Are Millennials the most entrepreneurial generation ever? The jury’s still out, but one thing’s for sure: The Millennial generation’s interest and desire for entrepreneurial opportunities, along with an increasingly disruptive and fast-paced business climate, have sparked new conversations in organizations of all sizes about the importance of an entrepreneurial mindset.
All this attention focused on the need for employees to be more entrepreneurial echoes a lot of what we’ve heard for years about the importance of innovation. It plays out in a similar way, too. Executives say they want it. They recognize the benefits to the business. They talk about it in meetings. They put it in the values. They make it part of the employee value proposition. And then…not much changes.
These leaders see the creative and boundary-breaking energy that start-ups produce, and they want to replicate that within their own cultures—whether or not the culture is truly ready and open for it.
From entrepreneurial thinking and more inclusive decision-making to new ideas and off-the-wall solutions, asking for it doesn’t make it so.
For starters, you have to know what it is you’re really asking for.
Do You Really Want Entrepreneurial Thinking?
People may casually throw around the term “entrepreneurial mindset,” but our research shows that most entrepreneurs do in fact share a distinct set of thinking patterns and preferences.
In Whole Brain® Thinking terms, a strong D-quadrant preference—in other words, a preference for being visionary and imaginative, with the freedom to explore—is characteristic of all entrepreneurs in our global HBDI® database. Their top six most-preferred work elements are: problem-solving, expressing ideas, innovating, conceptualizing, interpersonal and creative.
Entrepreneurs thrive on freedom of action and the freedom to take risks—two things that are often hard to come by in a typical corporate environment with an established culture, leadership, policies, budgets, audit procedures and reporting relationships. The classic entrepreneur would never buy into this situation; the conditions are too limiting.
No wonder then that this is precisely the pushback many organizations are getting from their Millennial employees (or the employees they’re trying to attract). These employees aren’t looking for traditional career paths and structures. They want to find meaning in the work they do, and they want to have more latitude in how it gets done.
One L&D leader recently noted that this accounts in part for the looming leadership gap in her organization. Her Millennial employees aren’t interested in middle management. “They want ‘experiences,’’ she said, “and then they want to be the CEO.”
The question for today’s leadership is: Are we willing and able to loosen the reigns on the constraints—at least to some degree—to allow for truly entrepreneurial thinking to thrive?
How to Create a Culture Where Entrepreneurial Thinking Can Thrive
If you truly want to encourage entrepreneurial thinking in your organization, you have to do more than pay lip service to it. Here are a few steps you can take to start building a culture where entrepreneurial thinking can thrive:
- Know what you’re asking for: Understand what entrepreneurial thinking actually entails, and create a clear definition of it.
- Identify and then focus on the outcomes you want to produce: What do you want to get out of this? New product ideas, additional opportunities with customers, internal process improvement ideas, greater employee engagement? Get clarity about what you really want to accomplish.
- Make sure you have the thinking skills in place: This should be developed through learning and development opportunities as well as project work that allows those skills to be applied.
- Look inside for what you might be missing: Many of your highly entrepreneurial thinkers might be applying their talents outside the organization because there’s no outlet within. Consider what you can do to provide them with opportunities to use those skills and bring their ideas inside.
- Establish the climate and commitment at the middle and the top: Without manager and leader support and “air cover” for the kinds of freedom to explore and risk-taking inherent in entrepreneurial thinking, it doesn’t matter how many entrepreneurial thinkers you hire; they’ll leave in frustration.
Finally, consider this: While Millennials want to be entrepreneurs, they’re dealing with their own barriers. According to a recent EY/EIG survey, financial insecurity has made Millennials more risk averse, which potentially explains why this generation admires the startup mentality but lags behind in terms of actual number of entrepreneurs. You have the opportunity to fill a need for them and for your organization.
Bottom line? Entrepreneurial thinking is available in your organization. But be careful—and clear—about what you’re asking for!