All Articles Leadership Live with @Babson: How to encourage entrepreneurship in an organization

Live with @Babson: How to encourage entrepreneurship in an organization

3 min read


SmartBrief welcomed association partners to its office Wednesday to join in an interactive workshop on encouraging entrepreneurship in an organization. The session was led by Babson College President Len Schlesinger and entrepreneurial-studies professor Heidi Neck.

Executives at trade associations, corporations, nonprofits and other large organizations are looking to increase the pace and quality of employees’ innovation, Schlesinger says. Some think the best way to do this is to separate creative people from the rest and get them working separately, while others think every employee needs to be innovating all of the time.

While both of those extremes make for a great soundbite, neither is practical nor productive in real life, which is the reason Babson is working to determine how to stimulate entrepreneurial behavior within large organizations, Schlesinger says.

“We don’t want 100% of people to be entrepreneurs, but we do believe more people can be entrepreneurial than are,” Neck said. Moreover, research shows that it’s a myth that most entrepreneurs are born that way. In fact, it’s possible for people to develop entrepreneurial abilities.

But how do organizations help employees do that?

First, they have to focus on the individual employee. “Organizations are not entrepreneurial; people are,” Neck said.

Babson research has come up with six steps leaders must take to cultivate and support entrepreneurs within a large organization.

  1. Foster ownership behavior. Contrary to popular belief, more money is not the thing the best employees want most. In many cases, they would be happier if they had more ownership over their work. When leaders give these employees freedom to take control of their work, their creativity flourishes and they become more entrepreneurial.
  2. Build community. Inside and outside of organizations, entrepreneurship best thrives within tribes. Employees need groups in which to collaborate and confide as they think of and try out ideas.
  3. Pursue rapid and continuous experimentation. Organizations that want to encourage entrepreneurship need to have a cultural tolerance for changing course. If you try an idea and it doesn’t work out, that needs to be taken as a sign to go in a different direction, not a hallmark of failure.
  4. Cultivate intentional opposition. Frequently, leaders oppose ideas “because that’s the way we’ve always done things.” Instead, they need to provide intentional opposition, playing devil’s advocate to employees as they innovate to boost creativity and take ideas in different directions.
  5. Embrace new metrics. Traditional metrics can lead to entrepreneurial experiments being marked as failures, which then discourages additional experimentation that could lead to major success. Organizations need new metrics that encourage entrepreneurship and demonstrate its overall positive effect.
  6. Protect social capital of others. Reputation is everything within a large organization, and no one wants to be seen as a failure. If organizations want employees to experiment and be entrepreneurial, they need to protect a worker’s reputation when not every idea pans out.