Systemically handicapped entrepreneurs

Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup writes in his book that he belives Entrepreneur should be a job title describing managers that work in conditions of extreme uncertainty.

I feel that thought is already popular in a downgraded version: Here in Germany it’s common for companies to describe their ideal employee as (among other things) “an entrepreneur within the enterprise.” But once you go from the job interview to the day-to-day business most employers would be shocked to find you actually acting like an entrepreneur and making your own decisions.

Basically you’re free to have your own ideas as long as they’re identical to those of the management – and it goes without saying that you’re welcome to put in the hours and unpaid overtime that correspond to entrepreneurship. This is unfortunate because not only does it pave the way for frustration among new hires, it conditions the entire workforce to abandon autonomous thinking and problem solving capabilities – skills their employer will be sure to claim their own in any pitch or job posting.

Where does this schizophrenia come from? Part of its source is the undying belief that managers know best what needs to be done and that workers can’t be trusted to have the best interest of the company at heart. While the first assumption is surely wrong, the second one holds truth. Individual workers rarely give any thought to shareholder value – and they are right to do so as top economists and executives agree: According to management guru Peter Drucker the only valid purpose of a company is to create a customer; shareholder value can only be the result but never the goal of your business. In my experience, most workers will gladly accomodate their clients to the best of their abilities; after all that’s why they took and were given their job (if not, you need to review your hiring practices). Popular management either actively hampers this potential by suppressing their entrepreneurial drive with reprimands or leaves it untapped because the innovators among the workforce overwhelm the status quo and become a disturbing element, left to quit or wither in their place.

It’s hard to envision the value creation we could achieve if we let workers do what we claim to hire them for – but it’s even harder to realise that we’re actively impeding it by standing in their way.

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