As an entrepreneurial leader, you soon come to understand why culture is often the biggest obstacle to creating an entrepreneurial venture inside an existing business. Culture is the social fabric of an organization, its personality, its values, norms, behaviors, rituals and beliefs. Like a human personality, it has evolved over time and is not easily changed.
Creating an entrepreneurial culture is hard work and it will be met with resistance by those most heavily invested in protecting the status quo. Change will be slow and painful. You will wonder if it is even possible to do what you have set out to do. It will test the very essence of who you are. You will be creating a new culture as you go.
Culture is a powerful force that shapes our individual and collective behavior. It influences everything we do and puts limits on our thinking and behavior. It sets the tone for how we work and how we relate to others in the organization. It is a reflection of our identity, our status and power. Changing these things is difficult and scary. But change them you must.
Creating an environment for change begins with setting the stage for change. It starts with a CEO who has a propensity for change. It requires a business sponsor committed to the project and willing to stick with it despite political obstacles. It will take an entrepreneurial leader who thrives in an environment of change. It will mean building a high-performance team that can stick with it.
Embed change in the process by building a team that is a mix of individuals from inside and outside the organization. If you are not lucky enough to hire from the outside, work with outside consultants who can help you develop the necessary behaviors and team dynamics. Develop values that encourage and support entrepreneurial behavior. Establish new norms and rituals with the team. It is often the “unlearning” part of change that is the most difficult.
Be prepared to deal with ambiguity, uncertainty, and failure. If your organization is not willing or able to effectively manage these, then you will have to. Living with ambiguity is part of the process. Dealing with uncertainty is a daily event, and failure is always a possibility. These are core characteristics of an entrepreneurial culture and will become part of the culture you create. Learning to manage them is what will be important. Capture the lessons you learn and share them with the group. They help shape and mold future decisions.
Value and acknowledge entrepreneurship as a core competency. Provide the training and development necessary to embed these competencies into daily work practices. Establish execution as a core competency and develop execution skills as the project progresses.
Over time, the vestiges of the old culture will quietly slip away and a new culture will emerge. It is not an event but a process that is created through the collective efforts of the group. It is all about changing behaviors. It is a bonding experience that occurs because of a common vision and belief in achieving the end result. It is subtle and quiet, but it is extremely powerful.
The collective efforts of the group will shape and create a new culture. The team will begin to slowly move away from the core business and establish its own identity. The team will assert their independence and establish eminent domain. This will be threatening to the rest of the organization, which will interpret the behavior as a shift in power. Senior management will sit on the sidelines and observe this process as if it were some kind of scientific experiment. They may even question what they have created.
Change is an emotional experience and creating a new culture is a daunting task. Often this new culture is as temporary as the project that spawns it. If not, it must coexist with the core business and be an enabler for other entrepreneurial initiatives.