Being part of a corporate entrepreneurial initiative is a lot like riding a roller coaster. At times it can be exhilarating and at others it can plunge you into the depths of despair.
True corporate entrepreneurs love the highs, the lows, the long hours, the heated debates, and the pressure to deliver something new. They are motivated by the excitement of being part of the future and making a difference. If you decide to come along for the ride, you must be prepared to hold on to your hat, because it will be a bumpy ride.
Individuals who are eager to join an entrepreneurial initiative may not understand the demands that such an endeavor can place on them personally or professionally. It is incumbent upon you to set the proper expectations up front.
Given the high failure rate, there is a high probability that the initiative may not be successful. Are prospective team members prepared to deal with the consequences of failure? Are they committed to putting in long nights and weekends? Do they have the tolerance for stress that will be required to deal with the uncertainty? Are they willing to break rules and step on toes to get things accomplished? These are only a few of the things they will need to deal with.
Despite all the rhetoric about the need to have a tolerance for failure, many companies are still unwilling to acknowledge failure as part of the learning process. Those who join an entrepreneurial initiative must be willing to accept the consequences of failure. Depending on how your organization deals with failure, it can be career-limiting or career-enhancing. In most cases, it is not looked upon favorably.
The initial excitement of a new project quickly turns into the harsh reality of aggressive time lines, resource shortages, and limited funding. The team doesn’t always factor in the unexpected or think about backup strategies, which create anxiety when things go wrong. They neglect to think about their own ability to absorb the stress or take into account the toll that long hours might have on their health or family life. They try to work through lunch to pick up precious time when a ten-minute break or a breath of fresh air may be more effective.
Although the pressure to perform is often self-imposed, there comes a time in every project when the pressure seems unbearable. The team starts to get trapped in a negative cycle, things slow down, and progress stalls. Individuals make sacrifices that may jeopardize their personal well-being. Tradeoffs will have to be made between family and work. Some team members will self-select out of a project if the pressure becomes too great. Others will call it quits and leave the company. It is important to find ways to deal with individual and team stress.
Being entrepreneurial requires a certain degree of independence that often pits the individual against the organization. They are loyal to the organization but grow increasingly more loyal to the team and project. They find themselves torn between support for authority and taking measures into their own hands. The tug and pull is uncomfortable. They will be forced to make choices that are unpopular and politically incorrect. These decisions can be gut-wrenching and threatening. You will want to find individuals who are not afraid to ask the tough questions and are willing to try new approaches.
Although corporate entrepreneurs are willing to challenge and question authority they still maintain a healthy respect for authority. You will need to allow people to challenge current thinking. Team players must be able to depend on each other to take responsibility for their own tasks. They will have to rely on others that they have no control over. Politically the team is operating inside the core business. They must learn to live with the values of the core business along with their own values. The team will build its own identity which will separate them from the rest of the organization. This creates tension between the team and the rest of the organization. Team members must realize that they are still a part of a larger organization.
Like an entrepreneurial start-up, you will also be operating in a less formal way. The informal nature of start-ups is foreign to many people with experience in hierarchical organizations. Everyone will be asked to sign up to do things outside of their current responsibilities. You will want to be sure that everyone is comfortable operating in a less structured environment.
Stress is a normal part of work but is magnified many times over when it comes to working on these entrepreneurial projects. It is an inevitable part of the process and it separates those who have the physical and mental capacity to deal with large amounts of stress from those who don’t. It can help to find and identify, at the beginning, those individuals with a high tolerance for stress. Individuals with a high tolerance for stress are able to deal with duress in a balanced manner.
At the same time, corporate entrepreneurship is exhilarating and a lot of fun. It is hard work that is extremely rewarding. There is a sense of pride and ownership. There is also the excitement of building something of value and making a contribution. It is a time of discovery and exploration. It is an adventure that you will treasure and look back on with pride.
If you like riding a roller coaster, then you know that it can be a bumpy ride. You will need to be able to deal with both the highs and the lows.
Set expectations that it will be a bumpy ride.