As companies grow, it is tempting to replace an entrepreneurial mindset with an organizational mindset. But the lean and hungry attitude that characterizes new businesses is a major asset no matter how large they grow. And it is not limited to technology companies.
A great example is my customer HealthSouth. The company makes money when patients are in its facilities, but it has made a major effort to minimize the time patients spend on-site. HealthSouth's team understands that only great service - not short-term profit maximization - leads to sustainable success. That is why it makes continued investments in technologies, such as an employee app for empowering and engaging its staff.
HealthSouth is a major player, but it kept its entrepreneurial spirit and continues to align its actions with a greater cause.
With organizational thinking, energy is no longer deployed to the cause but to the organization itself. Self-interest gets in the way of the mission. We see this all the time when largely arbitrary 'rules' deny information to huge swaths of employees - or when systems owners prevent investments in new tools and technologies. Just look at how HR employees build wonderful intranets that other departments cannot access, as no real mobile experience is provided.
For companies with entrepreneurial mindsets, communication is a core function that happens in real time and includes the entire staff. These companies embrace openness, making all but the most sensitive information easily accessible to all. They also ensure that information is consumed rather than simply created.
Introducing a Culture of Communication
The entrepreneurial mindset is not simply a badge that companies can pin on; it is a fundamental approach to every department and every decision. Here are some strategies for introducing this mindset in a meaningful and lasting way:
1. Communicate transparently. If mission, vision, and strategy are not clear, you can't expect results. This means being transparent about both successes and failures and supplying the data necessary to illustrate the reality rather than the fantasy. SEO rock star company Moz embraced this approach when personal problems shook up the C-suite. Rather than try to evade and obscure, the company was upfront and ultimately earned the trust of investors through another round of funding.
2. Reach everybody. Internal communications should reach every member of every department, even if the relevance is not immediately apparent. Focusing communication to an 'elite' group of headquarters employees is almost discrimination and misses the opportunity for engagement and productivity. HealthSouth reached everyone by creating an employee app that disseminates communication to all, regardless of title or role.
3. Don't manage — serve. Too many companies seem to intentionally and obviously get in the way of their own success. Realizing that each business unit exists to serve the interests of the whole is both a simple notion and a radically different approach. When every leader and every function in an organization works for each other rather than against each other, it leads directly to the kind of focused momentum that characterizes startups.
Even the largest and most entrenched enterprises can embrace this mindset. After a change in leadership at Microsoft, the company decided to provide robust support for Office on Mac. Even though it competes aggressively against Apple, Microsoft realized what its users wanted and made a conscious effort to deliver. Free-flowing ideas led the company away from the obvious and toward the innovative.
You can find awesome people in every department that go above and beyond to allow for their employees to be engaged and to help them with productivity. This entrepreneurial spirit allows employees and leaders alike to thrive - leading to returns that any business would be proud of.