When you're facing constant change and disruption at every turn, you want employees to think like entrepreneurs. This may seem like a contradiction, but when employees think about the value they're creating and remain resilient through hard times, your company benefits.
I interviewed Frank Blake, former CEO of The Home Depot, about values and leadership. I asked, "Why does a company with 350,000 employees value entrepreneurial spirit?"
Blake said, "It comes down to the willingness for them to take risks." He told me The Home Depot's founders wanted their team members to think and behave like their name was on the front of the building. When employees aren't afraid to take risks, they grow.
Thinking like an entrepreneur is about value creation and resourcefulness. Entrepreneurs know how to assess risks and make decisions for the good of the company. You want your people to have an entrepreneurial mindset so they do this -- even when you're not around.
Here are four ways to get employees thinking like entrepreneurs:
1. Encourage time to think.
Leaders who push team members to think for themselves provide space for those people to grow. When your employees think about the value they're creating through their work, it allows them to see the big picture. You want them to value resources by trimming extra steps and costs.
In some organizational cultures, it's unsettling to let employees think for themselves. Let me remind you of a leadership truth: If leaders don't let employees think for themselves, they'll soon be surrounded by people who can't think for themselves.
Giving your people time to think will make them feel they have ownership in the business -- and it will be reflected in their work.
2. Allow them to make decisions.
Embracing employees' ability to think like an entrepreneur requires them to make decisions -- even if they make decisions you wouldn't have. The art of decision-making under pressure -- and with limited information -- is a skill that can be learned.
Mike Michalowicz, the author of Clockwork, talked on my podcast about the trap many leaders set when they train employees to keep coming back to them for decisive insights. If you want your business to run like clockwork, you must let employees think independently about processes, risks, and goals so they can make their own decisions.
Delegation requires full ownership of the process and the outcome. You must empower employees to make decisions to get their desired outcome.
3. Let them fail.
Entrepreneurs are resilient on the journey to success. You want your team members to have such deep levels of ownership that they become resilient in their work and feel safe taking risks.
Michalowicz said that one thing leaders have to remember when employees make decisions is that they must be OK with the outcome -- good or bad. If an employee feels you let him down, he'll lose confidence in himself and rely on you to make decisions. You don't want your team members to fall into the trap of deciding, "where they wait for you to make a decision to move forward," as Michalowicz says.
One reason they prefer being employees is that it allows them to avoid taking risks. A leader's job is to help employees think through the implications of a decision to minimize its downsides.
I've been an entrepreneur for more than 20 years, and I've built several seven-figure companies by thinking like one. I've always valued my employees' ability to think for themselves -- I can't do it all alone. It can sometimes be painful, but it's necessary.
I was sick once and trusted my team to take care of all client shipments that Friday afternoon. Usually, I checked everything to make sure the shipments were right. They made more than 20 shipments. Reviewing the previous day's work, I noticed one client didn't receive an order. That mistake cost me more than $12,000 and a valued client. It was an expensive lesson to learn, but we all realized then that we needed an end-of-day system to ensure mistakes like this wouldn't happen again. My big lesson? I hadn't let them think for themselves before that moment, and it came back to bite me.
4. Recognize winning behaviors.
Leaders must "catch" employees thinking like entrepreneurs to reinforce the behaviors they want. When they think for themselves -- even when they fail -- they're acknowledged for their initiative. I work with several Inc. 5000 companies, and many celebrate failure. They also celebrate employees' resiliency through tough projects.
When employees succeed, let them take credit. This seems natural, but it's rare. Give praise when you can so they know you appreciate their ideas, effort and decisions.
Entrepreneurial thinking is not without its challenges. Letting your people think for themselves and take risks means they'll fail. But where failure goes, success follows.