Here are seven tips on how to do that, suggested by Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey, founders of a winery called Barefoot Cellars and co-authors of a new book called The Entrepreneurial Culture (Footnotes Press, 2014).
Hire for hustle: A great way to install entrepreneurial thinking in your business is to hire it. To do that, put special emphasis on hiring people with a sense of urgency; people who will move quickly; people who don’t always have to be told what their next step should be. In other words, don’t hire solely on the basis of technical skill. Those things can often be taught. But you can’t teach hustle, and that’s what will make the difference between a so-so business and a great one.
One way to judge hustle is to give a job candidate some homework. During the interview, give candidates a verbal run-down of the position, your company’s challenges and your expectations for the position. Then ask them to send you a one-page summary on a deadline. This will tell you volumes.
Don’t skimp on training: Many small businesses do little to get new employees started. They are ushered in, given a quick tour and then they’re expected to get right to work. But this can be counterproductive – especially where judgment, relationships and potential are involved. Good training will take time, energy and maybe even money. But the long-term benefits of making sure your people know not just the “whats” but also the “whys” of their jobs will be worth it.
Use performance-based compensation: When you pay by the hour, you can end up paying for attendance, not production. Employees can assume an “I was there, so pay me!” attitude. Performance-based plans can be better for you, your employees and your business. This also tends to attract go-getters who are willing to bet on themselves.
Let information flow freely: Some business owners are reluctant to share much information. Instead of a “need to know” policy, Houlihan and Harvey used a “know the need” policy at Barefoot Cellars. “Your people are full of intelligence, ideas and passion – you just have to unlock those things,” says Houlihan. “So do whatever you can to engage your entire team and keep the information flowing freely.” Be honest about the challenges your business is facing and ask others for solutions. You’ll probably get them!
Don’t wait for perfect conditions: Some business owners say they’ll “empower” employees more when conditions improve. That’s got things backwards. To create a culture where entrepreneurial thinking can thrive you have to make sure everyone understands that ideas are always welcome. Then give employees freedom to move forward on projects, even when conditions aren’t exactly sunny. “Sometimes you have to settle for ‘mostly sunny with a chance of showers,’” says Houlihan. If employees aren’t comfortable enough to share their ideas, your business will never benefit from them.
Delegate effectively: Some leaders want to delegate more, but don’t want it to look like they are just dumping unwanted tasks on employees. Or they don’t feel they have time to train an employee on what to do. One good approach is to start handing over those tasks and projects that an employee can do, or can almost do, without your input. Trust that if they really hit a wall they’ll come to you.
Never waste a perfectly good mistake: Business owners who look at mistakes purely as things to be avoided usually pass that sentiment down to their employees. But the most innovative and agile companies embrace mistakes. When you move form a culture that punishes mistakes to one that embraces them, your employees will have the freedom to take risks, and that’s where entrepreneurial thinking leads to innovation.
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