Without a doubt, we live in a bureaucratic business world. For those chasing success, it’s a constraining and frustrating world defined by ever expanding rules and regulations. In a bureaucracy, progress is subservient to process and performance is trumped by procedure. And while many seem to snuggle up in the lap of the certainty and security of bureaucracy, there are others — maybe just like you — who chafe under its constrictions and yearn for a more enterprising way of corporate life.
The generally accepted antidote for bureaucracy is an “entrepreneurial culture” and many of those frustrated with bureaucracy wistfully talk about the value of building this type of environment. But behind the talk lies a very real challenge: When you’re mired in the bureaucratic trenches, it’s difficult to believe you have the power to fight bureaucracy by building an entrepreneurial culture. Why? Because many are handcuffed by the mistaken belief that being an entrepreneur is a prerequisite for creating an entrepreneurial culture. But it is a myth to believe that being an entrepreneur and crafting an entrepreneurial culture are conjoined as steadfastly as Siamese twins; that you can’t have one without the other.
Such a restrictive mindset prevents many from even attempting to build an entrepreneurial culture. Believing that they are not and can never be an entrepreneur, they give-up and give-in to bureaucracy. But that’s not the way it needs to be. Not only is it possible, but also fairly easy to build an entrepreneurial culture in a bureaucratic world, even by those who are not actual entrepreneurs.
The first step on the road to bureaucratic freedom is to rid yourself of the belief that the traits essential to being a successful entrepreneur are the same as those that form the basis of an entrepreneurial culture. That’s not the case and they can be very different.
For example, while intuitively it seems likely that an organization led by an entrepreneur will have an entrepreneurial culture, the reality is that more times than not, this is not the case. The seldom acknowledged truth is that while the culture of an organization led by a strong entrepreneur may not be bureaucratic, it is apt to be more autocratic than entrepreneurial.
What really constrains the creation of an entrepreneurial culture – especially in large organizations – is a matter of semantics. For lack of a better term, we have fallen into the trap of identifying an entrepreneurial culture as one led by an entrepreneur, and this creates more confusion than understanding. Instead, we should focus on the attributes of an entrepreneurial culture which are: transparency, openness, accountability, a sense of urgency and shared reward.
If we can just clear our minds of the accepted idea of what an “entrepreneurial culture” is supposed to be and instead, think in terms of an “open culture,” it will enable us to look at culture building from a completely different perspective. And while we are at it, let’s also cheat on the traditional rule that says only those at the top of an organization can determine its culture.
Over and over people will chant, “I am just a small cog in a large bureaucratic organization. How can I bring about cultural change?” The answer is to ignore the larger bureaucratic culture and think of creating a distinct culture within your span of control, such as a team leader, department head or division leader. Remember that culture for the group is defined by the style of the leader at any level.
So if you are willing to open our mind and suspend the rules that inhibit the creation of an entrepreneurial culture in a bureaucratic world you can built an “open culture.” What would such a culture look like and how would it function?
- It would be a culture with a strict adherence to a core set of values.
- The culture would constantly focus on clearly defined objectives along with continuous support for members of the group and free flowing transparent communication.
- It would be imbued with a sense of urgency as an operating lifestyle.
- Stress accountability where risk is clearly encouraged and accomplishment rewarded.
- When the group is successful, all of those within the group share a sense of ownership, participation and rewards for the success achieved.
There is nothing in this concept of an “open culture” that can’t be adopted by any leader, at any level in any size organization – even the most bureaucratic. Don’t believe it? Are you going to suggest that within your span of control you can’t have a core set of values? That you can’t clearly define the objectives of the group you lead? That you are not allowed to have constant communication with members of your group? That just because you are not an entrepreneur, you can’t create a sense of urgency among those you supervise? The truth is that you don’t have to be an entrepreneur or CEO of a company in order to build an “open culture” in your area of leadership and control.
It comes down to this attitude: Just because you work in a bureaucracy, it doesn’t mean you have to be a bureaucrat.
And the Moral of the Story …
While virtually everyone sings the praises of an entrepreneurial culture, there is also a universal belief that only an entrepreneur can create an entrepreneurial culture. It is this misunderstanding that leads to the conclusion that it is not possible to create an entrepreneurial culture in a bureaucratic world. If we continue to cling to the traditional beliefs of culture building, the bureaucratic world will always win. But if we are willing to open our minds to what the culture is really all about, instead of what it is called, then it is possible to build an “open culture” in a bureaucratic world. And those who are willing to adopt this approach by implementing the concepts of an open culture will ultimately achieve success and recognition that will be the envy of any entrepreneur.