How to Think Like an Entrepreneur

5 Ways to Think Like an Entrepreneur: Even if You Work for the Big Guys

Entrepreneurship is a chance to trade a solution to someone who has a problem that needs solving. Solve more problems, solve bigger problems, solve problems more widely, and you’re an entrepreneur. It’s tempting to industrialize this work, to make it something with rules and bosses and processes. But that’s not the heart of it. The work is to solve problems in a way that you’re proud of.” – Seth Godin

One of the real joys of what we choose to do in life is working with leaders across a wide range of companies, big and small, established and new. So many of the challenges and opportunities are similar.

Almost every company struggles in some way, shape or form, with staying focused on what’s really important. Holding tough conversations is a real issue for most managers around the globe.  And, attracting and retaining the right talent for your key positions and culture never goes away.

There are also some challenges that seem to trend with company maturity and size. With start-ups,  there’s usually a scrappy, “How can we?” attitude that makes the folks at every level thirsty to Own the U.G.L.Y. and make things better. Love that. Of course, there are usually some operational challenges and growing pains, but that’s another post.

We’ve had some exciting opportunities recently to cross-pollinate some of the mindsets and best-practices we’re seeing from our start-up clients with some of the leaders in more established cultures with legacy operating norms (and vice versa). Of course, this is big fun for me,  since I spent 20 years at Fortune 50, Verizon, and now run our own fast-growing entrepreneurial start-up working to make a global impact.

Here are just a few of my thoughts.

5 Ways to Think Like an Entrepreneur

  1. Make Every Hire Matter
    I’ve never met a successful entrepreneur who’s staffing strategy was putting “butts in seats.” They’re hiring for values alignment, key skill sets, creativity and gung-ho. People are pricey and there’s no margin for a bad hire. Now running my own company, I know there’s nothing more vital than building an A team. You may find our free Winning Well Interviewing guide helpful.
  2. Accountability is the Fabric of Success
    What I see in these scrappy, successful companies is a tenacious focus on executing the plan. When necessary pivots occur, there’s a quick huddle and smart decisions around what’s got to go to accomplish the next strategic move. “I didn’t get to it,” doesn’t go over real well when the visionary CEO is staring at you wondering why.
  3. Own Your Outcomes
    When you’re an entrepreneur, you can look around for someone else to blame for your problems (e.g. the market, the economy), but at the end of the day, they’re still your problems. Entrepreneurs know the blame game just wastes time. I love this Fast Company article on the topic. Their #1 piece of advice is to “shape your life experience.”

    Entrepreneurial thinking is about where we place the responsibility for our experiences. Although it’s not realistic to think that we have complete control of all our experiences, it’s martyrdom to think that we have none. An entrepreneur is someone who is deeply engaged in his or her experience of life and willing to do the daily work of transforming it. Very successful entrepreneurs take the time to analyze their lives and to look closely at their vision and their purpose in life.

    They put their lives on paper. They take the time to construct mental images that guide them on their journey. While most people are winging it, they put their life mission and business vision and goals on paper. Then they go to work executing their plan.

  4. Put a stop to B.S. Meetings
    I learned this one fast. As an entrepreneur, when you calculate the hourly rate of everyone in the scene, yikes, it adds up. Learn to make your meetings the very best use of everyone’s time.
  5. Pilot New Ideas and Fail Fast
    My experience at Verizon is that we stayed at initiatives too long… riding that horse, way past its death… for political reasons, face-saving reasons, inertia reasons…
    I don’t see that in the start-ups I admire. They experiment and are willing to get over the sunk costs to do what really makes sense.

Your turn.

Let’s start a conversation. What advice do the big guys have for the start-ups? And the startups have for the big guys?

3 Ways Thinking Small Will Improve Employee Engagement

Great entrepreneural companies have a passionate spirit that feels like a gust of warm wind sweeping you off your feet as you walk through their door. It may be a bit hectic, but you want to tighten your shoelaces and run along. I’ve been working with some of these guys on strategy and growth, and it’s an exhilarating journey.

There are challenges of course, but I’m not finding them in the employee engagement arena. Employees are volunteering to help with the enthusiasm of Horshack in Welcome Back Kotter. 

I’ve also seen companies rush to get (or stay) big, and lose their edge. Vision turns into secret plans for the inner circle, lawyers cautioning against transparency, building a diversity “strategy” that translates into babble and ratios, leaders turning to HR for employee engagement, and somewhere along the line, someone deciding it’s time to start “stack ranking” performance.

As you become bigger, never forget the joy and freedom of being small.

3 Ways Thinking Small Will Improve Engagement

“From a small seed, a mighty trunk may grow.” -Aescuylus

1. Be Real, Fun, Involved, and Empowering

An entrepreneurial CEO recently brought me in to help build leadership bench strength. Rather than “train,”  we built a vision, identified priorities and then a business case for a program with a significant spend but a massive ROI.

The CEO stayed out of the room until the team presented their “case” along with theme music and dramatic visuals at the end of the day. His eyes glistened, and his comments were brief, “If this works, this will be gold.” Then he laughed and said. “Hold on, I’ll be right back.”

He then came back with a large, professionally printed version of a previous plan to tackle the same issue that had failed. He said one word. “Execution.”

After his eight word caution, he funded the project.

They executed flawlessly.

A well-mannered, “I believe in you, don’t screw this up,” goes a long way.

2. Keep the Vision Visible

Despite the obvious common sense nature of this statement, I’m always surprised at how rare this is. Sure you’ve got to hold some stuff close to the vest, but if you’re having employees sign “non-disclosures” right and left or are keeping your true strategy confined to a small inner circle, know there are a lot of dots not getting connected and a lot of brains thinking small because they don’t have the perspective to think bigger.

Folks feel the secrecy, which leads to a fast growing feeling of “If you don’t trust me, why should I bother?” Bothered and included leads to brilliance. Share enough information to stir positive, proactive angst.

3. Stay Humble

Small companies have the common sense to know they can’t know it all, and are not afraid to learn, read, and bring in extra support. I’ve only heard, “I really need to get smarter in this arena” from the small guys.

When you think you already know, you don’t learn.

In a fast-changing world, the confident and humble will outsmart and out run “I’ve got this.” Every time.

Be real, open and humble. Think smaller to think bigger.

employee engagementToday’s image is a word cloud based on your awesome comments (and emails) on Friday’s post, defining “employee engagement.” If you missed the chance to add your definition click here