Entrepreneurship is on the rise--it has been for years. There are many indisputable success stories that make it look formulaic and even easy. Yet, Gary Vaynerchuk and others are on record saying this is a problem. That problem is there are a lot of people out there starting businesses that have no business doing so.
It's a problem because they're setting themselves up for disappointment. It's a problem for investors for the same reason--plus there's the added likelihood of throwing money away while someone else "plays" at starting a business. There's something else, however, going on that I think is the real driver behind so many business "starters" and it points to an opportunity for a different kind of leadership.
Leadership over the last several decades has been about creating a vision and strategy that others can see and follow. Management has been about controlling and optimizing output with the least amount of angst. Many organizations have made dramatic improvements in office working conditions but a disconnect remains.
Restlessness breeds when employees see:
- No real opportunity to share in big wins or big losses--most of the upside and the risk has been stripped out. Top management still makes 300 times more than the average (high-performing) employee. After a while, the trade-offs for benefits and security don't add up. So, employees start to look around.
- Impossibility to tell who does what. Corporate communications control the message because they believe they have to preserve and protect the brand. Therefore, consistency trumps reality. After a while, the acknowledgment of your team and manager doesn't seem like enough. So, employees start to look around.
- Opportunities are everywhere but there's limited ability to turn the ship and snag them. Big, medium, or small, organizations feel heavy and bureaucratic, not agile. After a while, the business development process feels like a straightjacket. It's too rigid and tight and kills the thrill of selling. So, employees start to look around.
When employees with their heads up and any kind of entrepreneurial spark start to look around, they typically see more of the same.
So, what's an employee to do? Start their own thing, of course.
Hence, a pop of new business start-ups. What people like Gary know from experience is that frustration with the status quo isn't enough to sustain or grow a business.
There is a lot of good that organizations offer regarding structure and staying power. With some key changes, established businesses could keep these restless people engaged and use their start-up energy for good. More importantly to the "want-preneur," they could save themselves the heartache while staying employed on a track that will ultimately be a better fit with a greater professional advantage.
What's then needed for this different kind of leadership?
- First, for anyone and everyone in titled positions at the top to quit the superiority trap and get aggressively inclusive. Adjust the earnings model to enable employees to take a greater share of the risk and reward for new ventures.
- Engage corporate communications functions as a facilitator of connections--not a sole creator of content or gatekeeper. Everyone within the organization should own the expectation and freedom to interact with the broader industry and community by writing, speaking, and meeting.
- Train the workforce then practice, practice, practice and be quick to identify and vet opportunities as a group. Organizations don't have the time and resources to say "yes" to everything but the answer can't always be "no" either. Develop a fast sorting process for small versus big (or strategically aligned versus totally off the wall) opportunities. And, create a mechanism for employees to pursue the small stuff they believe in--even if they're encouraged to do this after the priority stuff on their plate is attended to.
Bottom line, leaders who act less like know-it-alls and more like enthusiastic ringmasters will keep would-be entrepreneurial talent from walking.