So how do you turn Marketers into Entrepreneurs?

If you watch the likes of The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Britain is awash with entrepreneurs.

Yet, in reality, the majority of the UK workplace is made up of employees, people who may well be fantastic at their job but like to leave the risk and uncertainty that comes with entrepreneurship to someone else.  And the marketing sector is no different to any other in this respect.

What’s interesting though, is when talking to marketing leaders, this has been increasingly quoted back to us as an issue.  Clients and agencies alike are having to work harder than ever at creating a brand or business that stands out from the crowd, and to do this they need people who constantly question and think outside the box – traits found more usually in an entrepreneur than a member of staff.  Yet, they seem to feel that this kind of entrepreneurial spirit is what will help them innovate and, ultimately, succeed as a business.

So how can marketers generate the right kind of environment to cultivate entrepreneurialism?  Firstly, then need to ask their staff a simple question.  How would they behave if they owned the business?  This helps people to reframe their role and start thinking about what they would change if success (or failure) had a more critical impact on their life and finances.

However, it’s actually a difficult thing to manage as it requires business leaders to learn to ‘let go’ and give their staff much more ownership of the decisions they make.  People need to be given the freedom to behave entrepreneurially and changes need to be made to the business model to give it the bandwidth to cope. At the same time, though, the business needs to define what entrepreneurship means within the business and set boundaries in terms of how entrepreneurial it wants people to be.  Staff need to be given the confidence and ‘safety net’ required to think differently.  No one is going to take risks if they think they’ll be sacked!

By its very nature, entrepreneurialism creates risk as well as innovation, so managers need to provide feedback on an ongoing basis so that the impact of any changes in behaviour can be evaluated.

Where staff have taken more ownership and responsibility on board and entered into the spirit of things, they should be rewarded and recognised for that.  After all, the reason ‘true’ entrepreneurs organise and manage their own enterprise with initiative and risk, is for financial gain.  Conversely, if things go wrong, the business needs to be big enough to talk about what went wrong and ensure that everyone learns from mistakes so they don’t happen again.

Creating an entrepreneurial environment takes time and patience – and will be harder for some staff to embrace than others. People have different risk profiles, with some enjoying the thrill of risk taking while others hate stepping outside their comfort zone. However, that doesn’t mean that people can’t learn how to get better at taking risks – and ultimately improve their potential for creating innovation.  In fact, there are some really interesting innovation tools out there, such as Creatrix, which map people’s risk profile against their capacity to generate (and implement) creative or original ideas.  This helps them to understand what they need to do to shift their profile and become better at both.

What’s exciting, is that the empowerment staff feel from being given the opportunity to think like an entrepreneur can boost the performance of even the most junior of staff.  Handled well, it creates optimism, generates initiative and makes people more self-motivated.  What it also does, although it may take a bumpy start or two, is help people overcome their fear of failure – one of the biggest barriers to innovation in any business.

Finally, though, anyone who read my last blog will not be surprised when I say that the most important driver of entrepreneurialism is love.  No one is going to take risks if they don’t love their business – what’s the point? So before marketing managers embark on an innovation drive, they first need to have a love-in, investing time and effort in their staff to ensure that they understand their vision.  They need to be shown why stepping into the shoes of Deborah Meaden or Duncan Bannatyne might not make them millions, but could create a sea change in their business that will not only give them better job satisfaction, but ultimately build a better future for themselves and their colleagues.

Michael Lewis is the Managing Director at leadership development and training consultancy Different Dynamics

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