As originally published in Inside Supply Management August 2011

Achieve an entrepreneurial spirit or be left to slowly wither away in today’s new normal business environment.  With the retiring of the baby boomers, high commodity prices and nagging unemployment, the new normal is characterized by weak sales growth (at best), a tight cash position and elevated customer service expectations – not an easy combination!  Thus, unleashing your entrepreneurial spirit is one of the only ways to thrive amidst this complexity. 

In my experience as a business executive, business consultant and entrepreneur across multiple industries and globally, I’ve discovered that people are an organization’s #1 asset. And, an entrepreneurial spirit utilizes the people power within an organization.  Thus, it is key to success.  How do you define and implement an entrepreneurial spirit?  A few tips include:  1) Focus on experimentation.  2) Encourage “what if” thinking.  3) Value influencers.

  1. Focus on experimentation – Experimentation is bedrock to developing an entrepreneurial spirit. Encourage experimentation.  If you are the leader, you must encourage mistakes, as no one will experiment if they fear failure.  This is much harder than it sounds yet it is the single most important action you can take to develop an entrepreneurial spirit.If you are an employee, discuss your ideas with your manager; begin small and continually experiment or trial new ideas.  Not only will it catch on throughout the organization over time, but you will also experience breakthrough ideas which drive bottom line results.  Success breeds success.
  1. Encourage “what if” thinking – One of the quickest ways to build a culture of entrepreneurialism is to continually think ahead and ask “what if?” For example, what if a key customer order is lost?  What if the system goes down at month end?  What if we need to increase sales by 20% in a rapid timeframe?  How can we minimize overhead increases while supporting an increase in sales?Do not become a negative “what if’er” – although it’s a good idea to consider impacts of potentially negative events (such as a storm’s impact on your ability to serve customers), keep your mind focused on healthy scenarios for rapidly recovering and/or growing with the latest trends in the marketplace, economy, geopolitical environment etc.  If you’ve already thought about how to succeed in various situations, you’ll have a leg up on your competition as changes occur.
  1. Value influencers – Remember, everyone within an organization has an opportunity to be an influencer. Since an entrepreneurial spirit is contagious, influencers play a vital role.  Who can you influence to encourage entrepreneurialism?Position doesn’t achieve power; influence creates it.  For example, in one mid-market manufacturer, a line supervisor had minimal position power to make changes within the production process; however, he had an entrepreneurial spirit.  He was able to influence his peers with a positive attitude combined with a never-ending stream of ideas to help improve not only his output but theirs as well – and he was happy to share the credit.  In addition, he influenced his manager through results.  After all, what can be better than making your manager look good? 

Don’t just keep your head down and work.  Ask about goals.  Find out why they matter.  Encourage your teammates.  When employees know they are a valuable part of achieving the organization’s goals, they are remarkably more interested in success. 

In my experience, 80% of significant company progress occurs solely due to people.  If you can develop an entrepreneurial spirit, there’s no limit to what can be achieved.  It can start as small as one person and as soon as this morning with zero investment – why not give it a try?