that habit for the rest of your career. Knowledge truly is power.

Risk Takers

Risk takers understand that in order to grow and succeed there must be someone who is willing to challenge the status quo. Those that espouse, “We’ve always done it this way,” will never drive the business forward; they will feed its failure.

Working in a risk-averse company can make this challenging, but not impossible. Take baby steps to understand where there is discomfort with risk and progressively move while being mindful where extra care and attention may be required. Push for change with genuine conscientiousness.

Accountable

The pressure on organizations to be profitable, innovative, and leaders in their space is massive. Within company goals and objectives, there are typically performance measures for just about every area of the organization. When one area of the business underperforms or misses revenue goals, leadership tends to take the hit. Missing deadlines, not delivering project results, skipping meetings or conference calls – all are acts of disrespect and irresponsibility.

Entrepreneurs take their responsibilities and performance measures seriously and hold themselves accountable to those goals, not others.  There’s no transferring blame or pointing the finger elsewhere. Be accountable for what you’re being paid to do.

Problem Solvers

We’ve all encountered those people who constantly complain. Even if there’s nothing to complain about, they will find the smallest issue and turn it into a serious problem. You changed the soda in the soda machine, there was one typo in that communication, you didn’t respond to an email within five minutes—major disruption and melt down ensues. Extreme examples, but you get the idea.

These are people who may have good intentions, but communicate the issue non-constructively. They forget that the person they are complaining to is likely dealing with other issues they need to prioritize. Their bosses have already handed them an extensive list that must be attended to immediately. Managers are expected to resolve and fix every problem at the drop of a hat.

How can entrepreneurial thinking make their lives easier? 

Instead of being the problem identifier, how about being the problem solver.

Instead of being the problem identifier, how about being the problem solver. Rather than bringing an issue to your manager and dumping it on her doorstep, how about constructing it with one or two ideas for resolution. Volunteer to take on the problem so they won’t have to fix it all themselves, or better yet, resolve it without their involvement at all. Be a leader. What a great asset to have on the team—someone that looks to help and support the business through it’s challenges by solving problems so the whole team can be successful. That’s what entrepreneurs do.

Relationship Savvy

Good entrepreneurs understand the value of a solid network and developing meaningful connections and relationships. They take great care in these relationships and look for opportunities to be givers, not just takers.

While this may be obvious as it relates to external relationships with clients and industry influencers, many forget that this idea also applies to internal relationships as well.

As part of the marketing organization, and specifically the person leading all internal and external communications, I constantly collaborated across the other internal functions. I treated them as if they were my own clients. It was give and take at any given time. If I required members of the IT organization to work with me to quickly get a new section of our portal built, they were more willing to do so, and more quickly, due to my previously taking something off their plate and managing so they didn’t have to. If legal provided quick turnaround of reviews and sign off for a press release I needed to publish immediately, I then would reciprocate by supporting their need to get confidential communications pushed out during evening hours. I would often partner with finance to drive content for CEO webcasts, and constantly partnered with HR for employee related programs and communications.

The strength of these relationships was only as good as what both groups were willing to put in to them and the mutual respect displayed. We collaborated to support what our businesses needed, and we valued each other enough to make the other a priority when the time called for it. Never underestimate internal relationships—they are critical.

Developing your own entrepreneurial spirit distinguishes you, sets a great example for others, and prepares you for future opportunities you may not have imagined. The way organizations will operate, the competition for world-class talent and top jobs, the paradigm shift of contract work and virtual teams—all of this requires proactive individuals with progressive thinking and an entrepreneurial spirit. Do you have what it takes?

Image Credit: ©iStock.com/Eskemar

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