Early man often acquired food by chasing away a predator from its recent kill. He used its fur for warmth, dug edible roots from plants found along the trail, made tools from stones, vines or branches, and systematically scouted an area for the night’s shelter. He was opportunistic. We still are. What we wear responds to the weather. How we drive to work responds to the traffic. What we do at our desk largely responds to other people.
Smart companies tap into this basic human skill by creating a culture where employees think and act opportunistically, taking advantage of unexpected opportunities. It brings growth and profits.
Niels Bohr famously remarked, “Prediction Is Very Difficult, Especially of The Future.” With today’s rapid change, prediction has never been more difficult, so rewards go to cultures that don’t try to predict the unknowable but help employees see opportunities and grab them. Some top-down planning is essential, but too much leads to passivity in low levels.
For employee to grab opportunities, he or she needs to know:
- The overall game plan — where the company is going and how he or she fits into that picture, plus background information on finances, customers, company resources, and products — the information that helps a person make good decisions.
- When to decide independently and when to involve a superior or another department — what are the boundaries within which he or she has freedom to act, where does he or she stop and where do others need to be pulled in?
- That he or she needs the strong personal relationships and trust that give the confidence to act on opportunities. Seizing opportunities is too risky without the confidence that comes only from experience; that the organization will focus on successes, rather than on failures.
Every Employee Can Be an Entrepreneur
I worked with a company where package delivery drivers were presented daily with dozens of opportunities with customers to further the company’s business. Unfortunately this company did not see the drivers in the role of business development. That function went to the Marketing Department. Every day drivers watched business development opportunities slip by. The company that didn’t see what it was losing.
Imagine every employee, no matter what their defined job, unleashing their potential as an entrepreneur, a business developer, salesperson, R&D member, marketer, and customer service rep. Just release what’s already in your employee’s genes. It’s good for people and good for business.
cc 426 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.