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Are you building an entrepreneurial organization?
By Jim Blasingame 

The 20th century was heavily influenced by entrepreneurs like Henry Ford and Bill Gates. But because of the way those guys had to leverage their vision, with lots of people, buildings, factories and capital, the last century actually became the century of the major corporation.

In the 21st century, which I call The Century of the Entrepreneur, entrepreneurial leverage is, and will be, a lot different for a number of reasons. But I want to focus on what I consider to be four big factors that will create not only entrepreneurs, but also entrepreneurial organizations:

1. Technology
2. Marketplace
3. Culture
4. Economics

What is an entrepreneurial organization?

Shifts in these four areas are creating fertile soil in which to grow entrepreneurial organizations of all sizes and forms. The complete unabridged “Blasingame Dictionary” defines an entrepreneurial organization as any organization that meets these two criteria:

1. It is structured so that its members are given the information and tools necessary to allow each to pursue solutions and take advantage of opportunities at their level, based on the stated objectives of the organization.

2. An atmosphere exists that encourages individual initiative, and mistakes and failures that occur in the process of taking initiative are actually viewed as progress in the personal and organizational quest for excellence.

I believe the successful organizations and companies in the 21st century will fit this definition. Unfortunately, many organizations have not yet made the transition from the “dominator” management model to the “partnership” model, which is essential in creating an entrepreneurial environment.

Our challenge

The challenge we face as owners and managers is to make the conversion without creating a casualty list. Perhaps the first step is to understand why the 21st century soil is so fertile for entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial organizations. This brings us to the four factors I mentioned earlier:

1. Technology — Technology has come a long way in 30 years. When I started my career, I typed letters and proposals on an Underwood 5 manual typewriter. Today, that machine is a boat anchor compared to my 15th generation desktop computer and software. But not only is the creation of information vastly improved, but so is the delivery of that information. Thanks to the World Wide Web, email and the Internet, I can send proposals as attachments in an email to my customers and prospects across town, cross-country and around the world.

We are also expecting more and more out of our technology. My first computer had 128K of RAM and no hard drive, and I thought it was a magic box. Now I get upset if my 700Mhz computer takes three nanoseconds too long to access a Web site on the other side of the planet.

Impatience with the capability we have, and hungry anticipation for the next level of capability, are traits of an entrepreneur. Capability empowers those in its possession. Every day our employees gain more individual capability through technology, and they are going to want to do more exciting things with that capability. That desire is the spark of entrepreneurialism that has more to do with wanting to take initiative and professional risks than it does with being an owner.

Entrepreneurial organizations will thrive in an environment of emerging technologies. Will yours be one of them?

2. Marketplace — The SBA says Americans are starting almost 800,000 new businesses every year, and estimates that number to grow to 1 million per year by 2010. A Kaufman Center for Entrepreneurialism study showed that more people than ever before now view business ownership positively, and that one in 12 employees in the U.S. is seriously considering starting a business.

Why do you think this is? Because taking risks and initiative in the marketplace is exciting. But what about those other 11 employees — wouldn't they want some of that action, too? Absolutely. They are the ones who will be your best employees if they believe they can be creative and take risks and initiative working for you.

Are you going to be able to deliver that opportunity for them? Not unless you provide them with an entrepreneurial organization.

3. Culture — Estimates now put the number of teleworkers in the U.S. at more than 20 million, including those who do it every day and those who work from home only occasionally. Furthermore, it has been estimated that there may be as many as 25 million home-based businesses and perhaps that many more independent contractors, or free agents, as Dan Pink calls them in his book Free Agent Nation.

Perhaps as recently as 10 years ago, if you told someone you worked from home — whether as a teleworker, home-based business owner or independent contractor — you would probably have been considered an oddity at best. Today, our culture accepts that concept of work as not only OK, but actually pretty cool.

Our culture has made a major shift in its attitude toward how we work. Entrepreneurial organizations will be the ones that are prepared to incorporate multiple work venues into their daily operations.

4. Economics — Ten years ago, fewer than 20 percent of Americans were invested in the stock market. Today, that number is closer to 50 percent. Millions of American employees are reading the annual reports of the companies in which they are shareholders. Consequently, these employee/investors are more likely to understand how an organization works from management's perspective.

Every employee who has access to that perspective is a potential entrepreneurial employee looking for a home in an entrepreneurial organization. They seek a place where they can deliver value in their work in return for an opportunity to take initiative and be creative. If you don't provide them with an entrepreneurial home, they will look elsewhere.

Write this on a rock…We can't stand back and shake our heads at what's happening in The Century of the Entrepreneur. It's here, and it's gaining momentum. The question is will you and I be able to create entrepreneurial organizations for all these entrepreneurial employees? And if not, how will we be able to compete with those who do?

How to do it
Here are five steps to creating an entrepreneurial organization:

1. Be prepared to create and lead an entrepreneurial organization.

2. Help your employees acquire the skills and resources they need to be productive entrepreneurial employees.

3. Encourage your employees to be entrepreneurs, which includes fostering initiative.

4. Accept that in an entrepreneurial organization, mistakes arising from initiative actually become investments.

5. Encourage your entrepreneurial employees to become wagon masters. People love the entrepreneurial feeling so much that they want to share it with others. You must give them that opportunity, or someone else will.


Jim Blasingame is the creator and host of "The Small Business Advocate" show, the world's only nationally syndicated weekday radio/Internet talk show dedicated to small business. Jim is the 2002 Small Business Journalist of the Year, and author of Small Business Is Like A Bunch Of Bananas.

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