From startups to big corporations, heads of companies are committed to growth, and at the same time, they are worried about losing the entrepreneurial spirit that produced that initial growth spurt. Current global circumstances require more innovation and agility from companies than ever before, making the entrepreneurial mindset not only an asset but a necessity.

Much has been written about the traits and mindsets that are attributed to the entrepreneurial spirit. These descriptions may be useful to identify it, but what can executives do to ensure it doesn’t get stifled or killed altogether as their organizations get bigger?

Let us look to the origin of the word: the French verb entreprendre, meaning “to do something” or “to undertake.” When the entrepreneurial spirit is alive, you see people taking things on, making decisions, having ideas, testing them out, failing, succeeding, and moving on.

What is it about becoming a bigger organization that gets in people’s way of undertaking the advancement of the company? Clearly, as our organizations get bigger and more complex there is a need for more processes and structures. The challenge is to create them so that they serve the purposes of the people who are building the business.  We have all fallen victim to processes that we need to overcome to make things happen: processes whose purpose we are not sure about and that act as barriers, thwarting and limiting any entrepreneurial spirit we might have had.  Another common experience is to find ourselves wrapped up in a web of waiting for decisions to be made, oftentimes, by “we don’t know who.”

The essential element that is often overlooked and forgotten is ownership.

  • Who owns the processes and is responsible for keeping them updated, relevant, and delivering what the business needs? In the absence of innovation and creativity, processes can become cumbersome, rigid, and obsolete.
  • Who owns the decisions? Decision rights are often ill-defined, creating a fog that slows down and even kills great ideas and initiatives as they wait for approval or alignment.
  • Who owns the future of the company? People will be committed to building what they create themselves; giving them a say in where the company is headed is critical if you want them to undertake it.

It is not the size of the company that is determinant in fostering the entrepreneurial spirit. It is the degree to which you ensure that there are clear accountabilities for decisions and that people own all the aspects of the business, that will nurture the entrepreneurial spirit. As soon as you take away people’s responsibility and say what they are going to make happen, you start killing off their spirit of entrepreneurship. Ownership and accountability are the hidden keys to keeping the entrepreneurial spirit alive from startup to Fortune 500.

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