Creating Flexible Organizations

By Fatmanur Erdogan, Hürriyet Daily News

Organizations all over the world want to cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit. Whether they are massive global conglomerates or small companies that just recently made the transition to professional management, they believe injecting entrepreneurialism into their veins will bring back a spark in their company.

Firms with a healthy dose of this entrepreneurial spirit are known for their flexibility and responsiveness. They are dynamic and reorganize quickly to respond to market changes. Their decision-making is smooth and efficient, with little or no bureaucracy. They focus on opportunity and the upside, rather than staring at the downside and risk.

Entrepreneurial organizations encourage independent initiative at every level of the company. They know they will often find themselves in uncharted territory, and they will need to call on the creativity and brain power of everyone in the company. They know that the only way to thrive in a fast-changing environment is to experiment, and experiments don’t always work out well. Entrepreneurial organizations accept this and don’t stigmatize failure in one experiment, as long as lessons are learned and applied towards success in another.

These companies also know that employees want to learn, explore, and grow. They take advantage of this natural desire, nurturing it and leveraging it for the company’s benefit too, rather than trying to force it into prescribed channels and processes.

If yours is one of the companies that want to bring more of this kind of spirit into their culture, how do you do it?

First, stop wondering whether your employees are up to the challenge. Remember, people by nature want to develop themselves. So when your organization encourages entrepreneurial behavior, your employees will respond to it readily. Do not think of your organizational design effort as coaxing hesitant mules. Think of it as clearing paths for racehorses.

Also remember that experimentation and even the occasional failure are an integral part of the entrepreneurial experience. Accept that your employees will be trying new things. Most of them will go well, but some won’t. When things don’t go well, focus on extracting and disseminating the learning that you can apply to other projects. Resist the temptation to protect yourself by thickening the layers of rules and procedures. If you tell your employees, “We want you to explore new lands, but only within the boundaries we set,” it’s like telling a child to “go see the world, but stay in the backyard.”

Most employees have heard messages like this before, and they’ve grown cynical because of it. When an experiment flops at your own company, you’ll need to set an example by continuing to support and encourage the employees involved. When the others see they won’t lose their jobs because of an experiment, they’ll be more likely to step out of their comfort zones.

Employees need quick access to the tools and knowledge that already exist in your company. Don’t allow information to waste away in inaccessible silos. One quick way to distribute your company’s collective knowledge is to list the tools and their process owners, and to circulate that list throughout the organization. This will help your people quickly locate what they need regardless of where it is in the company.

Finally, don’t think that by testing your employees you can find entrepreneurial types deserving of targeted freedoms. Some years ago, a few large consulting firms tried to conduct tests to see who would make a good entrepreneur, and who wouldn’t. Since then, though, we’ve learned that there is no distinct set of behavioral traits common to entrepreneurial types.

Whether you are designing an entrepreneurial organization from scratch, or trying to reshape an existing organization, the most important guiding principle to remember is that in order to release entrepreneurial spirit, you have to give up some control. This can be especially difficult for mature companies that are used to a command-and-control environment, but without that leap of faith, your efforts to grow the entrepreneurial spirit will be dead on arrival.

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