Can entrepreneurs thrive in corporate settings?

Does working for a company preclude an individual from being an entrepreneur? Most certainly not; indeed, some of the best innovations and developments are achieved by people who are working for large corporations. The difference is that within these organisations, entrepreneurship – and critical thinking – is actively encouraged, not only in the research and development departments, but in the managerial suites too.

With the global economy slowly coming out of a siege, it is to entrepreneurs that we must look for the kind of lateral thinking which sees opportunity in adversity. There is little debate that the days of ‘low hanging fruit’ are over, at least for the foreseeable future; however, where there is change, opportunity can – and does – present itself for those with an eye for it.

Inculcating an entrepreneurial ethos in management means giving those tasked with leading the company the leeway and the freedom to apply their minds creatively to problems, perceptions of the market and the manner in which the organisation creates value.

But is it really possible to ‘teach’ people to be entrepreneurs?

Some may say you’re either born with it, or not. Others believe entrepreneurial ability can be fostered. The late management consultant Peter F. Drucker perhaps put it best when he said, “Most of what you hear about entrepreneurship is all wrong. It’s not magic; it’s not mysterious; and it has nothing to do with genes. It’s a discipline and, like any discipline, it can be learned.”

Entrepreneurship is the ability to turn ideas into actions and outcomes. It involves several skills including creativity, innovation and the ability to take calculated risks as well as superior project planning and management to achieve outcomes. Combined with an appropriate attitude, all of these attributes can be learned; those employees with these attributes are invaluable.

A key approach, then, to inculcating organisational entrepreneurship skills is to give employees a foundation from which to seize opportunities and make them happen. The essence is that entrepreneurial managers are not only capable of conceiving and achieving new outcomes, but they are also empowered to do so.

South African companies should seek to inculcate a sense of entrepreneurship within the organisation by creating spaces for staff to explore more experimental opportunities. Naturally, these should be aligned with core business objectives. They do not need to be a radical departure from what is offered and such space (physical or virtual) doesn’t have to be on a grand scale.

Rather, members of management should have the opportunity to apply their minds while taking ownership for progress, results and performance. Such approaches by no means imply ignoring or neglecting standard good business practice, such as setting objectives and agreeing on desired outcomes.

Any entrepreneurial endeavour means a departure from the norm; together with that departure comes the risk of failure. As a consequence, something of a delicate touch is necessary to provide the room for entrepreneurial thinking and action, while limiting exposure and managing the risk of failure. That highlights the essential role of mentorship in creating an entrepreneurial ethos. Senior managers should provide guidance and a framework for ideas to come to the fore – and follow that up with recognition for successful endeavours.

There is a difference between being an entrepreneur that starts a business and having an entrepreneurial mindset. The latter is beginning to play a more important role in business today as companies struggle to meet the unpredictable challenges of the 21st century.

Companies are under pressure to respond rapidly and saliently to market circumstances, be they for the better or for the worse. It is the entrepreneurial manager who will inform the appropriate responses. It is an entrepreneurial employee that will help your organisation break through the corporate clutter.



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