Fostering an entrepreneurial spirit

Want to foster an entrepreneurial spirit among your employees? Here are some steps that will help you get started.

  • Identify your department’s prob­lems and potential. Do you have inef­ficiencies in scheduling? Distribution? Data processing? Are you trying to market a new product more effectively? Entrepreneurs work best when they’re up against problems—or when they’re trying to develop new cost-cutting or profit-pro­ducing projects. They are often delighted to take on projects where others have tried and failed. 
  • Identify possible entrepreneurs. Look for employees who ask good ques­tions and offer suggestions. Also seek employees who get more involved in their work when it’s an interesting task. And look for employees who go beyond what’s expected of them. Who, for instance, participates extensively in staff meetings? Who is eager to help colleagues and co-workers with short-term tasks? 
  • Let a prospective entrepreneur know about your needs. Start by asking for advice on a specific problem, in a one-on-one meeting or brainstorming session. Can you pique her curiosity? Are you comfortable with her views? Does she look beneath the surface of the problem? 
  • Help the entrepreneur suc­ceed. Free up some of her time to work on your problem or project. Let her tackle the assignment in her own way. She may need the help of a colleague, or library time, or a modest budget. Try to meet these needs, perhaps with assistance from your manager. This will not only help your entrepreneur solve your problem, but also convey your con­fidence in her abilities. 
  • Identify the parameters of risk. How many budget dollars, for instance, can your employee expend to solve your problem? How many work hours can she use? How long will she be allowed to work on the problem without a payoff? Decide at the outset how many and what kind of acceptable risks you’re willing to take. 
  • Provide your employee with general supervision. Nothing is more deadening to an entrepreneur than constant scrutiny. Once your employee embarks on a project, don’t look over her shoulder to check up on things. Give her room to grow, to learn and, most impor­tant, to make mistakes. Let her direct her own work to the greatest extent possible. Serve as a resource to your entrepreneur and focus your man­agement efforts on general oversight.

You’ll evaluate entrepreneurial projects by their outcomes, but don’t forget to also value the new busi­ness knowledge that you and your employees have gained. Recognize and reward successes and you’ll find your entrepreneurs ready for more and bigger challenges.