How to motivate your employees

How to motivate your team on thinking like entrepreneurs and not employees

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Sophia Ellis
Dec 01, 2017

Want to think like entrepreneurs and not employees? Here are some tips to motivate your team!

There’s something different about the way entrepreneurs and ‘startup people’ operate as opposed to those who are attracted to more ‘stable’, larger corporate positions at much older, more traditional companies. And time favors the young.

The agility and drive that tends to radiate from startups and their founders is helping them overtake companies we previously thought of as infallible. Scale and attrition just don’t cut it anymore. The playing field has been leveled and the barriers to entry are nearly non-existent for the majority of industries.

There are several reasons for this. The business environment is more volatile than ever, like a quickly-changing tide. Customers have an infinite number of options and substitutes. They’re in complete control and their expectations are high and ever-changing. Companies that are oversized, old, and move like large cruise ships don’t fare as well as small speedboats like startups.

Resources and infrastructure are no longer out of reach nor do they require massive capital investments. A company of any size can scale up and down, finding exactly the support they need with a new world network connected by technology.

The only thing that truly guarantees success is great product-market fit, an outstanding relationship with customers and your brand, and an ability to make quick changes to adjust either.

The companies with the most entrepreneurial thinking team members are going to be the ones that surpass all others despite how big they are, where they started, and how they started to provide just that. An entrepreneurial mindset is something that must be both hired in and fostered in companies of any size to guarantee success in the new business landscape.

Here are some ways your team can help to create and encourage an entrepreneurial mindset for an innovative and change-embracing team.

1. Hire entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs are an interesting counterpart for companies. On one hand, entrepreneurs could be the death of a company if they bring something to market that is better. On the other hand, entrepreneurs think and work in the way companies try to get their employees to. Often in companies, the only entrepreneurial-minded ones are the founders who had to be entrepreneurs. For companies of the future, it’s going to be either beat them or join them. There is absolutely a place for entrepreneurs on your team and their way of thinking can help inspire some of the more ‘traditional’ thinking employees. Entrepreneurs think about time, resources, and work differently than traditional employees. For entrepreneurs, the end goal is all that matters and their creativity around how to get there can be motivational for your team. Entrepreneurs get others seeing things differently and more efficiently.

The difficulty is incorporating entrepreneurs into your organization. It’s a bit of an oxymoron. Your company’s culture and organization have to attract entrepreneurs and provide them with what they thrive on. Corporate Entrepreneurship is becoming extremely popular. Allowing entrepreneurs to literally create their own products, projects, and even companies within a larger one will be what helps move larger corporations forward in the future. Amazon in particular is incredible at fostering this type of behavior. A small-scale version is to hire freelancers and contract workers to work within your company towards your goals while also remaining entrepreneurs.

Hire entrepreneurs to get your team involved

2. Implement design thinking as a strategy for decisions in all areas to motivate your employees

Design thinking is undoubtedly the ‘default’ setting for some of the world’s most innovative and successful companies. Design thinking means having a “solution-focused” and action-oriented mindset when approaching all decisions instead of a “problem” focused one. For a lot of reasons, big companies just aren’t good at it. Hence, why Silicon Valley’s IDEO is so popular. Companies now have to “outsource” creative thinking to survive. Adopting this type of thinking is no longer an optional team building-like activity. It’s the difference between surviving change and closing up shop. Many companies make the mistake of thinking that design thinking only applies to product and process design, but it goes so far beyond this. Entrepreneurs know this because this is how entrepreneurs have to approach everything.

Implementing design thinking in different areas of your company will help your team also think like entrepreneurs even if they aren’t or haven’t necessarily had to get crafty like one. Design thinking encourages thinking about resources and time in a way that maximizes both. For inspiration, take a few notes from IDEO’s playbook:

  • Include those who aren’t experts in an area in on the discussion. They often see things others won’t.
  • Make it visual: use whiteboards, colors, post-its, etc. to map out thoughts and conceptualize potential solutions.

3. Encourage and motivate employees towards being autonomous at all levels

What drives entrepreneurs is often a mystery to those who get a steady paycheck and are happy with it. What everyone can agree upon, however, is that the autonomy of being an entrepreneur is awesome. It provides a sense of self-fulfilment that keeps entrepreneurs inspired. The most disengaged employees, which foster a stagnant environment, feel they have control over their situation at work and aren’t inspired to work any more or less towards goals. It becomes a “me vs them” mentality in the workplace. With a stronger sense of control, employees are more engaged and productive at work like an entrepreneur. Southwest Airlines’ infamous policy of allowing employees to make decisions and take measures without permission in customer service is a fantastic example of this as well.

Though, again, this is a sort of semi-oxymoron, here are some ways to give employees autonomy:

  • Flex-scheduling around how they work best
  • Remote work options
  • Get rid of the ‘red tape’ around decisions at lower levels

4. Focus on ownership and transparency

One of the biggest indicators of employee engagement and retention is a sense of “ownership” over their work. This and autonomy is what drives entrepreneurs. And both are not off-limits for employees within corporations. Corporate Entrepreneurship and its success in companies like Amazon and Google prove it. Employees want to see they have a direct impact on positive results and watch their effort go towards their own project or product.

Encourage individual and small team projects that are self-created and managed. Google famously alots employees 20% of their time to their own projects and creations without bounds. The results? Gmail and Adsense; tools we use every day. Companies are even going a step further and allowing employees to “pitch” ideas for funding within organizations like a VC firm. It’s like having your own incubator in-house, no acquisition needed. Your employees likely already recognize opportunity and if they feel comfortable acting on it with support from their organization, they will become like internal entrepreneurs.

5. Collaboration and network in-house

One of the characteristics that makes entrepreneurs and different from others is that they work on relationships and build connections everywhere. They know that combining the knowledge of others is the key to creating movement forward and nothing is done alone. Employees, especially in organizations with a lot of bureaucracy, lose any collaborative mentality to formality and competitive attitudes. This is a win for no one. Everyone loses if the company gets outrun by a smaller, more agile, and progressive company that collaborates their way to superiority.

Implementing ways and opportunities for employees to collaborate and communicate across departments and levels is sure to inspire connections and ideas that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Getting the experience and knowledge of different specialized employees to “cross paths” is a key to innovation, according to Steve Jobs who relied on this method at Pixar.

Here are some ways to promote collaborative thinking and networking amongst employees:

Collaborative workspace to get your team involved

Everyone wants to be an entrepreneur for two reasons: autonomy and ownership. Both can be possible right within corporations. With a focus on these and help in changing the thought process towards solving problems and creating new solutions, your employees will start to think like entrepreneurs and entrepreneur types will start to see a place for themselves in your company. Moving towards an organization with this type of thinking and culture is going to be the make or break for companies across all industries in the very near future.

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