The Entrepreneurial Employee

If you didn’t make it through my first post in this series, I don’t blame you. What was supposed to be a 300-word post turned into 2000. Long story short, I have an assignment to publish a blog a week for the next 14 weeks based on the readings in my Introduction to Entrepreneurship class at BYU-Idaho. Those assignments are being published on my blog.

This week we read a very interesting article from the Harvard Business Review. This article touched on a topic that I have very nearly covered in this series for the last several weeks. The concept of entrepreneurialism as an employee of a company.

The article was titled ‘The Heart of Entrepreneurship“, and is from the March 1985 issue of the HBR (that is the year before I was born). This issue was handled very well and prompted me to write my own thoughts on the topic.

Before I get to my own recent examples, As I was reading this article I couldn’t help but to hear the Agile Manifesto everyone in this article. This article was written 26 years before the manifesto was penned, yet it so articulately described many of the problems caused by a “administrative” mindset. While the administrative manager goes to lengths to preserve their bureaucratic position of authority, the entrepreneur (or agile) manager focusses on getting the right people in the room to do the job. Sound familiar?

“Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.”

The other point from the manifesto that jumped out to me was “Responding to change over following a plan.” The administrative manager from the HBR article holds tightly to the plan, even when times have changed.

Now, for my own recent stories that has caused me to contemplate this topic. I work for an amazing company that is going through a major shift. As we leave the late stage startup and enter into a more sustained model for growth and maturation, there is a lot of work to do. Over the last few years, I have had the opportunity to work with dozens of business leaders in our organization all responsible for maturing their own corner of the business. I have seen some succeed, and I have seen some fail. The biggest correlation I have seen in those that succeed is that they are hungry to build something new. Those that have failed did so because they couldn’t execute on what they needed to build.

I realize that sounds like a tautology. They failed because they failed. However, I think that misses the point. The people we have hired in all cases have been experts in their respective fields. Many of them knew what needed to be built, and what their programs should look like. In nearly every case of failure, I have commented that these business leaders would be very effective at running their organizations if the tools and processes were already implemented for them. They would all have made wonderful administrators of their realms. I think it is important to recognize the strengths that these people bring.

However, in many of our departments right now we need people who can bring a vision on what the process needs to be, and work across the company to make that happen. HBR attempted to define entrepreneurship “with such terms as innovative, flexible, dynamic, risk taking, creative, and growth oriented.” As I have been studying entrepreneurship this semester (and throughout my career), I would likely use words such as builder or creator.

Whether building products, teams, or processes, entrepreneurs create where nothing has existed before. We find gaps in the market and create something to fill in that space. We may use tools to drive that creation, but managing the tool, process, or people is not the point. The creation is the point.

I love working with people that understand the desire to create. I believe there is a role for administrators of those creations. Goodness knows I would much rather hand off tools to those administrators than I would stick behind to manage my former creations. Understanding this distinction, I hope to better be able to guide individuals into right-fit roles in the future, at Liquid Web and beyond.

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