Be an entrepreneur at your job

One important lesson I’ve learned in life is I don’t have to be an entrepreneur to act like one at my job. Entrepreneurs have characteristics to help them envision, organize, and create successful business ventures. While there is no single list of character traits to reference, Kelsey Miller of Harvard Business School Online provides a good list in her article 10 Characteristics of Successful Entrepreneurs. What I like about Miller’s observations is she notes entrepreneurs come from all walks of life. Yet they share common traits to help them thrive in organizing a business.

While most of us spend our careers working for someone else, that doesn’t prevent us from sharing characteristics of entrepreneurs and using them to provide excellence in our work output. Imagine what your job could be like if you approached it with the mindset and drive of the person who created the business. You may never have thought about yourself as an entrepreneur, but you can help operate a company like one. 

My experience has taught me employees who act like entrepreneurs at their job are the ones who have the greatest influence and personal satisfaction with their work. They approach their job as if they were the owner. They care about the success of the customer. They spend company money as if it were their money. They seek to promote the products and solutions among peers, customers, and friends. Their energy is contagious and earns the respect of other employees and customers. They create followers. 

In my reflection time, I thought about experiences I’ve had in my place of work where colleagues have exhibited entrepreneurial characteristics. These are experiences that have shaped my own views and mindset. 

1. Propose new solutions 

A colleague met with a prospective client that issued an RFP to automate a process in their back office. The prospect wanted to manage and control the marketing spend for multiple product lines across multiple channels. Their existing solution was a patchwork of manual processes connected with a disparate set of tools. My colleague not only saw the possibilities for creating an automated solution for this customer but also for reusing similar solutions for other companies in the same industry. He asked questions to understand the existing process flow of the prospect. Then he shared his vision by proposing new solutions that both automated the existing workflow and improved it with additional capabilities. My colleague worked like an entrepreneur by selling a vision of a future state and then building it.  

2. Persist and swim upstream

I worked for a company that needed to replace its financial ERP system. Twice before, the company started and stopped because other priorities preempted it. When I tried to initiate the project, I was approved to proceed. But for a third time, other activities in the business preempted the completion. Finally, on the fourth try, we succeeded by moving the company financials to another ERP. The senior leaders exhibited characteristics of an entrepreneur by having the persistence and resilience to overcome setbacks. 

3. Build relationships

Corporate governance bodies and steering committees can be like the shark tank for product managers trying to find approval, priority, and funding for projects. I’ve proposed projects in the past that were rejected because they didn’t have enough ROI, or the technology wasn’t fully understood by the committee. I’ve seen other projects with loose ROIs based on sales projections get rubber-stamp approvals. In one such project, a colleague of mine convinced the governing body if we built a custom piece of software, a prospective customer would spend several million dollars annually in top-line revenue to use the product. It was given approval and the expense was allocated to build-it. But it was never used by the client and no agreement was signed. The company had to absorb the full cost of development. 

I used this example because entrepreneurs excel in both building visions and relationships. They don’t always succeed. But they accept failure and move forward. They continue to build relationships and use those relationships to help them launch each idea.

As I said at the beginning, I’ve learned that any employee can influence the success of the company or department by having an entrepreneurial mindset. Each of us can affect change even though we are not the owner in control. It’s a freeing concept.  

Onward and upward!

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