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Encouraging an entrepreneurial culture in your company

BY CARRIE KIRKMAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF JONES GROUP CANADA
WITH SARAH BARMAK

In today’s fast-changing business environment, no one can afford to stay still for long. Anyone who hopes for success must welcome change and keep their eye on the future. Those are values that can sometimes be forgotten in successful, legacy businesses—but that entrepreneurs know instinctively.

In many ways, today’s world is built for entrepreneurs. The ranks of the self-employed are rising as people find they often have more opportunity if they take charge of their own careers. The good news is that all businesses—from the smallest one-person operation to the largest—can learn from and model entrepreneurial attributes that can guide and focus them to deliver their goals.

So what are entrepreneurial values? An entrepreneurial culture emphasizes accountability and ownership. It values the end game, not the process. It encourages measured risk. It certainly embraces change.

No organization that squashes an entrepreneurial culture can sustain positive business results in today’s constantly changing markets. The problem is that many organizations invest in processes, and then the processes become the Holy Grail instead of a means to an end.

Don’t get me wrong—process can add value in as much as it can facilitate results and ensure that best practice is captured. However, big companies can become somewhat arrogant, especially if they have had significant success in the past. Too many decision-makers can get stuck feeling as if the model that has delivered consistent success doesn’t need to be tinkered with, despite the fact that their business base may be declining. There is a lesson here: don’t be a victim of “Who moved the cheese,” ruminating over why past strategies no longer work rather than focusing on developing a new one. It’s very easy to become a gatekeeper of the past rather than a steward of the future.

How do leaders nurture and instill entrepreneurial values in their staff? It’s helpful if they embrace it, and provide an environment where entrepreneurial behaviour is encouraged and supported.

Don’t be a victim of “Who moved the cheese,” ruminating over why past strategies no longer work rather than focusing on developing a new one. It’s very easy to become a gatekeeper of the past rather than a steward of the future.

Companies need leaders who are brave, curious and open to be challenged on the status quo. Leaders must embrace change and be hungry for newness.

Teams led by an entrepreneurial leader can figure out how to recreate the means to success if you stay out of their way. This is true especially when business conditions take a downturn. Retail in Canada has had a difficult ride this past year. The women’s apparel market is slightly declining. We have lots of new U.S. players entering our market, and the business pie is being sliced into smaller pieces. Sadly, we have all seen very well known companies fail.

The Jones Group Canada team is a perfect example of how a Canadian division of a large U.S. organization can operate entrepreneurially to deliver exceptional results. The division did not wait for the parent company to provide the map and all the answers. It ensured it understood our brand’s key messages and then leveraged our knowledge of the market and the internal expertise of the organization to maximize results. Our brand had an exceptional year in Canada, delivering double-digit increases and taking significant market share from our competition. The division
significantly out-performed our competition as well as the parent company, despite experiencing very similar market conditions and challenges. This only came from a culture that leverages the strength and creativity of its people. By providing a safe environment where the rules are not in stone, and staying nimble and flexible, we responded quickly to market challenges, which is the goal.

It’s easy to recognize a company with an entrepreneurial culture by its big results and strong employee engagement. When they know that the goal, not the journey, is the Holy Grail, people will often rise well above the expected or historic to find new ways to deliver results, regardless of the challenges. Only leaders can make sure those values are in place. An entrepreneurial leader’s job is to clearly communicate the vision, show their team where the guardrails are—and then let them go.


With over 25 years of experience in brand management, Carrie Kirkman has established herself as a leader in the women’s wear industry in Canada. Follow Carrie on Twitter @CarrieKirkman.

Carrie is also the key-note speaker in our Women of Influence event, “A Career Rebound: Lessons from the President of a Global Fashion Brand” on November 10, 2015 in Calgary. Purchase tickets here.