I must thank David Speakman, CEO of Travel Counsellors, for providing the inspiration for this blog. Only few days ago we were exchanging tweets and David said that the words entrepreneurs and employees were ‘oxymoron’, thus mutually exclusive, simply impossible to feature them together in the same sentence . . . And that is true, right?
This statement has been going around my head ever since and while initially I found myself rationally agreeing with it, my guts – for want of a better word – simply could not. But why?
The Free Dictionary defines ‘employee’ as: ‘ person who is hired to work for another or for a business, firm, etc, in return for payment’.
Traditionally somebody who is employed, an employee, is by definition a person preoccupied with achieving the task and objectives assigned to him/her and – if that person is also the boss or in a senior position –the preoccupation will be with company objectives, boards, shareholders or the likes. Even under a greater level of freedom, somebody who is employed ultimately needs to follow and execute.
Quite differently, the Free Dictionary says that an entrepreneur is: ‘A person who organizes, operates, and assumes the risk for a business venture.’
Entrepreneurs to start with do not have bosses and do not have the preoccupation of satisfying other people’s requirements. They can be very independently minded, make their own decisions, be slightly ‘Mavericks’, try different things.
So yes, according to these definitions the two genres really do not mix and are mutually exclusive. But is this slightly ‘old school’ or does it still reflect what happens in reality?
There are many studies out there providing evidence around the importance to businesses of entrepreneurial traits in employees. For example a study undertaken in 2013 by American Express found that found “58% of managers are either very willing or extremely willing to support employees who want to capitalize on a new business opportunity within their company.”
These studies show that unless employees acquire, cultivate and put into practice entrepreneurial skills they will eventually stagnate and their organisations will too. , independent thinking, ‘on your feet’ thinking, lateral thinking, all these qualities that are generally associated with entrepreneurship must by all means be present in employees for organisations to thrive in today’s highly complex and very disruptive business environment… Ditto for introducing new ideas, taking calculated risk and trying new things, all things that entrepreneurs do as a matter of fact (furthermore, they are expected to do that!) but are sometimes frowned upon in organisational cultures.
In reality, and based on my business experience, the best companies enable an entrepreneurial mindset in employees which include trying their hand at new things, testing their skills, challenging status quo and perceptions. This is often how new products or ‘spinoff’ companies are created and grown within corporate environment. This means that company leadership acknowledges the need and indeed usefulness of incorporating an entrepreneurial mindset in otherwise not so prone to out of the box thinking corporate teams. For that to happen though, senior management must be convinced of the advantages and must have remained entrepreneurial at heart even where the organisation has grown well beyond its start up days. We probably all recognise these traits in organisations such as Google, Virgin, Apple, AirBnB and their leaders alike.
When it comes to women, it is true that there is still a very small proportions of female led enterprises (although according to recent stats female owned businesses are the fastest growing segment globally) but there is no shortage of entrepreneurship minded females who in some cases, possibly disappointed with the lack of entrepreneurial spirit in the corporate world or possibly fired up by their own entrepreneurial mindset, decide to focus on their own venture.
So, are employment and entrepreneurship such opposite, mutually exclusive words? I am not so sure this is the case after all, and I do believe that on the back of successful examples more businesses will be asking: ‘how do I make my employees more entrepreneurially minded?’