In a rapidly changing world, workers must learn to be more proactive in their work. Learn how workers can be agents of their own work and develop the skillset of agency. Discover how to encourage them to seek out problems to solve—without waiting for instructions.
- Since work is about solving problems, then workers are of course problem solvers. In slowly-moving industries or in relatively static work, it may be appropriate for workers to simply wait until problems appear, then react to them. But in a rapidly-changing world, being reactive simply won't cut it. It's essential for workers to start to learn how to be more proactive, to seek out problems to solve without waiting for instructions on what to do next. And a common approach to helping workers to approach problems proactively is to use entrepreneurial thinking.
Now, entrepreneurial thinking doesn't mean a worker needs to start a company tomorrow. But it does mean the workers feel some sense of ownership in the problems they need to solve. What do entrepreneurs do when they start companies? They find problems that a particular customer has. They conceive a potential solution to those problems. They rapidly test those solutions with the customer to determine if they understand the problem correctly, and to find out if the customer thinks their solution is viable.
And they rapidly iterate the solution to ensure it continually meets the customer's needs. That's what entrepreneurial thinking looks like inside an organization, too, what's often call an intrepreneur. Entrepreneurial workers are empowered to go find problems to solve. They might be problems of specific customers outside the organization. They might be needs of stakeholders inside the organization. Or they could be partners or the community in which the organization resides. Teaching entrepreneurial thinking is a critical component of developing adaptive workers.
There are numerous strategies for teaching that entrepreneurial mindset. You can do one-day hackathons that help workers to understand design thinking and entrepreneurial problem solving. You can give workers innovation time, specific periods in a week or a month where they're responsible for finding new problems to solve. And you can do team-building exercises that allow workers to blow up existing processes and devise completely new ways of doing things. Just make sure you're prepared to support the ideas they come up with.
The worst thing you can possibly do is to dangle the possibility of empowerment in front of them, then yank it away by not implementing what they've devised. Now some organizations are highly siloed, and you'll find that some parts of the organization will be more likely open to entrepreneurial thinking than others. Business units responsible for constantly delivering new innovations will usually be far more receptive, while core process groups like accounting and HR will often be less receptive.
Yet even if you reside in a group that traditionally frowns on this kind of risk-taking, it doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. It just means you may need to make a stronger business case as to why you're doing it, such as saving money or increasing the effectiveness of your team. If you don't like the idea of encouraging a lot of entrepreneurs in your organization, then think of this new skillset as agency. That is, that workers are able to be agents of their own work. They have the mandate to proactively seek out problems to solve, and they don't have to sit around waiting for permission.
What's most important, though, is that you actually want to empower workers to act in an entrepreneurial manner. If you think that having a bunch of loose cannons all running around solving problems is a nightmare, it makes no sense to empower this kind of mindset. But if you think the days of traditional command and control management are over, and you believe as I do that people are far smarter and more creative than we ever give them credit for, then teaching entrepreneurial thinking isn't an option.
It's a critical part of your work.
- Characteristics of adaptive workers
- How to be an adaptive manager
- Honing self-management skills
- Developing proactive workers
- Importance of goals in adaptive work
- Developing and supporting remote workers
- Empowering adaptive workers to solve problems
- Collaboration and adaptive teams