The Secret to Creating an Entrepreneurial Culture in a Bureaucratic Business World

from “If You’re Not Making History, You Are History” by Bob MacDonald


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.

Wells Fargo Confirms that Big Banks are a “Basket of Deplorables”



In what The New York Times called, “The brazen scam no one noticed,” Wells Fargo Bank has admitted to scamming thousands of customers by surreptitiously opening an estimated two million bogus credit card, checking and savings accounts. Acknowledging this fraudulent activity, Wells Fargo has agreed to pay a fine of $185 million dollars.

Of course, from the CEO down, Wells Fargo management has denied any knowledge of this activity and have placed the blame on the lowest levels of employees; announcing that over 5,000 employees have been terminated for their involvement. (The New York Post is reporting that hundreds of current and former Wells Fargo employees have taken to social media asserting that the fraud was an “open secret known by all at the bank.” Many cited being penalized by management for not going along with the scam.)

The final story has yet to be told, but it strains the credibility of common sense to believe that a scam of this magnitude could go on for so long (5 years) and be so pervasive within the Wells culture without management at all levels being aware of it. (The New York Times reported that the senior executive who oversaw this group of “rogue employees” announced her retirement and walked away with a $124.6 million dollar severance package.) It might even say more about Wells Fargo management if they didn’t know about this fraudulent activity carried on for so long by so many people.  

If one is to believe that the Wells Fargo CEO and all his minions had no idea the scam was being perpetrated on thousands of customers it is proof-positive evidence of stupidity, incompetence and non-existent corporate governance. How can over 5,000 employees independently and systematically dupe thousands of customers for years, without some evidence of this activity coming to the attention of management? It means that management is either dumber than gold fish or they condoned it by turning a blind-eye to it in the name of personal bonuses and corporate profit.

Wells Fargo is not Alone

If the actions of Wells Fargo were an outlier of typical big bank stupidity, incompetence, dishonesty and greed it could be passed off, but unfortunately it is further validation of the fundamental flawed DNA of bankers. But it would not be fair to lump all bankers into this category; there are good bankers. Unfortunately, the actions of 99 percent of the bankers give a bad name to the others.

The Wells Fargo is just another example of a history of the banker’s attitude of deceit, greed and dishonesty when it comes to dealing with customers, but it goes further than that. A quick review of every national financial crisis in the past 200 years will show that the greedy and foolish acts of banks were the spark that set the crisis in motion.

Wild stock speculation by banks brought on The Great Depression of 1929. The very first act of Franklin Roosevelt when he became president was to close all the banks in the country. This led to Roosevelt’s famous quote, “The only thing we have to fear are bankers who run-a-muck.”  Soon after that the Glass-Steagall act limiting and controlling the size and activities of banks was passed. It is interesting to note that from the time Glass-Steagall was passed in in 1933, until it was repealed in 1999, not one single large bank failed and the country did not suffer a serious financial crisis.

The 1999 repeal of Glass-Steagall allowed the banks to consolidate into huge national institutions and put their capital at risk in insurance, investments and investment banking. Armed with this new-found freedom, it took less than a decade for the decisions of incompetent, greedy, deceitful bankers to become the catalyst for the greatest financial crisis since The Great Depression.

Learning the lesson again of just how greedy and stupid bankers can be if left to their own devices, in 2010 Congress passed the Dodd-Frank law. Although not perfect, the primary objective of Dodd-Frank is to rein in the size and laissez faire actions of banks. The intent is to prevent banks (and any other financial institution) from becoming “to big to fail;” so that the failure of any one bank would not take down the entire economy with it.

Even Bankers are Upset with Wells Fargo

Exposure of the deceptive practices at Wells Fargo comes at a particularly bad time for banks, because the banking industry is right in the middle of an expensive, lobbyist-led effort to repeal Dodd-Frank so they can once again revel in the unrestrained freedom they enjoyed after the repeal of Glass-Steagall. The big banks are upset with Wells Fargo, not for what they were doing, but because this incident draws attention to just how greedy, deceitful and stupid bankers are as a group. They are worried that the actions of Wells Fargo will make it even more difficult to repeal Dodd-Frank.

At the same time, even the smaller banks – ones that tend to be more connected with their communities and customers – are furious with Wells Fargo. They fear that the actions of Wells Fargo could result in even more regulations that significantly increase the cost of doing business.

