10 Sep Leading an Entrepreneurial Culture: learnings from pioneers
The conversation at the Leading an Entrepreneurial Culture conference, last Friday in Sydney, brought together leaders of large businesses like Westpac Group, responsible for tapping into the creativity and initiative of thousands of corporate employees, as well as academic and not-for-profit organisations, and innovative mid-size businesses like Xero looking to scale without losing their entrepreneurial edge.
The central challenge was a shared one: Australian business needs to find more agility and innovative thinking. It feels like the GFC is just behind us and we’re already talking about the next big challenge. Some teams are struggling to keep up – holding their breath, picturing themselves falling over some finish line, just around the corner. But change is neither a sprint nor a marathon; we need to get comfortable with this pace.
Steve Vamos, non-executive director of Telstra and former CEO of Microsoft Australia and NZ spoke about the opportunity of unleashing what he described as ‘human potential’ within Australian businesses. To find a new response to change, leaders must bring out in their teams those entrepreneurial qualities that truly set us apart from machines: creativity, ownership, initiative and judgement.
Speakers and participants throughout the day were tackling the same issues:
- In most organisations, change has become continuous. Each new strategy or corporate focus overlaps with the many change initiatives that preceded it. It can be hard to keep people focused on the real priorities and to help them find energy for each new challenge.
- Several participants particularly emphasised the importance of engaging mid-level managers to drive the culture change.
- And the conversation returned again and again to the need to create a safe environment, where staff can try new things and grow from the inevitable failures.
Some inspiring solutions were presented. Dr David Cooke of Konica Minota shared his experience of using partnerships with not-for-profits to tap into the creativity and discretionary effort in corporate teams. And Bernadette Inglis from The Westpac Group presented a case study of a recent, large-scale cultural transformation program within the Westpac Group, where greater staff empowerment has delivered a major increase in engagement and found new efficiencies for the organisation. (Meme is proud to have supported the Westpac initiative with employee engagement programs, using the customer as a motivating focus to unify and energise a large team.)
For many at the conference, the key takeaway was that Australian business needs a mindset shift: if you never fail, it actually means you’re not trying hard enough. Hiding our failures, as leaders or as organisations, creates a very dangerous misconception – that you should only try something if you’re sure it’s going to work. And to keep up, we’re going to need to be trying a lot of things that may not work the first time.
Participants were united in recognising the need for leaders to show vulnerability themselves and be more open to new approaches. Several leaders spoke of how operating outside their domain expertise at some point in their careers had helped them learn how to empower staff. And for a simple first step towards building more capacity for innovation and change in their teams, Vamos suggested leaders try just asking for feedback and see where that takes them.