One of the biggest challenges to large corporations becoming more entrepreneurial is their very structure. Chains of command and divisions of labor designed for efficiency can actually block good ideas and discourage creativity.
In this seven-part series, we examine ways that big business can learn from entrepreneurs, small businesses and start-ups. One of the advantages these smaller companies have over their big brothers is direct contact between staff and owners, allowing good ideas, innovation and creative solutions instant exposure to the top decision makers.
In large companies, too often these breakthroughs get dumbed down or misstated, or downright suppressed on their way to the top decision makers. The nature of the chain of command can prevent the upward communication to the ownership and top execs. Why? Because good ideas can be perceived by supervisors and managers as unworkable, or if they are workable, they may be seen as a threat to their job security.
These gatekeepers have tremendous power to suppress good ideas, and the folks they oversee know it. Some may think, “Why bother? My idea won’t ever see the light of day.” They wonder if their good idea will make their supervisor look “bad,” or if their supervisor would give credit to a lower staff member for something they think they should have thought of.
How lower-level managers perceive their job security and chances for advancement may be more important in their eyes than the ultimate success of the company itself. What can big companies learn from small companies to get around this corporate gridlock?
Providing a mechanism that allows for direct communication between ownership/top management and other staff members is essential to creativity. When big companies allow good ideas to “leap-frog” to the top, they send a message to all staff that their ideas are appreciated, and that each person can communicate their own ideas in their original form. This method is specifically used to encourage and deliver ideas, and not to undermine the authority of managers. Here are four suggestions:
VISITS. In order to encourage creativity, ingenuity and imaginative solutions, schedule the owners or top execs to visit the various departments on a regular basis. Have them spend the day there specifically to hear new ideas and suggestions.
EMBEDDING. Place equity holders in key places throughout your organization to be repositories for creative ideas. Because staff knows that improving the company is more important than job preservation to equity holders, they are more likely to share their ideas with them.
FORUM. Once a quarter, have an idea forum where employees are encouraged to share their ideas with top management either in person or online, webinar style. Provide a reward for ideas that are utilized. By setting the parameters, purpose and frequency of the forum, you are sending a powerful message that says, “We know you have great ideas and we want to hear them.”
COMPETITION. Have a contest for the best idea from each department and the best overall idea for the company. Make it quarterly, semiannually or annually so staff knows this is important and is encouraged to keep trying. Share the winners and their ideas with the entire company to reinforce this behavior.
By allowing your staff to share their good ideas directly with top management, you will be encouraging entrepreneurial thinking in your company.
In Part 5, we will examine how big companies can encourage creative thinking by changing the paradigm of the legal department.
Who We Are
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse to the board room of E&J Gallo, who ultimately acquired their brand and engaged them as brand consultants. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.
Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They built an internationally bestselling brand and received their industry’s “Hot Brand” award for several consecutive years.
They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) & Shelf Smarts courses to help consumer product brand builders achieve success. Their book, The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways To Engage and Empower Your People, helps corporations maximize the value of their human resources.
Currently they travel the world leading workshops, trainings, & keynoting at business schools, corporations, conferences. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals. They are C-Suite Network Advisors & Contributing Editors. Visit their popular business site at www.thebarefootspirit.com.
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