The Entrepreneur in The Dinosaur

Source: HCI | Published: August 13, 2008

I caught an interesting BusinessWeek VIDEO: “Being Entrepreneurial in Hard Times- Thinking out of the box isn’t enough”. In it, John Byrne, Executive Editor of BusinessWeek Magazine sat down with executive coaches, Marshall Goldsmith and Steven Berglas to talk about entrepreneurs and how they can make a difference within corporations.
Well worth watching, their discussion got me thinking. As a consultant I have worked with large clients, members of the Fortune 500, on their pain points around creating and/or maintaining an entrepreneurial mind set within a large organization. The idea of creating such a mindset within a giant corporation presents a tremendous challenge- dinosaurs of the industrial era are most often lacking that piece of corporate DNA and the culture to sustain such efforts- at first the very nature and design of each seems at odds with the other.
One way of creating a new entrepreneurial mindset within a storied corporation [dinosaur] can be found in cases of Mergers & Acquisitions. Not a new story to be sure- Large, Old, Industry Standard, [dinosaur] buys Young, Cutting Edge, Entrepreneurial, Start-up and some how they lose the “secret sauce”. The challenge in such cases, as one client put it:
We acquire smaller, younger companies not only for their talent and technology, but for their entrepreneurship. How do we keep [our company], the 500 Lb. Gorilla from imposing it’s will and wiping out their culture? We would actually like to infuse their entrepreneurial spirit within our larger organization.”
Goldsmith and Berglas point to Silicon Valley as a place bursting with technical talent, much of which is lacking basic leadership skills such as how to communicate and influence people in a larger organization. Dr. Berglas suggests they “accept that often people in leadership aren’t real bright, relative to you, but that is not a factor that should preclude them from being leaders”. Dr. Goldsmith picks up on the point advising that they should “accept it and move forward”.
Great advice for individual executives, but what can an organization do to supplement such executive coaching? I submit the answer may be found in leadership/executive development following comprehensive on-boarding. Dr. Berglas points to Dell Computer as a great example of a company that creates and fosters the entrepreneurial mentality. Dell, he notes, takes people off projects when they succeed- not when they fail- so that they can excel and grow. He believes “They know they have talent that needs preserving, as opposed to, a producer who needs to up his volume or his output. Then you can allow people to be entrepreneurial because then they can show-off in another realm”.