We should not be surprised (and shame on us if we are) by the deceiving actions of Wells Fargo, but it should remind us that big banks are too incompetent, greedy, deceitful and stupid to be left on their own; especially when the size of their mistakes can damage the entire economy.

Just as Ulysses, the Greek king of Ithaca, had himself bound to the mast of his ship so he would not follow the seductive song of the sirens, bankers should be bound to only be bankers, lest they succumb to their own stupidity and the siren songs of greed, deceit and avarice; taking us down with them.

Do You Have What it Takes to be a Successful Business Maverick?



Business mavericks are abhorred and adored. The mentality of a maverick is to relentlessly seek to find better ways to do what is being done and to focus on what is not being done and ask “why.” Those who are comfortable with or indebted to the way things are, abhor the maverick as a troublesome irritation who constantly rocks the boat. Those who are frustrated by the status quo but feel powerless to bring about change, adore the successful maverick as a hero and a role model. One thing is clear, whether it is resisted or embraced, the successful maverick brings about change that ultimately benefits everyone.

For those who long to follow in the footsteps of successful mavericks, the question is: What does it take to be a successful maverick?    

Let there be no doubt that the business mavericks who bring about change are those who challenge the old rules governing how and what should be done and chart new, creative courses of action. Often, these trailblazers are running new, entrepreneurial businesses, but just as often they head some of the biggest names in business.

Think of Fred Smith, founder of FedEx, Steve Jobs, the guru of Apple, Inc., Bill Gates of Microsoft, or Richard Branson of the Virgin empire. Business mavericks like these are noted first and foremost for breaking the rules; for challenging the tradition which says, “You can’t do that.” They don’t accept that as an answer and always seek to find ways that it can be done.

But it is important to understand that one need not be an industry mogul to become a successful business maverick. Anyone at any level in any business of any size can challenge the way things are and seek to do better. It makes no difference if one is tasked to do a specific job, manage a department or lead a division, it is possible to exhibit the attributes of a maverick; and spur success.

If you want to join the fraternity of successful business mavericks, you’ve got to start by thinking like they do. And the first sign of maverick tendencies is relentless curiosity. The man or woman who “cheats” on the old, outmoded rules of business is constantly asking questions and challenging the way things are done. It means being willing to accept the resistance from those wedded to the status quo and take exception to established procedures and mores.

Mavericks often exhibit other attributes as well:

  1. The willingness to adopt new perspectives whenever possible.
  2. The openness to try new things and to do old things differently.
  3. The compelling drive to act on ideas to test their true value.
  4. The eagerness to listen to others and profit from their input, regardless of who gets credit.
  5. Respect for and support of others when they propose new courses of action.

Being a business maverick requires an openness and willingness to look at the world in new ways. Rule-breakers know that new ideas need nurturing and support. But they know that thinking about a new idea is not enough. The true value of a good idea resides in its implementation. As management expert Peter Drucker said, “Ideas are cheap and abundant. What is of value is the effective placement of these ideas into situations that develop into action.”

On the surface, becoming a business maverick doesn’t require any special skills. You don’t have to have an MBA from an Ivy League university. In fact, you don’t need a degree at all. But if it’s so easy to be a cheater, and the potential for reward is so great, why, then, doesn’t everybody do it?

The Will to be a Maverick Is Hammered Out of Us

We have to recognize that daring to think and do things differently exposes us to risks as well as rewards. But you know what? Even though you may risk the ridicule and tsk-tsk of your friends, business associates and your boss, and an endless string of others; even though there is a risk that you’ll come up with a dumb idea for which you’ll be chastised; even though some may perceive you as a show-off or know-it-all; even though all of this may be true, when you finally succeed by doing things differently, the reward and personal satisfaction is so much better than the punishment. It’s not even a contest.

The only reason the downside exposure exists is simply to control you: to intimidate you so that you’ll be unwilling to join the ranks of mavericks and creative thinkers. The result? Many potential mavericks are afraid to engage in behavior that could potentially make waves. Instead, they lay low and avoid the possibility of future embarrassment and pain. It is a shame that most who admire the maverick and seek to follow in their path become timid feeders in a sea of conformity.

But it does not have to be that way. Even if one is not a natural born maverick, the attitude can be an acquired talent; a talent well worth learning and practicing. To develop and nurture this talent for ourselves, we have to overcome the way our psyche has been bullied for so long in an effort to get us to stop asking questions. To achieve real success in our life and career, it is essential to recondition ourselves to challenge convention. Doing so allows us to join the ranks of those mavericks who bring about real change and become a role model for others.