Bringing Entrepreneurial Thinking into the Boardroom

Recently I wrote a post on Dynamic Business about why entrepreneurial thinking is needed in the boardroom now more than ever. A subsequent conversation on LinkedIn reinforced the need for a follow-up article on how boards can go about bringing in innovative and entrepreneurial thinking into their boardroom [Awesome! I love crowd-sourcing content ideas].

With the case already made – and frankly quite obvious – as to why you need some modern thinking introduced into your boards’ conversations and deliberations, lets get in to some ideas of how you can actually bring some entrepreneurial flair into your boardroom, regardless of the size or shape of the organisation.

Realise that you Need to Adapt and Change

At the very least, realise that the world around you is changing even if you feel like you’re not or don’t want to. Time and time again the people sitting around the board table don’t see or believe that the times are a changin’. I get frustrated when people extrapolate their buyer decisions and behaviours out to the entire population. How people use banks and bank branches is a good example here.

Your organisation is not immune to change. Period. Now do something about it! Hint: that may involve you stepping out of the way so that the best people can lead the organisation into its next phase.

Build a Diverse Board

Diversity across many aspects (gender, age, experiences, background, etc.) enables diversity of thought and perspectives in board conversations. In the boardroom, you want to avoid surrounding yourself with people who all think the same, as comfortable as it may be. If you’re looking where to start with building a diverse board, these articles here, herehere, and here will help get you started.

Date Your Customers

Talking recently on Harvard Business Review’s IdeaCast podcast, Wharton Professor David Robertson stressed the importance of dating your customers rather than continually chasing your competitors. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of your customers’ needs and wants and how best to build a product or service that addresses these. I loved the simplicity of this analogy and approach. It’s so easy for any organisation to do.

I recommend listening to the full HBR interview with Professor Robertson here, and checking out his book here (this is definitely one on my ‘to read’ list).

Balance Craziness with Conservatism

As much as you don’t want a board full of the same people, you also don’t want everyone to be ‘way out there’ thinkers. You need a nice balance of intrepid explorers and steady-sailors.

Andrew Nelson, Managing Director at Blue Ocean Strategy Australia puts it like this: “I’m not sure that you can (or want to) embed too much entrepreneurialism at board level of a large organisation. Firstly, entrepreneurs aren’t necessarily innovative… Also an entrepreneur is someone who takes the risk personally. They can bet the farm. Employees shouldn’t and maybe boards shouldn’t either… at board level you have to maintain the existing business while driving innovation.

Make sure you’re mixing blue sky thinking with the practicalities of maintaining and governing an existing business.

Invest and Risk Appropriately

Following closely from the above point, when it comes to entrepreneurialism and innovation you do need to throw some skin in the game and put some substance behind the idea. Go out on a (thoroughly considered and risk-assessed) limb. Put aside some resources to get ideas off the ground through a research and development program or similar program. As a board member, understand that analysis only gets you so far and there will come a time to take that leap of faith. Do so appropriately, and don’t risk the farm.

Entrepreneur in Residence

In this post here, I mention the idea of boards engaging ‘out there’ people without necessarily having to appoint them onto the board (either because the board doesn’t want them on the board or the person doesn’t want to be on a board); but you still want access to their potentially lucrative thinking.

Having an entrepreneur in residence program is a way to engage an innovative thinker across many levels of the organisation – from the board down to the front line. If your board is not ready for this step and/or does not have access to the required investment, consider bringing in someone as a ‘guest speaker’ before your regularly scheduled board meeting to share some of his or her thinking and knowledge. You could also utilise this person as some brain stimulation prior to a board strategy planning session, or engage them on a board committee if they and the board are ready to commit to an ongoing relationship.

 

As I said at the end of the Dynamic Business article, the future may be uncertain, but one certainty is that innovative thinking is needed for any organisation to survive. The board holds ultimate responsibility for embracing disruption.

It’s time that the boardroom is open for innovation.

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