Stop pissing off your employees with entrepreneurship

by bold-lichterman

It’s decided, the theme of your next company convention will be “All entrepreneurs!” We’ll talk about Google, Tesla, Facebook BlaBlaCar plus a Chinese for good measure. The manager of your Lab in San Francisco will come and talk about the latest local innovations. We will play a film that will give “the six qualities of a good entrepreneur” with opera-rock music. After a closing speech by the leader who, in essence, will state that it is only a question of courage, the roadmap will be clear.

And then nothing will happen. Monday morning, everyone will return to their post and life will resume. All entrepreneurs? in your dreams!

I no longer count the company conventions or Comex meetings where the agenda is to make the company more entrepreneurial. Employees are bombarded with messages extolling the entrepreneurial stance. Innovate! Get started! Be brave! Accept to make mistakes! Be like Google!

And the more it goes, the more uncomfortable I feel with this imperative. In my opinion, it poses three problems.

  • First, it’s a bad prescription. Companies certainly have every interest in developing entrepreneurial postures, or even entrepreneurial entities, to improve their capacity for innovation. But to imagine that everyone should become an entrepreneur is a figment of the mind. Imagine that everyone can become it too. The solution to the business transformation problem is not for everyone to become an entrepreneur.
  • Second, the entrepreneurial imperative is counterproductive. It is not at all in the best interests of the organization that everyone becomes an entrepreneur. If you make trucks or pizzas, the first condition for your survival is getting those trucks or pizzas out on time. Let everyone start doing business and nothing will work anymore. The ‘creative chaos’ advocated by some is nice on paper, but in reality it is the death of the company. And asking a pizza maker to think and act like Google isn’t reasonable; Google does not make pizza.

Help, I will still be asked to be an entrepreneur! (Source: Wikipedia)

Third, and most importantly, the entrepreneurial imperative is anxiety-provoking and demeaning. Employees are already overloaded with work and immersed in daily problems, under the pressure of results. And in addition you ask them to be entrepreneurs! This is adding considerable pressure to them. Implicitly telling them that they are mediocre and that they should be superheroes. It is to deny their identity and that of the organization. It is an act of violence.

A false view of entrepreneurship

The reason for this anxiety-provoking dimension also has a lot to do with the way in which entrepreneurship is presented. As I often observe, poor collaborators are presented with the face of the entrepreneur as a creative superhero with magical powers: able to train others, risk-loving, visionary, agile, up to date with technology, resilient, patient, courageous, persevering, etc. Do not throw any more! As we unravel all these qualities, we add stones to the bag that employees will have to carry during the great entrepreneurial race. Not only do we send them an image of mediocrity – if I don’t have all these qualities, I am mediocre – but the bar is set so high that failure is guaranteed even before having started.

Nothing is more absurd. Research has long shown that entrepreneurs are not superheroes with magical powers, but normal people with good and bad qualities, applying simple principles grouped together under the name of effectuation. To compensate for a fault or weakness, they team up with others. Great ideas emerge from a creative process; they do not spring from a stroke of genius. Entrepreneurship is a daily practice, not a Homeric epic.

Entrepreneurship anyway? Yes, but differently!

We must therefore start again. Yes, the need for transformation is there. It involves a change not only in the organization but in its management style. It is a profound change. Yes, entrepreneurship is the way to enable this transformation, because it is a way to transform the world; it can therefore transform the organization. But he will only be able to do so if he makes two important changes:

  • First change, the what: we must not require each employee to become an entrepreneur but rather help him (re) become an actor in his environment; it is not a question of having entrepreneurship everywhere, but of drawing inspiration from entrepreneurship in order to better manage and especially to put the organization back in motion so that it is gradually transformed. It must therefore be mobilized in a totally different way within the company.
  • Second change, the how: we must abandon the super-heroic conception of entrepreneurship in favor of a social conception: entrepreneurship is normal people who join forces with others to do new and useful things. and who enjoy doing it. To do this, they apply the principles described by the performance. These principles are simple and universal. Anyone can learn and practice them in minutes. Anyone can even enjoy it. The anxiety-inducing dimension can thus disappear in favor of a very simple practice: life.
    The challenge is therefore to restore life within the organization which expelled it because of a Cartesian conception of management. This is what entrepreneurship, if understood correctly, can contribute.

To learn more about effectuation, read my introductory article here. On the importance of restoring life within organizations read my article Long live idiocy! Principle of life for use by entrepreneurs and managers. On the use of the principles of performance within the company, read my HBR article written with Béatrice Rousset: How to transform large companies by drawing inspiration from entrepreneurs.

The contributor:
Philippe Silberzahn

Philippe Silberzahn is professor of entrepreneurship, strategy and innovation at EMLYON Business School and associate researcher at thePolytechnic School (CRG), where he received his doctorate. His work focuses on how organizations manage situations of radical uncertainty and complexity, from an entrepreneurial perspective with the study of the creation of new markets and new products, and from a managerial perspective with the study management of disruptions, strategic surprises (black swans) and complex problems (“wicked problems”) by large organizations.