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Start-ups don’t have a copyright on entrepreneurship

Views, 15 August 2017
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Start-ups don’t have a copyright on entrepreneurship By Aileen O'Toole, Chief People Officer, Naspers
When did working in a big company with lots of resources become so un-cool? I’ve watched too many talented people bail on bigger workplaces where the mission is inspiring, the reach is global and the reward is great. Walk into any hipster hotel lobby today and you’ll see the allure of start-ups, going it alone, and rejecting rules and policies; being an entrepreneur.
When you’re running a big company, of course, you have to ensure that it’s run in an ethically and fiscally responsible fashion. That’s a table stake. But it doesn’t mean the only place where talented people can have impact on their terms is in a start-up. In my experience, it’s possible in a company of any size, from 10 to 10,000 people. In fact, I’d argue that today, it’s mission-critical to create that environment, whoever you are.
Here are my top 5 tips for getting it right in a bigger organisation (and by implication, where I have seen people get it wrong):
  • Focus on those who manage others. They define the relationship people have with your company. Spend less time infantilising your people with primary colours and playground furniture, and invest in building world-class managers who inspire and develop their teams. Culture and results follow.
  • Broaden your definition of diversity and inclusion. Difference is good, but it’s not just about traditional “diversity categories”. Having a workforce that looks like the United Nations but thinks identically is a quick way to kill innovation and inspiration. Welcome the outliers.
  • Hire owners, not workers. When you give space to people who think like owners, great stuff happens. So look for an ownership mindset in everyone you hire, regardless of level or function.
  • Celebrate entrepreneurship, wherever you find it. Ensure your culture and people processes reward people who pursue ideas, take risks, overcome obstacles, and make things happen.
  • Find space for the founders. Too often, big companies make acquisitions to secure absent capabilities and then actively repel the people who created the magic. Before the deal closes, be honest about what acquired teams can expect, and be prepared to change your modus operandi to accommodate the new arrivals. One size does not fit all.
At Naspers, we work hard at striking the right balance between global and local, start-up and scale, founders and functional skills. We have footfaults along the way, but they’re worth it when the end goal is a place for everyone to enjoy the start-up experience, even in a big company.

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