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Camilla Andersen

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Shattering talent taboos: Five steps to an entrepreneurial culture

Finding and keeping entrepreneurial talent is achievable but these steps will help organisations build a culture where talent can flourish

Entrepreneurial firms are characterised by energy, ideas, and a willingness and ability to change. It’s an approach to business that is finding favour in all sectors across the globe as leaders seek to harness the rapid pace of technological change and deal with the transient nature of talent.

For an organisation to be truly entrepreneurial you need to have the right people in place across your workforce. A recruitment strategy that identifies, hires and retains employees that are a perfect match for your operation is vital.

Being prepared for a new way of recruiting

It’s not as easy as it looks on paper. Top talent in particular have multiple opportunities at their fingertips: we’re all friends with at least one high achiever who seems to always have a new role on offer – often several simultaneously.

As we’ve discovered in building our own entrepreneurial culture at Edisen, committing to such a strategy takes a great deal of resource and effort. But it also means trying something new; namely, tearing away the ‘talent taboos’ that all too often represent unspoken stumbling blocks which eventually encourage employees to head for the exit.

Let’s examine five traditional themes that obstruct a more entrepreneurial approach to hiring – then keeping the shining stars of your industry, and how you can change tack.

1. Firstly, understand your own culture

You won’t convince potential employees your business is the place where their own entrepreneurial spirit can flourish if it doesn’t exist within your organisation. If you haven’t devoted time to this already, examine your culture today and what you’d like it to become tomorrow. How do you want talent to feel when they first come into contact with your firm? What can you offer their career and what do you need from them to boost your operation?

You should take the opportunity presented by the process – especially if you’ve reached the second or third stage – to share your organisation’s vision

This is key to hiring the right people in the first place, the corollary of which is talent with longer tenure who offer the greatest value for your business. We’ve identified adaptability, autonomy and a mindset of growth and ideas as the core characteristics of our culture – but also of everyone who comes to work here. If you explain your vision and find people who are the best fit, good things can happen.

2. Ditch the interview dance then talk openly

In my experience, there’s a convention for companies to take a ‘build it and they’ll come’ approach to talent attraction. By this I mean businesses can be far too coy in interviews about what they truly want in a new employee, while failing to take into account what the potential recruit really wants on their side of the deal.

The result is a kind of soft-shoe shuffle that never finds the rhythm it should, so that the interviewee is left largely in the dark about the benefits of joining the business, and the firm fails to assess their attributes in relation to the talent assets they’re seeking to gain.

Instead, you should take the opportunity presented by the process – especially if you’ve reached the second or third stage – to share your organisation’s vision. Be honest about how far you’ve got in executing on that vision, and what you’re looking for in the candidate to help your firm advance on the journey. It’s worth even asking them how they’d improve your vision.

Remain humble – you need this person’s help, or you wouldn’t be taking time to interview them. When we’re recruiting, I always keep in mind the famous line from advertising guru David Ogilvy: “If each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.”

3. Take a Netflix approach to solo responsibility

I’ll admit to having the utmost admiration for Netflix’s culture. While tech companies sometimes come in for criticism about working conditions and the high-intensity nature of their operations, this is one business I look to for entrepreneurial inspiration. (I should say at this point Netflix has been a client of mine, so I’ve something of an insider’s view.)

The basic balance of freedom and responsibility is something that can be incorporated into almost any culture

Its employees essentially are free to make their own crucial decisions without seeking approval from their manager. The company is confident that after an extensive and thorough hiring process that they have a person fully qualified to make the right calls. The business simply asks individuals to justify their ideas, stating why they’re sure success will follow. This is a new approach to personal responsibility that fosters innovation, confidence and mutual trust – and it’s clearly working wonders.

Such complex practises are hard to emulate. But the basic balance of freedom and responsibility is something that can be incorporated into almost any culture. The wider point here is that as a business grows leadership often ladle on layers of approval in a bid to maintain control. That’s a route to strangling innovation. The alternative, as exemplified by Netflix, can reap rewards.

4. Recognise balanced risk is a good thing

Without an open-minded attitude to risk there’s little chance of getting the big rewards that are the essence of your entrepreneurial culture.

The right level of tension is required: enough support for the individual’s idea to watch it grow, but a level of autonomy afforded so they can try, fail – if necessary – and make a success of it next time.

Instilling the belief that ideas can be heard within your business, and being brave enough to give them the space to sink or succeed, is critical to making talent feel they can achieve anything which, in turn, builds accountability across your workforce.

5. Tap your team for back-to-office strategy 

We all hope to move beyond the pandemic in 2022 and welcome people back to offices en masse, permanently. While a return to former working patterns won’t be for everyone, I believe there are very good reasons why your talent needs to regularly rub shoulders. I for one found it far more difficult to monitor the welfare and development of our team through a screen; nuance is lost.

None of these things is as easy to implement in practice as theory suggests; each element brings its own challenges

Worse still, the serendipitous moments that occur when a golden nugget is overheard and an idea seized can snowball into a profitable concept might never happen when employees remain remotely isolated from each other.

Within two months of asking our employees to return to our premises up to 80% were spending an average of four days per working week on site. The crucial factor is taking your people on the journey. Involving them in big decisions instead of confining those to the boardroom is a sure-fire way of tackling anxiety and apathy.

As mentioned above, none of these things is as easy to implement in practice as theory suggests; each element brings its own challenges. But it’s also true to say that they collectively comprise the essence of a truly entrepreneurial talent strategy. 

Find the right balance of honesty, agility, innovation and reward, and your talent and wider business will flourish.

Interested in this topic? Read Win the war on talent with compelling story-telling.


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