Entrepreneurs have always embraced innovation and change, and reinventing oneself as an entrepreneurial leader will be critical over the next handful of years. Here are the secrets to setting yourself up for success:
1. Leverage Flexibility In Your Workforce
The U.S. workforce is becoming much more fluid, driven by the rise of an "on demand" economy powered by companies such as Uber, as well as an increasing desire by people to have more flexibility in their work schedules. By 2020, 40% of the American workforce will be freelancers, contractors and temp workers according to the Intuit 2020 Report. Think about ways that you can tap into technology platforms that provide "on demand" resources in relevant functional areas of your company.
A key framework to keep in mind when thinking about this is "core" versus "context."
"Core is what companies invest their time and resources in that their competitors do not. Core is what allows a business to make more money and/or more margin, and make people more attracted to a business than to its competitors," according to Geoffrey Moore, who wrote Crossing the Chasm and works with our portfolio companies on their go to market strategy. "Core gives a business bargaining power: it is what customers want and cannot get from anyone else." In other words, core is critical to maintain in-house and context can be outsourced.
Areas to seriously consider outsourcing from a technical perspective are next-generation technology companies leveraging machine learning, artificial intelligence and robotics to deliver cost reduction and resource efficiencies to their customers. One example of this includes Kiva Systems, the robotic logistics system acquired by Amazon. Another example of this is WorkFusion, a SaaS platform (and portfolio company of my firm) that manages data collection, analysis and synthesis by pairing machine learning with human data analysts, and incrementally automates repetitive work over time.
2. Embrace Diversity
There is a bright spotlight being shone on women in venture capital and Silicon Valley tech startups right now given the recent Newsweek article and the Kleiner Perkins-Ellen Pao discrimination trial in particular.
Media attention aside, many studies have now shown that diversity--across all dimensions (gender, race, background, etc.)--tends to reduce the likelihood of group think, or just plain inertia kicking into gear, and results in better decisions.
Based on recent research published via Kellogg School of Management, Katherine W. Phillips says that diversity in a group can cause debate and even conflict, which isn't always comfortable, but this forced exchange of information and testing of perspectives tends to lead to new ideas, varied approaches and stronger solutions to problems.
Look for people who are different than you and who can help you in a complementary way. You will be able to build a stronger company more efficiently by leveraging team members, advisors and board members (more on choosing and leveraging your board here) with a broad set of divergent backgrounds, skill sets and perspectives.
3. Train Your Future Workforce (and Yourself)
Given how quickly technology is reinventing the world, strong entrepreneurial leaders should have a plan for keeping their own skill sets relevant and provide their team members with an opportunity to do the same.
Key skills--and mindset--that workforces of the future should hone include:
Negotiation, problem solving, and relationship management:
These are critical skills that can make or break companies through team interactions and deal making with external parties such as customers, partners and suppliers. Check out resources at the Harvard Negotiation Project and Vantage Partners.
Marketing and PR:
In a world of ubiquitous social media, think of your team as an extended marketing channel for your company. Everyone who works for and with you should be in lock step in terms of how to talk about what your company does, and what it represents, in a compelling way.
Taking thoughtful risk:
Train your employees (and yourself) to think boldly and take informed risk at all levels--from project problem solving to building a career path within your company. Reward a growth mindset (belief that success is a result of effort at least as much as aptitude) over a fixed mindset (belief that talents are essentially innate), terms based on research by Carol Dweck from Stanford University. Those who are not nimble or willing to think boldly will be lost in workplaces of the future.
Inspiration and influence:
Humans have always been drawn to inspiration, with the tendency even more pronounced among the Millennial generation. Train yourself and your team how to set a clear vision, tell compelling stories, and get others excited and empowered to enlist an even larger ecosystem in the power of what you are building.
Leverage "smart" data not "big" data:
Build a team that knows how to effectively and efficiently leverage simple data tools through to complex analytics across all areas of your company. The companies that win will have workforces that leverage data analytics to make smarter, faster decisions.