4 Ways to Nurture the Entrepreneurial Spirit at Your Company

Entrepreneur is a mindset, not a job title.
4 Ways to Nurture the Entrepreneurial Spirit at Your Company
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VP, Marketing & Creative Services, Simplus; Founder, Osmond Marketing
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Not long ago, an aspiring entrepreneur would make bold plans to leave his or her day job to pursue the so called "American dream" of running a business.

An entrepreneur simply can’t remain creative at a big company, answering to a boss, and sharing a cubicle with two co-workers. Or can they?

Today’s successful large enterprises foster work cultures that encourage the enthusiasm, vision, and problem-solving skills that are essential to entrepreneurial success.

Related: The 153 Best Company Cultures in America

I spoke with Will Spendlove, VP, Product Marketing, Salesforce CPQ, to find out how Salesforce ranked as Forbes’ #1 Most Innovative Company for 2017. I also wanted to ask about how Salesforce is able to stay competitive and foster the entrepreneurial spirit within its ranks?

Understand entrepreneurship as a mindset, not a position.

The term “entrepreneurs” is no longer reserved for the founder of a company. A collaborative study between Future Workplace and Upwork found that 90 percent of professionals considered entrepreneurship as someone “who sees opportunities and pursues them” rather than “someone who starts a company.”

Fiftyeight percent of millennials consider themselves entrepreneurs. This mindset is fostered at successful large companies.

Related: Are Millennials Really the Entrepreneurial Generation?

“Every single employee can be an entrepreneur,” Spendlove said. He views his staff as not only product marketers, but rather mini-CMOs. “We have to come up with ideas to generate leads, to create opportunities, and essentially own the overall pipeline of business,” he said.

Spendlove encourages his team to focus on the BSO, or “big shiny object,” that will generate pipeline for his department and fuel the growth of Salesforce as a whole. This mindset has led to the rapid growth of his product, Salesforce CPQ.

Encourage innovation.

Innovation is what keeps companies competitive and growing. But in a large business with hierarchal structures, that innovative spirit can sometimes get lost -- or squashed.

One way to keep innovation alive is to welcome, encourage, and pay for innovative thinking on the job. 3M is a good example. 3M has a guideline that researchers can spend 15 percent of their time working on “skunk-works projects,” or independent ideas unapproved by management.

Post-it Notes, for example, was a skunk-works project in the 1970s. Similarly, Salesforce has a top innovator program in product marketing, which encourages innovative ideas and highlights them to the rest of the team twice yearly.

Related: The Pros and Cons of Starting a Business While Working a Full-Time Job

Welcome a spirit of competition.

If handled correctly, competition among co-workers can spur incentive and innovation. By working together, team members can push one another to be more productive and produce stronger work. “If you pay attention, your competition can teach you the biggest lessons,” says Jason Saltzman. 

At Salesforce, members of Spendlove’s team are encouraged to build BSO (“big shiny object”) projects. These projects can be truly anything that is unique, creative, and can help to generate pipeline.

Related: 6 Ways to Build Healthy Competition at the Office

Ideas are generated by team members, and it is up to them to move forward with those ideas. These BSOs have ranged from a row calculator to a giant tablet the size of a car where people can run quotes.

“We are always trying to outdo each other and come up with the next big cool thing to showcase Salesforce product and messaging,” said Spendlove.  “It pushes us to create better products and services.”

These BSO’s are used at Salesforce events, at customer engagements, or even hosted on Sales floors to help better enable teams to sell his products.

Hire people with the entrepreneurship spirit.

The spirit of entrepreneurship can be developed, but the straightest path forward is to hire individuals who already have it.

However, as Harvard Business Review (HBR) contributor Chris Smith states, there is a difference between an individual who supports company goals with the spirit of entrepreneurship and an entrepreneur who will leave when his or her own endeavor takes off.

“Listen carefully to how candidates describe their current and future goals,” Smith states. “Believe it or not, some people will just flat-out tell you that they see the job as a path toward doing their own thing. . . . Another flag-raiser is someone who has very specific goals."

"Entrepreneurial spirited individuals are people who want to learn, experiment, apply, share, and partner. They’re interested in gaining experience in general, rather than in gaining access to specific tools they can use as stepping stones to the realization of their own pet projects.”

Related: Spirit of the Entrepreneur

Salesforce searches out individuals with the entrepreneurial spirit by conducting a series of interviews and then giving applicants a test project to showcase a product launch. “We look at ways to launch the product, and we look at the strategy of product launch,” said Spendlove.

“We also look at the creativity and execution element that shows us the level of creative thinking.” With entrepreneurship and creative leadership being such a huge part of Salesforce’s work culture, this exercise helps business leaders to determine if team members possess that entrepreneurial drive and the teamwork skills to work well with others.

Related: 10 Tips for Unleashing Your Creativity at Work

Salesforce is a model for other enterprises to emulate. By viewing entrepreneurship as a mindset, encouraging innovation and competition, and hiring for fit, you can keep the spirit of entrepreneurship alive, no matter your size or industry.

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